Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 29, 2014

Parties Prepare to Place Debt Bets on Victory

House Democrats are confident they can put a dent in the Republican majority and perhaps flip the chamber in November.

But are they willing to bet the House on it?

In the month before Election Day, the Congressional campaign committees are set to spend millions of dollars each week on targeted races. And if past is precedent, they will exhaust more resources than they will raise before Nov. 6.

It’s a gamble: The resulting debt could mean winning more seats but also put a committee eight figures in the red for the next cycle.

“It’s always a tough decision to borrow money, but you have to weigh that decision against your opportunities and whether you’re going to have those opportunities again,” said Brian Smoot, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s political director in 2008.

So far, the DCCC has spent or reserved $61 million in airtime this fall. But at the end of August, fundraising reports showed the committee had about $40 million in the bank.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s spending is relatively on par with its bank account. The NRCC has spent or reserved $53 million in advertising this fall and reported just $3 million less than that in the bank as of Aug. 30.

The committees can cancel or increase advertising reservations in the coming weeks that correspond more closely with their fundraising. Also, September is traditionally a strong fundraising month, and how much the committees raised last month could affect how much money they’re willing to invest down the stretch.

Still, it’s likely that all four of the Congressional committees will carry debt after Election Day.

In the past four cycles, the NRCC finished the cycle with $3 million to $13 million in debt, according to post-election finance reports. The DCCC reported more debt after Election Day in those cycles, ranging from $10 million to $20 million since 2004. The Senate committees’ debts tended to be smaller, from $1 million to $6 million over the past few cycles.

Spokespeople from all four campaign committees declined to comment on how much debt each has approved and whether they intend to use it. But party officials will have to make the decision soon — if they haven’t already phoned the bank to secure their loans.

It can make for an awkward situation, given the leadership who determines the loan size this month might not be around next cycle to deal with the consequences. One Democrat described it as “mortgaging” one cycle for the next.

The committees retire the debt, but they usually take most of the next cycle to do it. Creditors know this, which is why the parties receive multimillion-dollar, short-term loans in the first place.

Some committees use their assets as collateral for the loan — anything from a fundraising database to their office space (if they own) to a promise of future fundraising.

So, are Democrats confident enough to bet the House this time?

“We decide all that stuff at the very last minute,” a top DCCC aide said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

Here’s how much debt the committees accrued over the past four election cycles:

DCCC:
•$10 million loan in 2004
•$10 million loan in 2006
•$20 million loan in 2008
•$17 million loan in 2010

NRCC:
•$3 million loan in 2004
•$13 million loan in 2006
•$6.5 million loan in 2008
•$12 million loan in 2010

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:
•$2.5 million in 2004
•$5.4 million in 2006
•$12.9 million in 2008
•$6.7 million loan in 2010

National Republican Senatorial Committee:
•$500,000 loan in 2004
•$1 million loan in 2006
•$3.5 million loan in 2008
•$6 million loan in 2010

Source: Federal Election Commission reports

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