Govs' Parties to Fund 2010 Races
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -The beefy bouncers and roped lines outside the swanky Italian restaurant Bellanotte here weren't ushering Hollywood starlets, but instead, Republican governors and the people who paid thousands of dollars to hobnob with them.
Hurricane Gustav may have crashed the opening day of the Republican National Convention in nearby St. Paul, but the Bellanotte gala was just one of several big-ticket fundraisers that the Republican Governors Association plans to host during the convention, with packages for donors running as high as $250,000.
Because of the storm, the Republican Natioanl Committee canceled all of Monday's program activities beyond "official business" required by party rules, but announced the next day (Sept. 2) that the convention would resume with a full schedule. RGA scaled back its activities Monday at its "hospitality suites" at the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held, but the fundraising went forward.
"Basically we just had a couple of our suites open, with no refreshments … just straight business," RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. "We asked our donors to heed the RNC call and do what they can for the victims of the hurricane," he said. As far as the rest of the week's fundraising activities, "We're planning it day by day, event to event," Schrimpf said outside Bellanotte, which means "beautiful night" in Italian.
Democrats, likewise, did their share of fundraising at their convention last week in Denver. The Democratic Governors Association also offered packages to donors costing up to $250,000. One event, "A Rocky Mountain Salute to Democratic Governors" at the Elitch Gardens amusement park included entertainment from Big Head Todd & The Monsters, a 1980s band from nearby Boulder, and a late-night party at Wynkoop Brewing Co., the city's first brew pub, founded by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
New ethics rules that Congress approved last year put the crimp on lobbyists throwing lavish fundraising parties for federal but not state; politicians, so tax-exempt organizations like the RGA and the DGA can rake in the dough during their conventions.
Both groups are not registered to lobby and instead, are often called "527s" because they operate under section 527 of the federal tax code. They are permitted to spend "soft money" or cash raised and restricted for use independently of the parties or candidates for "voter education" or "issue advocacy."
One of the best known 527s was the "Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth" an advocacy organization formed in 2004 by opponents of John Kerry's U.S. presidential campaign that raised questions about Kerry's military record.
The RGA plans to host at least one major event involving a governor each day during the convention Sept. 1-4. A $250,000 RGA package offered to donors includes six hotel rooms in a hotel with an RGA delegation, access to the RGA hospitality suite and 10 tickets to six events, including the "Music at the Mill" concert, featuring country music star Clay Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's band "Capitol Offense."
Both RGA and DGA are tight-lipped about who buys these packages, although all the donors eventually will be disclosed - after the elections when quarterly reports become available from the IRS and states agencies that govern state lobbying laws.
Deep-pocketed firms often will fork out money for both parties. With energy one of the hottest issues in state legislatures, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Edison Electric Institute, major trade associations representing nuclear and electric utilities, jointly sponsored events here for the RGA and in Denver for the DGA.
Both governors' groups say the stakes couldn't be higher. Both plan to bank most of the money generated during the conventions for governors' races in 2010, when 36 governors are up for re-election and 17 cannot run again because of term limits.
But it's not just the large number of governors up for re-election in the next two years that makes 2010 so important. That is also when new Census data comes out that state legislatures use to redraw congressional and state legislative districts. The next round of redistricting could alter the partisan balance in Congress, putting 15 to 25 seats in play for one party or the other. In most states, a congressional map needs approval from both legislative chambers and the governor although six states empower a bipartisan commission to do the job.
Both groups expect this year to shatter their previous fundraising records. RGA says it's on track to raise more than the $27 million mark two years ago, while DGA's goal is to bring in $20 million, some $2 million more than its 2006 record.
"Our fundraising has been tremendous," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, DGA chairman, said. "It helps us be competitive in states that we might not have been competitive before."
This year, only 11 governors' seats are up and only a few of these races are competitive, notably, the contests in Washington state that pits incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) against Republican Dino Rossi, who lost in 2004 by just 133 votes; and the open seats in Missouri and North Carolina.
RGA, on its Web site, describes the " best case 2010 scenario " as winning 38 of those 47 seats - a 16-seat pickup - a goal the DGA mentions in its own fundraising campaigns. "Even if Barack Obama is elected president, if the RGA gets its way, Republicans will continue to dominate America's political landscape," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) wrote in a fundraising letter that ends with a plea to "Please help us win in 2008 and stop the Republicans from hijacking our electoral system in 2011!"
The idea of stashing away money for future races is new for both organizations, which in past years spent all the money in their war chests in the year it was raised. In 2007, both groups also for the first time launched four-year plans that include a greater emphasis on recruiting candidates.