Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don't

What are House Republicans going to do? The tenure of Tom Cole at the National Republican Congressional Committee has already been about as much of an abject failure as it could be to this point. Recruitment has been terrible -- though not as bad as retention, with the House GOP facing a near-record of retirements from within their midst. On top of a major accounting scandal, the committee only emerged from debt for the first time this cycle in January, and as of the end of that month the committee faced roughly a $30 million disadvantage relative to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Then came the special election to replace former Republican Speaker Denny Hastert, a race that the party should have been able to hold given the GOP-lean of the district (R+5, according to the Cook PVI). The NRCC blew close to a third of its net cash-on-hand on the race, only to see their candidate fall in flames by 5 points during yesterday's election.

So what is the House GOP to do about Tom Cole? He's not terribly effective, so there's good reason to argue for his ouster (perhaps it would have been after all to have cashiered him back in September when House Minority Leader John Boehner wanted to...). On the other hand, installing an entirely new crew just eight months before election day might not be terribly effective either. At the least, it would scare off fundraising in the short run -- both for the committee, but also for House GOP candidates all around the country, given that donors shy away from donating to causes that appear to be lost. Such a move could also alienate whatever power base Cole has within the caucus, making it more difficult for the House GOP leadership to keep its membership in line.

So at this juncture, House Republicans appear to be in a damned if they do, damned if they don't situation. And when a caucus that already has no shot at picking up seats, let alone regaining its previous majority is in a situation like this, any and all hopes begin to fly away, making it even tougher to stem potential losses. These are rough days for House Republicans.

There's more...

NRCC Blows Nearly One Third of its CoH on IL-14 Special Election

By most measures, the Democrats have a fairly good opportunity to pick up another seat in the House of Representatives this week in the special election to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert. The district tends to lean about 5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. However, tthe changing demographics of Illinois combined with the general trend in the country towards the Democrats combined with the unpopularity of the Republican nominee combined with the strong profile of the Democratic nominee combined with the ad cut by Barack Obama (who is extremely popular in the state) for the race have really put this contest in play -- so much so, in fact, that the National Republican Congressional Committee is being forced to dump a significant portion of what it has in the bank on the race. Take a look:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent more than $300,000 on a media buy on Monday in former Rep. Dennis Hastert's (R) district, bringing its investment in the race close to $1 million.

[...]

The NRCC launched an $850,000 ad buy last week, and it added a $180,000 buy on Tuesday. It has now spent more than $1.2 million on the race.

The NRCC simply does not have the kind of money to go toe-to-toe with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As of the latest filing period, the NRCC finally was able to pull itself out of debt for the first time this cycle, with a net $4.1 million in the bank as of the end of January. Crunching out the math, then, the $1.2 million the NRCC has had to spend defending this Republican seat in a Republican district amounts to 29.2 percent of the committee's net cash-on-hand, or nearly a third. In contrast, the D-trip has spent about 3.0 percent of its net cash-on-hand on the race, not nearly depleting its coffers in the same way.

This one is a real nail-biter at this point, and it would no doubt be very exciting for the Democrats to pick up this seat. But given the larger picture -- the race to elect more and better Democrats for the 111th Congress -- this race has already been a success, with the Democrats forcing the Republicans to spend money they can't afford to be dumping on a seat they otherwise should be able to hold.

There's more...

Dem C'tees Hold Financial Advantage, But GOP C'tees Catching Up

The numbers are in and -- gasp -- for just about the first time this cycle the Republican committees have begun to start catching up with their Democratic rivals. Take a look:

CommitteeJanuary ReceiptsJanuary DisbursementsJanuary Cash-on-HandJanuary Debts & Obligations
DSCC$3,946,980$2,874,148$30,476,123$1,000,000
NRSC (est.)$3,500,000$2,300,000$13,200,000$0
DCCC$3,724,281.85$3,326,426.10$35,493,233.64$1,678,081.49
NRCC$3,787,558.10$2,855,662.72$6,410,150.13$2,300,000
DNC$5,760,579.51$5,702,080.74$3,019,303.76$2,500,000.00
RNC$11,833,196.33$7,417,582.69$21,768,080.75$0
Total
Democrats
$13,431,841.36$11,902,654.84$68,988,660.40$5,178,081.49
Total
Republicans
$19,120,754.43$12,573,245.41$41,378,230.88$2,300,000

At this point, when debts and obligations are taken into account (because that does matter), the Democratic committees hold roughly a $24.7 million lead over their GOP counterparts. That amounts to an advantage of 63.3 percent -- lower than the figure in the 90s or above seen earlier this cycle, but nonetheless a daunting figure. The Republican committees were able to climb back by over $5 million in January, largely on the shoulders of the Republican National Committee, which is enjoying the largesse of GOP donors who are unimpressed by their presidential candidates but nonetheless want to contribute to their cause.

