Monday, June 04, 2007

Feud Over Immigration Putting a Big-Time Hurtin' on GOP's Unity -- and Bottom Line

Republican Party Coffers Suffer a Dramatic 40 Percent Decline in Donations As an Open Rebellion by Conservatives Intensifies Against Bush Plan They Insist Is 'Amnesty' for Illegal Immigrants

By Ralph Z. Hallow
The Washington Times

The Republican National Committee -- hard hit by a grass-roots donors' rebellion over President Bush's immigration policy -- has fired all 65 of its telephone solicitors, The Washington Times has learned.

Faced with an estimated 40 percent drop in small-donor contributions and aging phone-bank equipment that the RNC said would cost too much to update, Anne Hathaway, the committee's chief of staff, summoned the solicitations staff and told them they were out of work, effective immediately, fired staff members told The Times.

Several of the solicitors fired at the May 24 meeting reported sharply declining contributions and a fierce donor backlash against the immigration proposals now being pushed by Bush and Senate Republicans.

"Every donor in 50 states we reached has been angry, especially in the last month and a half -- and for 99 percent of them, immigration is the number-one issue," said a fired phone bank employee who said the severance pay the RNC agreed to pay him was contingent on his not criticizing the national committee.

Bush Pleads for Passage of Immigration Bill Amid Fierce Opposition

[The rebellion over immigration has pitted some of the president's most stalwart congressional and grassroots backers against him, sparking a vitriolic war of words that has at times exceeded anything yet seen between Bush and his supporters, who have generally stood with him through the toughest patches of his presidency.

[For his part, Bush -- in his second personal plea in less than a week -- challenged lawmakers Friday to pass the highly controversial bill that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants despite harsh criticism they're hearing from voters and interest groups on both sides of the issue.

["No matter how difficult it may seem for some politically, I strongly believe it's in this nation's interest for people here in Washington to show courage and resolve and pass a comprehensive immigration reform," Bush told a group of activists, lobbyists and analysts who have pushed for an overhaul.

[Lawmakers, at home during a weeklong recess, are hearing from conservatives who decry the measure as overly lenient and from liberals who are clamoring for its passage even as they complain it is filled with problems.

[The president directly took on GOP conservatives who brand the bill as "amnesty" for lawbreakers. "This bill isn't amnesty," Bush said. "For those who call it amnesty, they're just trying to, in my judgment, frighten people about the bill. This bill is one that says we recognize that you're here illegally and there's a consequence for it."

[Postings on several conservative Web sites in the last week have gone so far as to call for Bush's impeachment. And conservative talk-radio hosts, commentators and congressional allies normally friendly to the president are warning that he stands to lose supporters -- a potentially damaging development, they say, when he needs all the backing he can get on other vital matters, like the war in Iraq.

["I think President Bush hurts himself every time he says it is not amnesty," said Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), referring to the bill's legalization process for immigrants. "We are not all that stupid."]

RNC Says Republicans Still Raising More Money Than Democrats

A spokeswoman for the RNC denied any drop-off in fundraising. "Any assertion that overall donations have gone down is patently false," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt wrote by e-mail yesterday in response to questions sent by The Times.

"We continue to out-raise our Democrat counterpart by a substantive amount -- nearly double," she insisted, despite figures showing that the Democrats have raised nearly twice as much campaign cash as the Republicans since January.

Schmitt acknowledged that terminating the phone solicitation staff was not an easy decision. "The first and primary motivating factor was the state of the phone bank technology, which was outdated and difficult to maintain," she said. "The RNC was advised that we would soon need an entirely new system to remain viable."

Schmitt added that "the changing ways in which people choose to contribute" meant that the RNC's in-house phone bank "was simply no longer cost effective, although unfortunate."

Fired GOP Staffers: Huge Drop in Donations Cost Us Our Jobs

The fired staffers admitted the equipment was aging and it was probably more cost effective to farm out the phone-bank operations to the eight or more private firms also handling similar solicitations for donations to the RNC.

But the ex-employees told The Times the sharp drop-off in donations "probably" hastened the end of the in-house operation.

"Last year, my solicitations totaled $164,000, and this year the way they were running for the first four months, they would total $100,000 by the end of 2007," said another fired phone-bank employee who asked not to be identified.

The fired solicitors said that many longtime Republican donors gave them an earful -- sometimes in profanity-laced language -- about the proposed immigration measure.

White House in Denial of GOP Donors' Revolt?

"We have not heard anyone in our donor calls who supported the president on immigration," said a fired phone solicitor, who described himself as a Republican activist.

"We write these comments up from each call, and give them to a supervisor who passes them on to the finance director or the national chairman," he said. "But when I talked with the White House, the people there told me they got nothing but positive comments on the president's immigration stand."

Money Situation Not Good for GOP on Capitol Hill, Either

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) both report having trouble raising money from the small donors who are the backbone of all the fundraising committees for both major parties.

The RNC has been more successful than the two Republican congressional committees because the RNC has completed its major annual donor gala, gathering money from corporate and business donors who either care little about the immigration issue or side with Bush in support of the Senate bill that would allow almost all the estimated 12 million to 20 million or more illegal aliens in the United States to gain legal status.

Yet there has been a definite downward trend in Republican fundraising, said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in elections.

"The GOP's overall haul from its three national fundraising committees [the RNC, NRSC and NRCC] is down 25 percent from the equivalent period in 2005," Ritsch said.

"The Republicans still have more money [in the bank] than the Democrats, but fundraising is down for Republicans and up for Democrats. That has to be a cause of concern for Republicans," he added.

Democrats Raised Twice As Much $$$ As GOP Since January

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee collected $4.6 million in April, more than double the NRSC's $2.1 million in April contributions, figures on file with the Federal Election Commission show. What's more, the Republican group spent about $60,000 more than it had received in donations, while using only $260,000 to pay its debt.

Overall, the NRSC's total receipts of $9.1 million trails its Democratic counterpart's total of $18.3 million since January, the figures show.

The Republican Senate committee's $2.1 million collected so far is only a tiny fraction of the $118 million fundraising goal that its chairman, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, had set for the committee.

Another Potential GOP Headache: Most of Its Fired Fundraisers Were Black

One of the fired RNC staffers estimated that two-thirds of the phone-bank solicitors employed by the committee were African Americans [which is likely to raise eyebrows in a city where blacks make up a 75 percent majority of its residents], with a smattering of Hispanics and Asians.

Schmitt said that in order "to smooth their transition, all employees will remain on the payroll for 60 days."

One of the fired staffers quoted a letter from Hathaway saying that maintaining the RNC's current phone system "is cost prohibitive and given changes in the fundraising environment, the difficult decision has been made to end phone-bank operations at RNC headquarters."

(Additional reporting by The Associated Press and The New York Times.)

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Volume II, Number 27
Special Report Copyright 2007, News World Communications Inc.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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