Dems fear $300 million wave this fall, but GOP operatives say it’s a “scare tactic”

Jon Ward | Contributor

For months, the conventional wisdom has been that Democrats’ best hope of holding the House rests on two things: the long time they’ve had to prepare for a wave election, unlike in 1994, and the money advantage they’ve accumulated due to fumbling at the Republican National Committee and House Republican fundraising arm.

But a new storyline has emerged. Democrats are worried now that outside conservative and Republican groups may step in and spend a mind-boggling sum – more than $300 million – that could overwhelm the Maginot Line they are preparing to build this fall around vulnerable candidates.

Democrats Thursday began circulating detailed lists to reporters of more than a dozen conservative groups that they said could swoop in this fall and spend more outside money than was spent on the right during the entire 2008 presidential race.

The list was led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recently updated $75 million fundraising pledge, and followed closely by big numbers promised recently by newer groups such as American Cross Roads, a Karl Rove project ($52 million), and the American Action Network, launched by GOP insider Fred Malek ($25 million).

The cries about outside money overlook the fact that Democrats have their own fundraising heavy hitters: SEIU and AFSCME have already pledged just under $100 million, and Emily’s List has promised $43 million. The AFL-CIO is keeping silent for now on their figure. And trial lawyers also give significant sums to Democrats.

But if Republicans did indeed have a $300 million war chest to aid them in an election they hope will put them in control of the House and close to regaining the majority in the Senate, if not taking it outright, that would be significant, to make an understatement. It would dwarf, by three to one, the total amount of cash on hand currently held by all six of the major campaign arms, Democrat and Republican.

The Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee held $60 million in their war chests at the end of May, compared to the $43 million possessed by the RNC, National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee.

But Republican operatives said Thursday that while they think much of the money being spoken of currently by conservative groups will be raised, at this point the dollar figures are still just talk for the most part and have to be achieved.

Rob Collins, executive director at the AAN, said Democrats were using “scare tactics” in an attempt to scare individual wealthy donors into giving them more money.

“The sheer fact that the Dems are using scare tactics like this to force their liberal allies to give money tells you two things,” Collins said. “One, the Disclose Act is dead and they know it, and two, the energy on the right is real, it’s going to impact elections, and it’s going to make John Boehner Speaker of the House in the next Congress.”

The Disclose Act is legislation being pushed by Democrats following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case this past January, which loosened restrictions on the ability of corporations to engage in political speech. Democrats want to increase disclosure requirements for political ads or broadcasts, saying it will limit the ability of big business to influence elections.

“For the past eighteen months, we have been discussing and preparing for an onslaught of outside money being spent this year by insurance companies, Big Oil and Wall Street’s big banks, all of which want to buy this election and return to the anything goes days of the Bush-Cheney era that ran our country into a ditch,” said Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the DNC.

The Disclose Act is stalled in the Senate and has looked like it may be going down. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, guaranteed House Democratic leaders in a recent meeting that he will bring the legislation to the Senate floor this month, a House leadership aide said.

Republicans say the legislation is aimed solely at conservative groups. Republicans say in private conversations that there are many wealthy donors who want to give money to help Republicans get elected but don’t want to be identified. Many of these donors, Republicans say, are business men and women who voted for and gave money to President Obama’s election campaign but have since grown disenchanted with his economic policies.

Sevugan rejected the charge that Democrats were trying to send a charge through liberal donors.

“Our donors don’t need us to remind them of what’s at stake. We all are still living with the consequences of the governing philosophy that Republicans want to take us back to,” he said.

“There’s one party that has set out, in official party documents, that their approach to motivate their donors is to strike fear in them. And it’s not ours,” Sevugan said, alluding to an internal RNC memo that said they would try to raise money by portraying Obama as head of an “evil empire” and by appealing to “fear” in potential donors.

Here is the full list of conservative organizations sent around by Democrats and the dollar amounts pledged to be raised and spent this fall:

American Crossroads – $52 million
US Chamber – $75 million
Americans for Prosperity – $45 million
American Action Network – $25 million
Club for Growth – $24 million
National Rifle Association – $20 million
National Republican Trust PAC – $20 million
Faith and Freedom Coalition – $11 million
Americans for Job Security – $10 million
Freedomworks – $10 million
Susan B. Anthony List – $6 million
Campaign for Working Families – $2 million
Heritage Foundation – $1 million
Family Research Council – $500,000

Email Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter