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Campaign Finance Reform Could Spur Direct Mail Fundraising

As the Senate debates the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, direct marketers for the Democratic and Republican Parties are considering how a ban on soft money would affect fundraising efforts.

Direct mail contributions are generally less than $200 and represent far less than half of the total money contributed to political campaigns. Only 500,000 Democratic and 800,000 Republican donors from all sources give $200 or more. Larger donations don't usually come from direct mail.

While small donors are important to both parties because they show how broad each party's base of support is, it is the big soft-money contributions that pay the bills. This picture may change if campaign finance reform becomes a reality.

“If they pass campaign reform, it will have a pretty significant effect on direct market fundraising. Small donors will become more important when you've taken soft money off the table,” said Charles Pruitt, co-managing director at A.B. Data, the firm that handles the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's direct mail fundraising.

Soft money is given to party organizations rather than to specific candidates. There are fewer restrictions on how much can be donated this way.

As the Senate debate continues, most likely for the rest of this week, both major parties are planning strategies for funding their congressional campaigns in 2002. Both parties began direct mail appeals in January.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in January sent out a membership renewal package with a membership card attached to a two-page letter, a list of the 20 Republicans and 14 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2002, a reply form and a prepaid reply envelope.

The committee sent a package this month that includes a letter asking, “Are you satisfied with the current 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate?”; address labels with the header “Proud Democrat”; a checklist of the three major problems facing the Democratic Party in the Senate; and a prepaid return envelope with a tear-off reply form.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee did not make any direct mail packages available.

In the past, both parties have appealed to new and potential donors concerned with key issues.

“Our most consistent donors are people who get fired up about the issues,” said Jonathan Grella, a spokesperson for the Republican Senatorial Committee.

Both parties have used appeals linked to issues, surveys and petitions and will continue to do so.

The Democrats will look for wider sources of names such as catalog and magazine subscription lists to acquire new donors, Pruitt said.

Online fundraising will take on growing importance, he added. During the last election, his company set up a satellite Web site — www.dsccaction.net — exclusively for fundraising, and brought people to the site through direct mail campaigns. Pruitt said the site now has a list of 6,000 to 7,000 e-mail addresses.

In the past few years both parties have seen substantial growth in the number of direct mail contributors. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has attracted more than 175,000 new direct mail donors in the past three years. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has welcomed 100,000 new donors in the last year alone.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $24 million in direct mail last year out of a total of $88 million. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year raised $10 million in direct mail out of a total of $61.34 million.

In January the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $6.1 million, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took in $1.5 million.

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