Liberal Groups Lag in Late Efforts to Raise Cash; Less Money for Key Races


WASHINGTON—A late effort by Democrats to match record fund raising by conservative organizations has come up short, leaving the party more reliant than usual on the campaign efforts of labor unions.

A key pro-Democratic group, recently created by top party insiders to build a “firewall” around the Democrats’ majority in the House, said Thursday it hoped to raise $10 million. That’s a fraction of the $50 million that an alliance of GOP groups said Tuesday they would spend to help Republicans in dozens of House races.

“We are David vs. Goliath,” said Ramona Oliver, a spokeswoman for the new Democratic group, called America’s Families First Action Fund. Founded this summer, it began raising money after Labor Day to help counter Republican fundraising efforts. It once hoped to help protect up to 30 Democratic House seats, but is now focusing on just 18 campaigns, Ms. Oliver said.

In total, outside conservative groups—such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Action Network and American Crossroads—could spend more than $300 million on TV advertisements, campaign mailings and other efforts to elect Republicans to Congress this year. Outside Democratic groups, by contrast, plan to spend about $100 million on those activities. The largest labor unions say they will spend $200 million combined, but most of their focus will be on rallying union voters.

The spending by outside GOP groups is key because in the last three election cycles Democratic outside groups have substantially outspent their GOP rivals.

Overall, the Democratic party and its candidates still have more money at their disposal than their GOP rivals. In the closest 40 House and 12 Senate races, the Democratic candidate, on average, has twice as much money in the bank as the GOP opponent, according to the most recent fund-raising data. That’s in part because many are incumbents who can more easily raise big money in advance of the election.
Races in 2010

But among outside campaign organizations, Democrats are being outgunned, helping erase the Democrats’ overall financial advantage. This lets Republicans inject money into races where Democrats had a big cash advantage, leaving Democratic candidates more reliant on the get-out-the-vote activities of the largest labor unions.

Evan Tracey, who runs a group that tracks political ad spending, said outside Republican groups were running ads in 70 House races while Democratic groups are running ads in nine House campaigns.

“Fewer targets, less money,” said Craig Varoga, who runs a pro-Democratic campaign group called Patriot Majority. Mr. Varoga said his group would spend between $7 million and $8 million to help Democrats in a “half-dozen or so” congressional races. In the 2008 election, the group spent $14 million in 22 campaigns, Mr. Varoga said.

People who run outside Democratic groups said they were raising less money than in prior elections because donors were upset Democrats didn’t accomplish more with President Barack Obama in the White House and strong Congressional majorities.

Some of the Democrats’ biggest donors are sitting on the sidelines, including George Soros, the billionaire investor, who has donated millions of dollars to campaigns in the past decade.

Jim Jordan, a Democratic political consultant, plans to spend “several million dollars” on advertisements to help Democratic candidates through a group called Commonsense Ten. He said some donors were increasingly alert to the funding disparity. “There are signs of a thaw, but it’s late,” Mr. Jordan said.

Spending by the largest labor unions on the 2010 elections is expected to amount to about 10% of the total spent to elect Democrats by political parties, outside political entities and the candidates themselves. A precise number is hard to calculate because not all spending is made public. There is also a time lag in the spending disclosures.

In interviews, major unions said they planned on spending as much as or more than they did on the midterm congressional races in 2006. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said they hoped to create a “firewall” in some of the closest House races to protect the Democrats’ majority.

In a meeting with reporters this week, Mr. Trumka said 37 of the 75 House seats in play were what he called “high union density” districts, from the suburbs of Chicago to the working-class regions of Pennsylvania.

“We feel an incredible responsibility,” said Karen White, political director for the National Education Association, a teachers’ union. She said her union planned to spend $40 million on the 2010 elections, an increase from 2006, and last week it announced a $15 million ad campaign in close House races.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will send resources even to help elect Democratic candidates who haven’t always backed its causes. “There are some candidates who are going to get some resources from us who in a normal year would not,” said Larry Scanlon, the union’s political director.

Under current likely election scenarios, GOP candidates would need to win 59% of those Democratic seats up for grabs to gain control of the House.

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