DCCC Is 2013 Fundraising Winner, but DNC Drops the Ball

by Stuart Rothenberg February 13, 2014 · 1:57 PM EST

A look at the end-of-the-year financial reports of the two House campaign committees, two Senate campaign committees and two national party committees makes it pretty clear which ones have something to crow about and which have some explaining to do.

The big winner is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC, chaired by New York Rep. Steve Israel, brought in almost $76 million last year, ending December with more than $29 million in the bank.

It was a remarkable showing, given that Democrats are in the minority and there was only a brief chance, in October, that they could regain control of the House in 2014.

The DCCC’s receipts total last year was larger than in the previous midterm (2011: $61.4 million), the midterm before that (2009: $55.6 million), the midterm before that (2007: almost $67.9 million) and even the midterm before that (2005: almost $43 million). In both 2007 and 2009, of course, Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives. (All data before 2013 in this column came from Federal Election Commission reports collected by the John Grotta Co., a Republican direct-marketing firm.)

The rival National Republican Congressional Committee’s numbers were not bad either, though they did not equal the DCCC’s haul.

The NRCC raised $60.5 million during 2013, ending December with $21 million in the bank. The NRCC’s receipts for 2013 were also better than its end-of-year numbers in 2011, 2009 and 2007, and its final cash-on-hand figure for 2013 was better as well. But NRCC receipts in 2005 ($65 million) — when the party held the White House and both chambers of Congress — were greater than last year’s receipts.

House Democratic strategists credit the DCCC’s strong numbers to its online fundraising program. The DCCC raised $28.7 million in donations of less than $200 last year, with $19.4 million of that coming from online fundraising.

Democrats’ online small-dollar contributors are apparently motivated less by whether their party has a good chance to win the House than by their contempt for congressional Republicans and the tea party.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s 2013 fundraising was solid, at $52.6 million. It raised more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party committee with the best actual shot of affecting change on the ballot this fall, which posted a disappointing $36.7 million. But surprisingly, the two committees ended the year with almost the same amount of cash on hand, at around $8 million (once the DSCC’s year-end debt is added to the committee’s bottom line).

The DSCC’s total raised for 2013 was better than in 2011 ($42 million) and 2009 ($43.5 million), but it was less than in 2007 ($55.4 million). The NRSC’s total raised for the year was less than in 2011 ($41.4 million) and 2009 ($41.2 million), but better than in 2007, when it raised only $31.8 million.

While the Democrats were in the majority in the Senate this cycle, the number of GOP takeover opportunities should have helped the NRSC raise more cash.

The Republican National Committee clobbered the Democratic National Committee in fundraising in 2013, a stunning fact given the Democrats’ control of the White House. Compared to the other committees, the DNC’s fundraising performance was noteworthy in its weakness.

The DNC brought in only $64.7 million last year. Understandably, that figure was less than it raised in 2011 ($108 million), the year before a presidential election. But it was also far less than the $83.7 million raised in 2009, the last post-presidential year.

The RNC took in $80.5 million in 2013. That was a decent total, but it was well off from the previous few off-years. For example, in the last comparable year of the four-year presidential cycle, 2009, the RNC took in $91 million, $10 million more than it raised in 2013.

The two parties’ cash-on-hand figures at the end of December were not radically different — $9.1 million for the RNC to $4.7 million for the DNC — until you add remaining debt owed. The RNC was debt free, while the DNC carried a debt of $15.6 million.

DNC Press Secretary Mike Czin told me that the party “went into debt to ensure that the president and Democrats up and down the ballot had the resources they needed to win” and noted that “September and October were the most successful two months of online fundraising ever.” But that doesn’t explain the committee’s low total receipts for 2013 or the fact that the party still has such a large debt.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the blame for the DNC’s weak fundraising rests with both the White House (and, obviously, the president) and the DNC, which decided to use Organizing for Action’s fundraising list since the president was re-elected.

OFA is a non-party issue advocacy group that promotes the president’s agenda and morphed from Organizing for America, which was housed inside the DNC. With both OFA and the DNC asking the same donors for money, it isn’t hard to figure out which group had the advantage with Obama enthusiasts. News outlets have reported that OFA has said it raised $26.3 million during 2013, its first year as a nonprofit.

Of course, while money is crucial to running strong campaigns, politics is about winning elections, not “winning” fundraising quarters.

The DCCC’s strong fundraising year in 2013 doesn’t guarantee a good outcome for the committee this November, and the DNC’s disappointing fundraising year doesn’t mean its party will be in trouble when the 2016 presidential contest rolls around.