The RNC and DNC have traditionally been the kingmakers in their parties. Before there were Super PACs and Third Party Groups, even before there were PAC’s, the National Committees dominated the parties. They hand-picked Presidential candidates, after primaries were established they funneled money to their preferred candidate and spent vast amounts on choreographing the National Conventions. Oh how times have changed. Since the 70’s and federal campaign reform the Committees have seen their influence be slowly whittled away.
Campaign Reform in 2003 was supposed to solve the problem but it instead made it worse. To avoid McCain-Feingold, hundreds more PACs were created. Compounding the problem was the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that overturned limits on corporate and third-party spending (this means unions are included). Yet despite this the RNC has flourished. It has helped the Committee has been led by a strong Chairman in Rence Priebus who has had to pick up the pieces after the disastrous tenure of Michael Steele.
The DNC has gone the opposite route. Extremely strong until 2008, the Committee helped fund and provide infrastructure for massive Congressional gains for Democrats in 2006 and 2008. But for its success the DNC has been largely impotent since. The reason is simple. Barack Obama’s campaign apparatus, Organizing for America, has and continues to suck up donor dollars away from the DNC. Take the latest campaign finance report from the respective Committees.
According to Roll Call, “The Republican National Committee reported it had receipts of $6,762,822 and disbursements of $6,520,165 during August,leaving $12,510,182 cash on hand on 8/31, with no debts. The committee raised $3.5 million from contributors giving $200 or less. Democratic National Committee reported receipts of $4,297,231 and disbursements of $4,806,960 during August, leaving $3,634,122 cash on hand, with $18.2 million in debts outstanding. The committee raised $2.2 million from contributors giving $200 or less.”
This is not an isolated occurrence. Since Obama became President and Priebus took over as head of the RNC, the RNC has vastly out-raised the DNC and has been debt free in every quarter except one. For sixteen straight months the RNC has out-raised the DNC. Just looking at the numbers above the DNC essentially is $15 million in debt while the RNC is over $12 million in the black. This is occurring at a time when the DSCC is outraising the RSCC and the DCCC is consistently out-raising the NRCC. So beyond Obama what explains this?
Part of it is leadership. Priebus is an excellent fundraiser while the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, not so much. Second, the RNC has done much to repair its image with major donors. This helped it raise cash in 2012 while Obama’s Organizing for America sucked up dollars that would traditionally go to the DNC. Third, the RNC simply has been more effective of late than the DNC.
The RNC has invested heavily in GOTV efforts, social media technology and party infrastructure. By contrast the DNC has largely left much of this to Organizing for America. This raises the question of whether the DNC can remain relevant in the future, especially if Organizing for America becomes a permanent arm of the Democratic machine?
The cash strapped DNC seems unlikely to be relevant in the near future. Enmeshed in debt, the DNC appears largely focused on reducing its debt. It also has fallen behind the RNC in technology, GOTV efforts and a donor base. This has shades of the 80’s all over it when the RNC’s direct mail campaigns ravaged the DNC. The DCCC and DSCC may be able to pick up the slack due to their out-raising their GOP counterparts. But they do not have the resources to invest in party infrastructure. With a number of swing state Governorships up next year this could adversely impact the party’s chances in many of them. Longer-term, if Organizing for America, fades away after Obama the DNC will likely be fine. But unless something changes is unlikely to be able to impact the 2016 race.