The Democratic National Committee, aided by White House fundraising, has sliced into the Republican National Committee's traditional financial edge before congressional midterm elections in November.
The RNC, rocked by party infighting and questions about its spending, collected $127.9 million to the DNC's $124.5 million.
That stands in sharp contrast to previous elections. At this point before the 2006 elections, the national GOP had raised $151.2 million, nearly double the $79.6 million that had been collected by the national Democratic Party.
"A number of people who are giving to Republicans, who want to see them do well in the election, don't trust the RNC," said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. "The lesbian bondage club certainly didn't help," he added, referring to a nearly $2,000 RNC expense at a sex-themed nightclub in West Hollywood, Calif., in February.
The nightclub bill "was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, who urged activists to send their political donations directly to candidates or to conservative PACs, rather than to the RNC.
Still Doing Well, RNC Chief Says
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said the committee is trying to "engage and work" with people who represent a range of interests, including Perkins. One reason for the fundraising picture, he said: Republicans no longer control the White House as they did from 2001 to 2008 or the Congress. "This a brave new world," Heye said. "We don't have a current president who is able to go out ... and raise money for us."
The RNC still is doing well, Heye said, pointing to figures that show the party outraising the DNC during seven months last year. "The Democrats ought to be walloping us," he said.
Overall, all Democratic national fundraising committees ended April with $59.5 million in cash available, compared with $41.1 million for Republicans. Fundraising reports for May are due this week.
Democrats say they are gaining ground, in part, because of fundraising that included $32 million collected through fundraising appearances by Obama in 2009 and an influx of new donors. Obama and Vice President Biden appeared at 22 DNC fundraisers in 2009 and have headlined eight this year.
Among those events: A fundraiser in April where the president raised money for the DNC and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who faces a tough re-election battle in November.
DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said the party is attracting a "whole new group of Americans" because of Obama's "broad appeal demographically, economically and ideologically."
The DNC recently announced plans to spend a record $50 million to aid House and Senate candidates in November, up from $17 million in 2006. Money to help congressional candidates is crucial this year because the president's party usually loses seats in midterm elections.
Among the newcomers to the top ranks of DNC donors: Illinois insurance executive John Atkinson, who has given $60,800 to the party committee in the past two years.
Atkinson, 49, had donated occasionally to Democratic candidates over the years, and worked on Sen. Edward Kennedy's presidential campaign as a teenager in 1980. But it took Obama's 2008 White House bid to "re-energize me about politics," he said.
He has stepped up his activity this year. Atkinson ran full-page ads in Chicago papers, urging his congressman to support Obama's health care legislation, which passed Congress in March. He's raising money for the DNC in the hopes Democrats will retain control of the House and Senate in November. "If the president loses the ability to have the support of Congress, it's going to have a negative impact on our agenda," he said.
In New Jersey, Rod Zilenziger, who runs a publishing firm, had given $500 to the Republican National Committee in 2008, records show. For this election, he has eschewed the RNC, instead contributing $2,500 to the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, a political action committee also known as TeaPartyExpress.org that supports anti-tax, small government "Tea Party" candidates.
Zilenziger, 48, said he has grown disenchanted with candidates who don't share his conservative perspective on issues such as national defense and immigration. "I wanted to make sure the money I was giving to political candidates went to people who share my views," he said of his shift in contributions. "I'm not interested in a Republican candidate for the sake of a Republican candidate."