WASHINGTON – The major parties are raising record amounts of cash as they prepare for gubernatorial campaign showdowns in 11 states next year.
Republicans and Democrats both say 2007 was a lucrative start to the four-year fundraising cycle that helps determine which party controls the nation's governors' mansions.
Governors have enormous influence over how Americans live their lives, particularly in areas such as health care and schools. Control of the governors' offices also plays a crucial role in presidential elections. Governors can rally support for a candidate and energize a party's get-out-the-vote machinery.
The Democratic Governors Association raised $5.3 million through June, according to its midyear IRS filing, and is on track to break $9.3 million, the previous record for the first year of the cycle.
The Republican Governors Association raised $12 million through June and expects to easily top its previous record of $15 million. Final tallies won't be available until the end of next month.
Democratic governors have a 28-22 edge nationally, having regained a majority last year after 12 years of GOP dominance. This year, they lost a seat in Louisiana but retook the governor's mansion in Kentucky.
Republican governors still have the financial edge. They are quick to point out that's the opposite of what's happening in Washington.
For example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — whose candidates control the House — raised $61 million this year. By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee raised $43 million during the same time.
Both governors' associations are pulling in contributions from some of the same deep-pocketed companies, according to a review of IRS reports.
"We're a bipartisan company. We partner with elected officials from both sides of the aisle," said David Tovar, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, which gave $100,000 to both groups this year.
Many of the issues important to governors, like the cost of health care, also matter to Wal-Mart, he said.
Health care is also a top issue for the Service Employees International Union, the country's fastest-growing union, which also gave $100,000 to both governors' associations this year.
Earlier this year SEIU and Wal-Mart jointly called for affordable health care for all Americans by 2012. But SEIU has also criticized Wal-Mart for its employee health plans.
"Governors can often have the greatest impact on workers' ability to have a voice on the job," said SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller.
Other companies donating $100,000 to both governors' groups this year include AT&T Inc., Union Pacific, American Electric Power Co. and Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Drug makers are also courting both parties, with companies like Merck & Co. and AstraZeneca PLC contributing $50,000 to each group.
Corporations understand that laws passed in states can have as much effect on a multinational company as those enacted in Washington. And giving to both groups is a way to hedge companies' political bets.
"If the end goal is having some voice in what comes out of the legislative process, certainly you don't want to slam the door shut completely," said Rachel Weiss, spokeswoman for the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Both groups have also received large contributions from individual donors. In the RGA's case, that includes Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and James Leininger of San Antonio, an influential conservative known for backing causes such as school vouchers.
Perry financed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and its attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
Individual donors giving to Democrats include Bernard Schwartz, former chairman of satellite communications company Loral Space and Communications and a longtime donor to Democrats, who gave $100,000, and Michigan billionaire Jon Stryker, who also gave $100,000.
Stryker, whose grandfather founded the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based medical products company Stryker Corp., founded the Arcus Foundation, which promotes equal rights for gays.
Republicans had 26 contributions of $100,000 or more through the first half of 2007. Democrats had 12 donations of $100,000 during the same time, IRS records show.