Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Republican Panel Closes a Wide Fund-Raising Gap

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Republican Panel Closes a Wide Fund-Raising Gap

Article excerpt

Once teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and irrelevance, the R.N.C. has retired more than half its debt and accumulated large cash reserves that could give Mitt Romney a critical boost.

Once teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and irrelevance, the Republican National Committee has raised more than $110 million over the past 15 months and retired more than half its debt, accumulating large cash reserves that could give Mitt Romney a critical boost later this spring as he intensifies his campaign against President Barack Obama.

With the divisive and drawn-out Republican primary season moving toward a close, the committee reported more money in the bank at the start of last month than the Democratic National Committee, which raised about $137 million during the same period but also spent far more.

Party officials said the Republican committee would report more than $30 million in cash on hand in filings due with the Federal Election Commission this month, including a $22 million "presidential trust" that would be available to Mr. Romney should he become the party's nominee.

The committee's unexpected turnaround is a case study in how Republicans are chipping away at Mr. Obama's advantage in traditional fund-raising -- and of the rapid evolution of old- fashioned party institutions in the post-Citizens United landscape of "super PACs" and the unlimited money they can raise and spend.

One role that the committee has filled in the past when the party was out of power -- pounding the president with early television advertising -- has been taken up by outside groups like American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove. That has allowed the committee and its chairman, Reince Priebus, to focus on rebuilding the party's network of large donors.

The committee's major-donor fund-raising in 2011 exceeded that of 2003, officials said, the year when President George W. Bush was preparing to run for re-election. Its small-donor program routinely brings in more than the Democratic committee's, though far less than Mr. Obama's campaign.

The party has already begun preparing for joint fund-raising operations with Mr. Romney, who has secured pledges from some of his donors to write large checks to the Republican committee if he becomes the nominee.

"Reince's job, as he says, is to spend 80 percent of his time on the telephone and the other 20 percent at state party dinners," said Frank J. Donatelli, a former deputy chairman at the committee. "There was a donor strike of sorts at the end of 2010. What he has done is regain the confidence of those major donors."

At a time when Mr. Romney and other candidates have struggled to raise money, the committee's fund-raising success has allowed it to move quickly into a general-election posture, even before the emergence of a nominee and the flood of money to the party that usually accompanies it. While the party has run some advertising against Mr. Obama -- including commercials in six swing states attacking his health care overhaul and timed to the recent Supreme Court hearings -- it has used most of its money, and the freedom afforded by super PAC advertising against Mr. Obama, to focus on its strength: identifying and turning out Republican voters.

"The R.N.C. is the only organization that can spend money directly on the ground game and organizing the states," said Alfred Hoffman Jr., one of the country's top Republican fund-raisers and a former finance chairman of the committee. "A super PAC can't do that."

The party has already opened campaign offices in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, with up to a dozen more set to open during the coming weeks and designated staff members hired for Hispanic outreach in key states. Officials said the committee had already made more than a million voter contacts in Wisconsin, a presidential swing state where the recall effort against Gov. …

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