States with senate races fuel money pipeline

National parties ship millions to Alaska, Florida and California

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Laying the groundwork for the November election, the national political parties have transferred nearly $13.5 million to their state counterparts thus far in 2004, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Three state parties – the Democrats in Alaska and Republicans in Florida and California – have received the most money from the national parties this year, records show. The Florida GOP received a $659,720 transfer from the Republican National Committee, the largest single transaction in 2004, on July 29. The California Republican Party got two $500,000 checks from the RNC earlier this year.

The other national party committees are the Democratic National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

All of these transfers involve "hard money," funds raised under federal limits that can be used to benefit any candidate at the federal or state level. State parties that conduct voter registration and turnout drives close to the election must use either hard money or a combination of hard dollars and funds from a Levin account. Created by a 2002 federal campaign finance law, Levin accounts can accept up to $10,000 per donor.

The $13.5 million through the end of July is already more than the $12.4 million that state parties received in all of 2003, and the combined figure should only grow as Nov. 2 draws close. During the 2001-02 election cycle, the national parties sent $86 million in hard money to the states.

Key U.S. Senate races seem to be one guide for the national parties' state transfers. The top state party recipient of national party money in 2004 is the Alaska State Democratic Party, where GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski faces a challenge from former Gov. Tony Knowles. The DSCC and the DNC have sent a total of nearly $1.3 million to the state party, almost all of it from the senatorial committee.

Florida also has a competitive Senate race to fill the seat of Democrat Bob Graham, who is retiring. Former university president Betty Castor is the Democratic nominee against Mel Martinez, who was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the current Bush administration. But unlike Alaska, Florida is also a key presidential state, which may explain why the state Republican party has received more than $1 million from the national party committees. The national Democratic committees have sent much less – less than $100,000 – to the state party, but the Senate nominees were not decided until early September.

The DSCC also focused its attention on Oklahoma, where Rep. Brad Carson is the Democratic candidate to fill an open Senate seat. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has taken in $712,188 from the national parties this year, while the GOP has sent nothing to its counterpart in the Sooner State (although GOP Sen. Don Nickles, whose retirement created the open seat, has given $50,000 from his campaign account to the state party). Parties in other states with Senate races, including Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota, rank high on the list of recipients.

National Republicans have not ignored states like California, which recent polls show as supporting Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry in the presidential race. The $1 million sent by the national parties to the California GOP ranks third among all state parties this year. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is defending her seat against Republican challenger Bill Jones, but Boxer appears to have maintained a large lead in that contest.

State parties have to do without the "soft money" transfers from national parties – raised from unlimited contributions by individuals, corporations and labor unions – that were shut down as part of the 2002 campaign finance law. The national parties sent $217 million in soft money to the states during the 2001-02 cycle.

The loss of soft money can be seen in states like South Dakota, which is hosting a major Senate race for the second time in two years. The two state parties took in more than $15 million in national party transfers during the 2001-02 election cycle, but have only received about $710,000 in transfers during the current cycle.

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