The DCCC has in recent months posted wildly successful fundraising numbers, raising more in 2017 than it has in any other calendar year. The committee blasts out small-dollar donor-centric email solicitations of all sorts almost daily, while aggressively courting big-money contributors, too.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and Luján will, for example, gather March 21 at the suburban Washington, D.C., home of real estate heiress Tori Winkler Thomas for a major DCCC fundraiser. Individual tickets begin at $17,500 and climb to $100,000 for a “VIP/Clutch” ticket, according to an invitation obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
“Every time they hit send, money is going to pour in, there truly is no saturation point on the number of emails you can send — they all raise money,” notes Kristin Oblander, president of Atlanta-based fundraising firm The Oblander Group, whose past and present clients include Democratic presidential and congressional candidate committees. “The guaranteed revenue stream from the email blasts gives them flexibility to experiment with different subject lines and messages, which is what we are seeing with these.”
Consider: Individual contributors have poured $86.3 million into the DCCC’s campaign account from the beginning of 2017 to through the end of January. More than half of that amount came from people giving $200 or less — the kinds of modest contributions online fundraising campaigns target.
The DCCC’s haul is more than three times what individual donors have given — $24.5 million — to its conservative counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Such fundraising success is a point of pride for Democrats, who have long lamented Republicans perceived political fundraising advantage this decade following several federal court decisions, such as Citizens United v. FEC, that make it easier than ever for political committees to raise big money. The DCCC has also outshone its big sibling, the Democratic National Committee, which has badly trailed the Republican National Committee in fundraising of late.
“Criticism isn’t deserved. They’re doing a hell of a job fundraising,” said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who served as DCCC chairman from 1995 to 1999.
While Frost is “not overly impressed” with what he deemed “the sky is falling”-style fundraising emails — Pelosi last week sent one titled “DEVASTATING setback” — he noted that online fundraising is still an “evolving art form” best paired with old-fashioned, meet-and-greet fundraisers that cater to major donors. On both counts, Frost added, Pelosi and the DCCC are winning.
Current DCCC leaders, for their part, aren’t so interested in discussing their fundraising playbook.
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, referred questions about Pelosi’s fundraising emails to DCCC staff. Joe Shoemaker, Luján’s communications director, likewise directed questions to the DCCC.
“We are going to pass on commenting,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said.
Luján, who himself has sent “NOT asking for money” emails to supporters, told the Washington Post that the DCCC’s war chest will allow it “to invest in campaigns across the largest battlefield in a decade.”
A coast-to-coast strategy is non-negotiable for Democrats who are striving to win Congress in November, and deal Trump, who now enjoys GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, a massive political defeat. Republicans today occupy 241 U.S. House seats to the Democrats’ 194, so the DCCC wants to endlessly vacuum dollars to help their most competitive candidates win seats.
The NRCC is hardly immune from fundraising efforts that raise ethical questions. In December, it dangled an “all expenses paid” trip to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., as a potential prize for making a contribution. In February, the committee enticed supporters with Mother’s Day brunch at the “luxurious Trump Winery” in Virginia.
In short, the NRCC is filling its coffer while promoting — free of charge — Trump family commercial ventures from which the president still profits.
While neither the DCCC or NRCC emails are illegal, the NRCC emails “strike me as unseemly for all the reasons the president’s involvement with these properties is unseemly,” said Adav Noti, chief of staff at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and former associate general counsel for policy at the Federal Election Commission. NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt declined to comment on fundraising techniques.
But these NRCC messages, from subject line to contribution form, don’t, as the DCCC messages do, masquerade as something they’re not.
Michael Steel, former House Speaker John Boehner’s press secretary and current managing director of public affairs consultancy Hamilton Place Strategies, lambasted the DCCC’s “not asking for money” email pitches as “stupid, misleading and counterproductive.
“They must think it works if they keep doing it, but I can't see how," Steel said.