Portland Press Herald owner among most generous donors as Democrats take on the GOP

By T.W. Farnam, The Washington Post
Posted July 19, 2012, at 1:07 p.m.

Democratic House and Senate candidates may not be pulling in as much as Republicans from the special-interest groups spending millions on this year’s election, but the Democrats are doing well raising money through their own campaign operations, new fundraising reports released this week show.

Incumbent Senate Democrats, including those most threatened with losing their seats, were able to outraise their challengers. And even some Democratic challengers — Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts — were able to raise more than the Republican incumbents they are facing.

Democrats will need the money. Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which heavily favors the GOP, and other overtly Republican groups are dominating spending on television advertising, an advantage they are expected to keep through the fall.

In the House, a dozen Democratic challengers in the most competitive races raised more than the incumbents they are battling. Only four Republican challengers did the same.

Overall, the parties are essentially tied in recent fundraising for the most competitive House races. But those races include more incumbent Republican lawmakers, who have more money in the bank for the fall.

In the end, the two parties will be competitive in fundraising, with Republicans benefitting from more interest group spending and Democrats raising more for their campaigns, said David Wasserman, the House race editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“Money only matters a great deal when one side doesn’t have it,” Wasserman said.

Democrats have tried to make a political point about spending by interest groups like the chamber, arguing that the big campaign checks those groups accept could lead to corruption. Democrats in the Senate voted twice this week to require the groups to disclose their donors but failed to overcome Republican procedural objections.

At the same time, the Democratic Party has been raising big checks of its own through two super PACs, groups that can accept large donations and corporate money. The Majority PAC and the House Majority PAC raised a combined $10 million in the second quarter from rich liberals and unions.

Some of the most generous supporters include longtime Democratic donor Fred Eychaner, who has given a combined $1.3 million to the groups, and S. Donald Sussman, husband of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. Sussman, a hedge-fund founder who recently bought a majority share of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald, has given $1 million to the House fund.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson donated $5 million to House Republicans through the Young Guns Action Fund, a super PAC linked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., according to a filing released this week.

Much of the spending on the Republican side is by groups that are not required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission, including the chamber, which this week reported spending $1.2 million on four Senate races.

One of the biggest campaign fundraising disparities showed up in the Florida race for Senate. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson raised $1.8 million in the second quarter, more than double the $840,000 brought in by his presumed Republican opponent, Rep. Connie Mack.

But that gap in resources was erased by a single $1 million check that Adelson cut in June to a super PAC backing Mack.

Mack has already benefited from millions spent by interest groups on his behalf, including a recent ad from Americans for Prosperity. The ad said it was time to “send a message to Nelson” for voting to support economic stimulus funding and the Democrats’ signature health-care law.

However, that advertising comes before voters have really tuned into the race, and Nelson’s incumbency advantage has given him time to build a fat bank account. His campaign has $11 million on hand for the fall, compared with $1.4 million held by Mack.

Democrats note that, while they face spending by Republican super PACs, there are advantages in spending money through their campaigns, including cheaper television advertising rates mandated by federal law.

Aaron Blake contributed to this report.

© 2012, The Washington Post.

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