Local Democrats warn DNC: Cash crunch threatens November gains
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Local Democratic Party leaders are convinced a wave is coming in November. But they’re increasingly worried they won’t be able to ride it.
At a time when many Democratic candidates and groups are reporting record-breaking fundraising, the top state party officials gathered here for the meeting of the Association of State Democratic Committees say their local parties are cash-starved, raising the prospect that they won’t be able to take full advantage of what could be a historic opportunity in the midterm elections.
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Local committees are in desperate need of more money if they’re going to support the costly precinct-level organizing and political groundwork needed to win back the House of Representatives, compete for the Senate and governor’s mansions, and swing back state legislatures, they say.
“If we’re able to accomplish all we hope, the concept would be to take advantage of a wave year, and make it as big as possible,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley, who has been vocal about the need for state parties to receive more funding, or to risk missing out on that wave altogether.
State party chairs and executive directors expressed frustration with the party’s biggest donors, who remain wary of contributing to state parties that have been decimated in recent years and instead view individual candidates and emerging groups as more attractive short-term investments.
Only a handful of the state chairs in attendance even spent time wooing the major party contributors who live in California — traditionally a prime source of cash — during their trips out west, fearing their efforts would be futile.
Much of their frustration is directed toward the Democratic National Committee, which recently started doling out nearly $1 million worth of competitive grants to a handful of states. While the first round of so-called State Party Innovation Fund grants were a welcome move, the state leaders who failed to score them were left to stew over their predicament.
That tension came to a head on Thursday, when Missouri chairman Stephen Webber stood up near the end of a report on the DNC grants to voice his objections. He complained that by publicly listing the 11 states who won the grants, the party had embarrassed those that didn’t, according to multiple Democrats who were in the room.
People back home will wonder what I did wrong, he told Ken Martin, the Minnesota chair who leads the ASDC, even though everyone involved in the application process says we did everything right.
In some states, leaders were under the impression they would be getting money and began planning how to invest it. Now have had to reorganize their budgets, said multiple Democrats.
So when it was time for Martin to address the state chairs on Saturday morning, he greeted them with a plea for cooperation and patience.
“I’ve had really honest conversations with a lot of you this week, and I know there’s a lot of frustration, but I want to acknowledge the while things are not as far along as they should be, the DNC is truly doing more to help state parties than they ever have — than they ever have,” he insisted to the quiet room, defending DNC Chair Tom Perez from the anger.
“There’s been some bumps in the road with [the grant program], there’s been some bumps in the road with data. But none of those bumps are stop signs, none of those bumps are to say we’re not going to help you, state parties. The last eight years were miserable for us state party chairs. So let’s all take a deep breath, remember we’re all on the same team, and let’s move forward.”
Perez himself followed Martin, aiming to soothe the crowd by promising the next round of grants would be landing next month.
“I know there was some frustration around the first round of grants we just issued, and timing. We can always do a better job of communication, I accept that,” he conceded before detailing the money that his committee had spent in 2017 races, including in New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama.
Buckley said Perez’s promise on Saturday to send more money to state chairs was a recognition of the problem: “I feel positive leaving here that this message was heard.”
Still, many of the Democratic leaders say they’re concerned that while the Republican National Committee and local GOP groups promote their investments in organizing in key states, the Democratic groups in charge of putting organizers and voter resources on the ground remain underfunded, and the national committee does not have a permanent army of organizers in target areas.
If they don’t get organizers and on-the-ground infrastructure in place soon, they worry, the party will not be able to fully benefit this fall from an expected electoral bonanza driven by a glut of energized candidates and grassroots supporters.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti implored the gathered officials to fund city and municipal party organizations — as well as state parties — during his Saturday morning speech to the group.
“Help them out in those key moments, and they will help you out too,” he promised.
Led by Perez and Deputy Chair Keith Ellison — both of whom met with numerous local officials about their worries this week — the DNC has begun plowing money into state parties in the form of $10,000 monthly investments, which is more than the committees have ever before gotten from the national party. But those payments only started to arrive in October, a perceived delay that ratcheted up anxiety among state operatives.
One reason is that the DNC is still struggling to raise the maximum-sized checks from wealthy party donors that would allow it to funnel more money into the states. The initial grant cash doled out last week indeed comes from the party’s general fund, and not its major donor-driven account, according to Democrats familiar with the arrangement.
That disconnect with the party’s most supportive moguls was on full display in Long Beach. While a few active state chairs drove into Los Angeles to court big money sources, none of the big-name Democratic donors joined the festivities on the hotel deck and under the water-side umbrellas here.
Brad Martin, the Oregon state party executive director, urged his state colleagues to keep working to ensure their parties are attractive to financiers.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, said Martin, who also leads the national group of state executive directors, framing the urgency of fully funding the committees ahead of this year’s midterms. “It’s extremely important that we get this done."
January 27, 2018 at 05:54PM