by Stewart Boss | August 1, 2012
Four years after Democrats swept North Carolina, the GOP is dominating the fundraising game in the lead-up to November 2012.
“Money is the most important thing in politics, like it or not,” said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant in North Carolina. “And Democrats are losing.”
Democrats were riding high in 2008, and their financial advantage delivered victories across the state. Obama outspent McCain 3 to 2 in North Carolina, managing to pull off a narrow and unexpected win in a conservative-leaning state. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue spent $17.7 million to eke out a victory in the closest North Carolina governor’s race since 1972, overwhelming the $6.4 million spent by former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory. In the 2008 election cycle, the North Carolina Democratic Party raised $11.1 million while the state’s Republican Party raised just $2.8 million. Democrats had solid control of both chambers of the state legislature and held eight of the 13 congressional seats. North Carolina was one of the most powerful Democratic strongholds in the South.
The contrast between 2008 and 2012 is stark. North Carolina Democrats are now (for the most part) getting clobbered due to both cyclical change and self-inflicted wounds.
In the governor’s race, McCrory – once again the Republican nominee – boasted $4.4 million cash on hand at the start of July after raising $2.2 million in the second quarter. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the Democratic nominee hoping to replace Perdue, raised $1 million in the second quarter and started July with just $714,000 in the bank. McCrory has had the benefit of running as the inevitable and largely unopposed GOP candidate for the past four years while Perdue did not announce that she was not seeking re-election until January. That left Dalton and other Democrats scrambling to put together the funds for a gubernatorial campaign and spending lots of money to win the May primary.
The gap in state party fundraising illustrates just how bad the problem is. Republicans have raised nearly twice as much as Democrats this election cycle and more than four times as much in the second quarter filing period. In that 10-week period between April 22 and June 30, the state’s Democrats raised only $2,675 from individuals, a stunningly low figure considering that Republicans raised over $200,000 in individual contributions. At the start of July, the NCDP had less than $188,000 cash on hand while the NCRP had more than $965,000 in the bank – a huge financial advantage for Republicans going into the fall. The one bright spot in the money race is North Carolina Democrats running for Congress, especially those in districts where Republicans had to drain their campaign coffers to win runoff elections. But that probably won’t last for long.
“Republican fundraising is exploding while the Democrats are collapsing,” said Carter Wrenn, a veteran North Carolina GOP political strategist. “I don’t think the Republican state party organization is necessarily any stronger, but the shift in fundraising from Democrats to Republicans is pretty shocking.”
See the chart below for a full breakdown of North Carolina party fundraising totals:
|Fundraising Totals||NC Democratic Party||NC Republican Party|
|Q2||This Election||Q2||This Election|
|Raised from Individuals||$2,675||$68,307||$211,896||$779,440|
|Raised from PACs||$166,037||$867,516||$554,315||$1,254,719|
|Cash on Hand(6/30/12)||$187,643||$965,502|
Source: NC State Board of Elections
So, what happened? The biggest change in North Carolina politics since 2008 was the GOP winning a veto-proof majority in the state Senate and a nearly veto-proof majority in the state House. Strong fundraising and a torrent of outside spending backing Republican candidates helped push Democrats out of power in Raleigh. The GOP control of redistricting has solidified their hold on the General Assembly for the foreseeable future.
In a July blog post, Wrenn explained how the NCDP became a “one-track fundraising operation”:
In North Carolina there are a modicum of ‘Party’ donors, fewer ‘Ideological’ donors, and a lot of people who give because they want something…raising what’s euphemistically called ‘access money’ is easy. All you need is a candidate with a cooperative attitude. When Democrats controlled the legislature they were masters of raising the ‘easy money’ and they were in power so long no Democrat serving in the legislature even remembers raising money any other way. The hard truth for Democrats in the legislature is they built their financial house on sand – now their power’s vanished (as it always does sooner or later) and they need a new way to fund their campaigns.
Pearce agrees that Democrats have to accept that the ‘easy’ money is gone. He said that Democrats need to develop a whole new approach to fundraising, in addition to building better ties with businesses. Pearce wrote in an email:
Fundraising is no mystery; it’s just hard work. You have to explore every possible source and every potential avenue – high-dollar events, low-dollar events, Internet, direct mail, etc. When you find the one or two or three that work best, you work them like hell. Old joke: Do you know the best way to raise money? Answer: Ask for it. We’ve got to do a lot of asking, and it may take a lot of time and hard work to build a fundraising base. But there are a lot of Democrats in North Carolina, and there is a lot of money. We have to go get it.
There are some issues affecting North Carolina that are probably also specific to 2012. For one, the state party has been embroiled in a messy and ongoing sexual harassment scandal that forced former executive director Jay Parmley to resign and has plagued chairman David Parker. It’s likely that the NCDP has been more focused on intraparty fighting and damage control than on finding new avenues for fundraising in recent months. The cash-strapped Democratic National Convention in Charlotte is potentially pulling money and donors away from the state party. And Organizing for America’s statewide grassroots operation has mostly replaced the need for the NCDP to have a well-developed campaign infrastructure considering the amount of resources that the Obama campaign is putting into North Carolina this year.
These issues may have exacerbated the collapse in Democratic fundraising, but they cannot fully account for the dramatic drop in money raised for this election. To change the cycle of power on a statewide level, North Carolina Democrats should be expanding the range of their fundraising tactics to be competitive with the GOP in future elections. Maybe a liberal alternative to conservative donor Art Pope will sweep in to save the day and level the playing field – there are wealthy North Carolina Democrats that should be “identified and cultivated” as donors, according to Pearce – but for now Democrats should roll up their sleeves and get to work asking more people for money in new ways.
Could the same “one-track fundraising operation” that has now crippled Democrats hurt Republicans down the line?
“Time will tell if Republicans become vulnerable when it comes to access money,” Wrenn said. “They could fall in the same trap as Democrats. But if they continue to build three or four strong fundraising bases, they’ll be in a much better position five years from now. The more ways you can raise money, the better.”
Read online: http://www.spopitics.com/where-did-all-the-money-go/