MICHELE NORRIS, host:
It's only Tuesday and it's already been a busy week for the Republican National Committee. The RNC has been in damage-control mode after its monthly financial report was discovered to include a $1,900 tab run up by some of the donors at a topless nightclub.
But beneath that furor lies another question: If the RNC is raising record amounts of money, why does it have so little of it left in the bank? NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: The committee says one staffer went on the nightclub jaunt, submitted the bill as a committee expense and has now been fired. But that was only the raciest bit of a West Coast trip by RNC Chairman Michael Steele and other party officials. Some other items cost considerably more than an evening watching simulated sex.
David Levinthal is with the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Mr. DAVID LEVINTHAL (Communications Director, Center for Responsive Politics): You had more than $9,000 that was spent at a Beverly Hills hotel. There was more than $6,500 that was spent at a Four Seasons hotel.
OVERBY: These might just seem like garden variety gotchas on the expense account, except for this: The RNC is spending more money than it's raising: $109 million in and $115 million out since January of 2009. Again, David Levinthal.
Mr. LEVINTHAL: It's a risky proposition. If you spend a lot of money, and your fundraising operation is not keeping pace, then when it's crunch time, and you're really making your final push, are you going to be able to do it in a major way? And that's a question for the RNC right now.
OVERBY: A question that RNC spokesman Doug Heye is happy to answer. He says Steele has a strategy, and it's working.
Mr. DOUG HEYE (Spokesman, Republican National Committee): We have spent more money, and we've invested that, whether it's been in Virginia for the successful governor's race, whether it's been in New Jersey, also for that successful governor's race, Massachusetts, for Scott Brown's election, but then also in states that aren't really on people's radar screen yet.
OVERBY: States like Pennsylvania, with a state Supreme Court race that could affect redistricting in 2011.
But the RNC also has problems on the income side of the equation. Steele has been pushing hard to enlist small donors, but midrange and big donors aren't so fired up. The RNC's Doug Heye.
Mr. HEYE: When you don't have that advantage of the White House or either chamber of Congress, that makes it more difficult to raise money. It means you have to prospect with mail a lot more. It means you have to be very creative in how you raise money. And unfortunately that costs money, too.
OVERBY: In fact, it appears that the expense of small-donor fundraising has eaten up more than 40 cents of every dollar the RNC has raised since January, 2009.
The RNC has garnered about $20 million more from small donors than the Democratic National Committee has, reflecting, in part, the disengagement of many liberals after President Obama was elected. But among high-dollar givers those giving more than $200 the Democrats have raised 50 percent more than the RNC.
All this leaves the Republican National Committee little time to switch gears if they want to cut prospecting costs and find a sales pitch that works on bigger donors with bigger checkbooks.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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