November 26, 2007

Bringing Their Own Dimes

Two years ago, we recommended that Republican donors withhold contributions to the party's Congressional and Senate committees to send a message regarding their support for incumbents who didn't get the message about spending, judicial confirmations, and a wide variety of other issues of importance to Republican voters. While that effort was limited to 2005, the committees have seen their donations decrease ever since. Now they trail the Democrats by significant margins, and they have begun to look for BYOD candidates -- as in bring your own dime (via CapQ reader Mr. Morelock):

Confronting an enormous fund-raising gap with Democrats, Republican Party officials are aggressively recruiting wealthy candidates who can spend large sums of their own money to finance their Congressional races, party officials say.

At this point, strategists for the National Republican Congressional Committee have enlisted wealthy candidates to run in at least a dozen competitive Congressional districts nationwide, particularly those where Democrats are finishing their first term and are thus considered most vulnerable. They say more are on the way.

These wealthy Republicans have each already invested $100,000 to $1 million of their own money to finance their campaigns, according to campaign finance disclosure reports and interviews with party strategists. Experts say that is a large amount for this early in the cycle.

In New York’s 20th Congressional District, in the Albany area, Alexander Treadwell, an independently wealthy former State Republican Party chairman, has invested more than $320,000 of his money in a race that Republicans predict will cost each candidate at least $3 million.

While Mr. Treadwell, the grandson of a founding executive of General Electric, plans to raise money from donors, he has privately told party officials that he is ready to invest more of his money to unseat Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a freshman Democrat, Republicans close to him said.

Both parties look for self-financing candidates, even if they don't like to admit it. The notion that this represents a remarkable transformation of the Republican strategy is hyperbolic. Even the netroots do this; the endorsement of Ned Lamont had as much to do with his ability to spend his own money as it did with his positions in opposition to Joe Lieberman. Had Lamont not been able to finance his campaign, no one would ever have heard of him.

However, the need for BYOD candidates should raise some flags with the Republicans. They should ask themselves why their fundraising has dropped so significantly, even after falling into the minority. Obviously, their message hasn't sold well; why not? Could it be a lack of trust with Republican voters?

The GOP had control of Congress for twelve years, six of those under a Republican President. Did the federal government shrink or grow? Did discretionary spending decrease or increase, even outside of war spending? Did federal authority contract or expand? Did pork-barrel politics get opposed, or did Republicans wallow in the porcine lard?

Republicans would love to support GOP candidates and return Congress to their control. Unfortunately, the continuing pork-barrel politics and the not-coincidental endorsement of bigger government reminds us that the Republicans still haven't learned their lesson -- as the veto override of the 50%-pork water projects bill showed. Republicans want to support Republicans that act like Republicans -- and when they start doing that, BYOD candidates won't be as critical to the party's success.


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