WASHINGTON – Facing a huge Republican money advantage, the Democratic National Committee has decided to reroute millions meant for the party's new building and spend it on next month's elections.
Even with that shift, the DNC began October with just $5 million to use in the elections. The Republican National Committee started the month with $30 million on hand.
Acknowledging the need for more last-minute cash to try to influence races that will decide control of Congress and several governorships, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe has gone back to donors who gave $1 million or more to help finance the party's building and asked them to contribute for the election.
"He talks about how the president is now on the road nonstop raising gazillion amounts of money and that we never aspire to match Republicans dollar for dollar because we don't need to, but we certainly need to make sure our candidates are well-funded and that at least they have enough to get their message out,'' DNC spokeswoman Maria Cardona said Wednesday.
At least three major donors responded to the plea. Haim Saban, the billionaire Fox Family Entertainment chief executive, and Stephen Bing, a Hollywood producer, each redirected $3 million in headquarters donations to the DNC's election effort. Saban already has given more than $10 million to Democratic campaigns and Bing has given at least $9 million.
Newsweb chief executive Fred Eychaner of Chicago wrote a $3 million check to the committee last month after giving at least $1 million for the building project.
Despite the cash infusion, the DNC began October far behind the Republican National Committee in money on hand for the final stretch before the Nov. 5 midterm elections.
The RNC began the month with $30.7 million in the bank, all but $1 million of it in "hard money'' capped contributions from individuals and political action committees it can spend in any way it wishes, including direct candidate support.
The $1 million is in "soft money,'' unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and others that parties may spend only on general party-building activities like get-out-the-vote drives and operating costs. The RNC planned to spend the $1 million on its building.
The DNC began October with $14.5 million on hand, but $9.7 million of that is in its building fund and cannot be spent on the election. That left $4.8 million for the party to spend on the election, $1.5 million of it in hard money the party may spend in any way.
But the financial disparity doesn't necessarily spell doom for the Democrats as they fight to maintain Senate control and take back the House.
Both parties have reported record fund raising for a midterm election.
The RNC has collected at least $184.5 million — roughly $30 million of that raised at one dinner headlined by President Bush. The DNC has raised at least $110 million.
McAuliffe and Cardona both say the Democrats will have all the money they need for the election and a renovated headquarters.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its House counterpart finance the bulk of the party's election ad buys, Cardona said. While the GOP's two congressional fund-raising committees have also posted cash advantages over their Democratic counterparts, all have reported record contributions.
And Republicans point out that Democrats can count on help from the unions; the Democratic-leaning AFL-CIO plans to spend at least $34 million this election, much of it on getting out the vote.
"We're not saying we're at any great advantage,'' RNC spokesman Kevin Sheridan said. "We realize the giant 1,000-pound gorilla in the room is the unions. They have yet to put their money on the table, and we know they will.''
Still, the RNC's stock of ready cash will give it greater freedom to make last-minute spending decisions, directing more money to ads, voter phone calls, direct mail and other efforts in key races as the election draws near.
Cardona said the DNC is making sure candidates who need to be well-funded are, and it continues raising money. The committee's latest finance report, filed Tuesday, doesn't reflect more than $2 million it received earlier this month for direct mail, for example, she said.