It's also worth adding this: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton raised roughly $50 million combined in January, compared to the under $16 million brought in by John McCain and Mike Huckabee combined last month. When you tack those figures on to the numbers for the committees above, you get the sense that the Democrats are not in fact slipping relative to the Republicans in terms of fundraising but, rather, Democratic money is just shifting (presumably and hopefully in a temporary manner) from the committees to the candidates.

Feds Investigating NRCC Bookkeeping Practices

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Some great reporting from Patrick O'Connor and John Bresnahan got caught up in the madness that was Super Tuesday:

Top House Republicans were told in recent days that a former employee of their campaign committee may have forged an official audit during the contentious 2006 election cycle and that they should brace for the possibility that an unfolding investigation could uncover financial improprieties stretching back several years, according to GOP sources briefed on the members-only discussions.

[...]

The precise details of the suspected accounting irregularities and their possible fallout are not entirely clear. NRCC officials and top GOP leaders are being tight-lipped in large part because the FBI is investigating the matter. An outside lawyer advising members and staff has warned everyone at the committee to keep quiet.

[...]

The NRCC internal investigation centers on Christopher J. Ward, a former NRCC treasurer who worked at the committee until mid-August of last year, according to those briefed on the matter. From that time until late December, Ward was an outside contractor for the NRCC, according to Federal Election Commission records.

[...]

As treasurer, Ward was in charge of NRCC bookkeeping, tracking tens of millions of dollars in political contributions and expenditures. He has been at the center of NRCC bookkeeping for more than a decade.

Ward also served as treasurer for numerous other Republican campaigns and leadership political action committees, according to FEC records.

[...]

Ward has been with the committee in some capacity since 1993, according to FEC records. He was listed as the committee's treasurer between 1993 and 2003, according to the same campaign finance data.

[...]

Over the years, Ward has also served as the official treasurer for numerous congressional Republicans, their PACs and other GOP candidates running for Congress.

They include retiring Reps. Jim Saxton of New Jersey, James T. Walsh of New York and Jerry Weller of Illinois, as well as Reps. Steve Buyer of Indiana, Phil English of Pennsylvania and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, among many others.

He was also listed as the treasurer for incarcerated former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney's American Liberty PAC.

For as many details as I quote here (and I've quoted a significantly larger portion of this article than I almost ever do with other articles), there is a lot more available at the link above.

This is just simply awful news for House Republicans. I'm not sure how it could be worse. You look at the fundraising numbers and you see that the NRCC finally was able to pull itself out of debt after more than a year trying, and now it's hit with a federal investigation centering on the alleged fraud of the committee's long time treasurer (who also served as treasurer for the PAC of the seriously ethically challenged Bob Ney). With the feds sniffing around the offices of the committee and forensic accountants digging through committee records, does anyone really believe that the NRCC is going to have any chance of erasing the $31 million deficit it has relative to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee? House Republicans may finally have a genuine pick up opportunity as the result of a Democratic retirement, but if they have no money and a campaign committee worrying about other things, it's hard to see them successfully defending their seats, let alone making inroads in bluish districts in states like Oregon.

There's more...

Christopher Ward: A Republican Crook

(Cross posted at The Albany Project)

Earlier today, I wrote about the NRCC's auditing troubles involving former NRCC treasurer Christopher Ward. I speculated about the possible link between this scandal and Tom Reynolds. After all, Reynolds was the head of the NRCC from 2002 to 2006 and during that time Ward was the treasurer.

I've mentioned Ward's connection to the Swift Boat Vets organization, which smeared Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential run. But there's more to Ward than just partisan hackery.

There's more...

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