As the Connecticut Democratic Party thrived, the state Republican Party ran a deficit in its federal account in November, ending the month with just $7,107 in cash and a debt of $7,513, the latest indicator of a GOP in dire straits on the eve of a statewide election year.
Finance reports filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission showed two parties moving in opposite directions, with Democrats posting their best monthly cash-on-hand report and Republicans their worst.
Democrats ended November with $556,572 in its federal account, which the party uses to cover most operational expenses. Both parties also have smaller state accounts, which are subject to quarterly finance reports.
The Democrats’ cash on hand swelled tenfold from $55,468 at the end August, despite monthly expenses that averaged more than $200,000 over the past four months as the party invested in communication, fundraising and organizing staff.
The GOP, meanwhile, struggled to meet its far smaller payroll and operational budget. Its average monthly expenses over the past four months were $38,306.
Jerry Labriola Jr., the state Republican chairman, collected two $2,000 paychecks in November, then stopped drawing a salary earlier this month. But Labriola said Monday he has resumed taking his pay and the party will end the year without debt.
“We have been working diligently to rebuild our balances, and we are having a very strong December. We will finish the year comfortably in the black,” Labriola said. “We’ll be close to making our budget for 2013.”
He blamed the party’s scant cash on some of the expenditures made in support of candidates in nearly two dozen municipal elections in October and November. Its spending in October was $48,000, about $10,000 above its recent monthly average.
Republicans, who are a minority in the General Assembly and haven’t won a congressional or statewide election since 2006, reported raising just $27,474 in November, compared to $349,602 for the Democrats. For the year, the Democrats have outraised the GOP in their federal account, $2 million to $483,000.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the first Democratic governor to seek re-election since William A. O’Neill in 1986, has been a game-changer, lending his name and time to fundraising by the state party and the Democratic Governors Association.
Labriola said Republicans expect to raise $40,000 in December, which typically is the worst month for political fundraising. In January, donors who maxed out during the calendar year are free to once again make maximum donations of $10,000. Of course, the same is true of the Democrats’ far larger base of $10,000 donors.
“Just looking at the big picture, I remain very optimistic that we will over time close the gap with the Democrats,” Labriola said. “Dan Malloy spends part of his time as fundraiser in chief for the Democrat Party, shaking down special interests in and out of Connecticut.”
The Democrats’ fundraising advantage is twofold: the party holds all the levers of power, including the governor’s office; and Malloy’s singular fundraising focus is building the state party into an organizational powerhouse.
Republicans have little power, and four gubernatorial contenders are raising money for their own candidate or exploratory committees: Sen. Toni Boucher, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney and Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee.
“We have many candidates going to the same donors,” said Catherine Marx, a member of the Republican State Central Committee.
Labriola said the party hopes to coalesce around one candidate at its May nominating convention, avoiding an expensive primary.
With Malloy lending the party’s fundraising his time and name, Democrats raised $1.2 million over just the past three months.
Malloy and most Democrats seeking re-election to the legislature and other state offices in 2014 intend to participate in the voluntary Citizens Election program, which provides public financing in return for accepting contributions of no more than $100. But the state parties can make unlimited expenditures to support them.
As in previous months, some of the Democrats’ biggest donors in November were employed by businesses that benefit from state contracts or assistance.
Members of Pullman & Comley, a law firm that received $1 million in fees from the state in the fiscal year ending June 30, contributed $31,000. John Stafstrom Jr., a partner, donated the maximum of $10,000, while eight others gave $2,5000 and a ninth member gave $1,000.
David Winstanley of Concord, Mass., became the third member of Winstanley Enterprises to donate $10,000. Their company is developing Downtown Crossing in New Haven, whose anchor tenant, Alexion, was the recipient of a $51 million economic development package from the Malloy administration.
Other out-of-state real-estate developers and construction executives also made maximum contributions: Louis P. Ciminelli is the chief executive of LPCiminelli Construction of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Joseph E. Corcoran of Milton, Mass., is a director of Corcoran Jennison Co. Ciminelli’s wife, Ann Louise, also gave $10,000.
Some Republicans have watched the growing financial disparity of the two parties with alarm, especially as Democrats have recruited new, experienced staff from around the country. The party had its first all-day training session for activists this month.
New to its payroll in November was Jon Blair, who managed the congressional campaign of Robin Kelly, a gun-control advocate who won a special election in April for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat.
Blair is the director the Democrats’ coordinated campaign, a job that typically entails building a base of common resources used to identify supporters and deliver them to the polls.
In August, Democrats hired Jennifer Smith, the political director of New England Health Care Employees Unions, as a full-time liaison to organized labor. It recently advertised a new research position.
Things are hardly hopeless for Republicans. Malloy never has climbed above 50 percent in job approval, and he struggles to manage a budget in a fragile economy. But GOP operatives say that the Democrats seem intent on building a campaign infrastructure modeled on the voter turnout machine that helped re-elect President Obama, who also struggled with high unemployment and a bad economy.
“The Republicans have no equivalent,” said Tom Scott, a former Republican state senator who has managed campaigns.
He has watched the Democrats grow their staff, which he sees as an obvious step toward “micro targeting,” –- identifying, courting and mobilizing various voter demographics. The GOP needs money to catch up and exploit Malloy’s political weaknesses.
“The only way the state party can be taken seriously is by getting some talent in here, building a voter list and implement micro-targeting,” Scott said.
Perhaps the GOP is due for a change in luck. Its expenditures in November included a $3,000 deposit to reserve a venue for its nominating convention in May, which in recent years has been held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Next year, the GOP will nominate its statewide ticket at the Mohegan Sun casino.