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The Wall Street Journal Just Helped the GOP Raise a Whole Lot of Money

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Anyone who thinks newspapers have lost all the sway of days past should consider what the Republican Party just pulled off via the nation’s largest-circulation paper.

Just a few weeks ago, the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal were full of praise for Harry Reid and the Democrats’ 2014 campaign operation. One after another Journal opinion writer marveled at the Democrats’ fundraising and compared them favorably to their lackluster Republican counterparts. Journal editorial board member Kim Strassel (a recent winner of the $250,000 Bradley Prize for conservative commentators) led the way on August 21 with a column subtitled Democratic Super PACs and party campaign committees are outraising the Republicans.

Of more concern to Republicans is the money that Democrats are funneling into their outside Super PACs, the campaign vehicles best positioned to damage Republican candidates. The heavyweight in this field is Mr. Reid's Senate Majority PAC, which…is landing windfall donations that have turned it into the second-largest spender this cycle after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The two Democratic organizations have each spent close to $32 million. By comparison, the Republicans' Senatorial Committee has spent about $16 million, and the biggest GOP Super PAC, American Crossroads, has spent about $7 million.

On September 17, a similar note was sounded by Karl Rove, co-founder of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, one of the biggest outside groups funding Republican candidates, in his weekly column in the Journal under the attention-getting headline “Why a GOP Senate Majority Is Still in Doubt.”

On Tuesday the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it raised $7.7 million in August, $1.6 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised. The DSCC had $25 million cash on hand on August 31, the NRSC $20 million.

And on Wednesday American Crossroads' media buyers produced their latest analysis on how much airtime each side has run or reserved in 14 Senate contests. As of this writing, between Sept. 1 and election day, Democratic Senate candidates, party committees and outside groups have run or placed $109 million in television advertising, while Republican candidates, party committees and groups have $85 million in television time. (Disclosure: I help American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raise funds on a volunteer basis.)

…Republican candidates and groups must step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap.

And in case anyone missed the message, the Journal editorial board followed up with another encomium to Reid a week later, titled: “The Big Money Democrats”:

The untold story of this campaign is that Democrats are trouncing Republicans on fund-raising, fueled by those "big donors" and "special interests" they claim to despise. That Democrats remain competitive in so many close Senate election races despite low incumbent approval ratings is in large part a function of this spending advantage.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has so far this cycle raised $111 million, or $30 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The DSCC has spent or reserved nearly $42 million for this fall in TV advertising—55% of it in Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina. The $23 million it will spend in those three key states—which could determine Senate control—is $4 million more than the NRSC will spend across the country.

After the DSCC, the biggest spender has been Mr. Reid's very own Senate Majority PAC. Run by former Reid aides, this Super PAC's only mission has been to trash Republican challengers to take their approval ratings as low as those of Democratic incumbents. The group has already raised more than $32 million, with $16.5 million in TV ads reserved through Election Day.

Now you may ask: why ever would the Journal’s conservatives be going to such lengths to draw attention to the successes of Harry Reid and his henchmen? Well, it doesn’t exactly take Frank Underwood-level skills of political deduction to figure this one out. The Journal is the newspaper of the country’s business elite, which in most industries still leans Republican. These pieces were landing on C-suite desks with a message that had all the subtlety of a public-radio fundraising-drive. Guys, the message read, we are to our surprise not as far ahead in the money game as we expected to be for the midterms. Please send checks, pronto.

In fact, the picture was never as dire as the Journal’s writers made it out to be. While the main Democratic SuperPAC was indeed outpacing its GOP counterparts, conservatives have, as Nick Confessore reported in the New York Times, all along been spending vastly more than Democrats through so-called 501(c)(4) groups like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Rove’s Crossroads GPS. These groups are appealing to major conservative donors because, unlike the Senate Majority PAC, they are allowed to keep their donors' identities secret given that the groups are in theory promoting general “social welfare” and not specific candidates.

Pointing out this inherent Republican edge, though, would have dampened the power of the Journal’s appeals. And lo, the appeals have succeeded. As Confessore reported Thursday:

Republican candidates for the Senate have overcome the sizable fund-raising edge held by their Democratic opponents for most of the 2014 election cycle, according to new disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, outraising or matching Democrats in races that will decide control of the Senate and entering the final weeks of the campaign with ample cash.

Republican candidates and “super PACs” are now splurging on expensive last-minute advertising, at a time when polling shows Republicans increasingly more likely to win control of the Senate...

American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, raised $11 million, making September its best month yet in this campaign cycle. An affiliated political nonprofit, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which does not disclose its donors, also received substantial new donations in September, an official confirmed. The group has purchased about $26 million in advertising for the last five weeks of the campaign, including new spending in Colorado and Iowa, and the group’s first advertising in the Senate race in New Hampshire.

Rove himself relayed the good news in his Journal column Thursday, which was headlined, “The Republican Election Hand Gets Better”:

Several GOP candidates in key states have done very well raising money in recent months…Republican contenders have outraised Democrats at least in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire and West Virginia. They will use those dollars to even up the number of ads. The National Republican Senatorial Committee had its best September ever with $15.5 million, almost matching the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s $16 million haul.

You don’t say! “Its best September ever.” Might the efforts of a certain columnist smack in the middle of that month who raises money for Republicans “on a volunteer basis” have had something to do with that?

There’s an irony at work here: one of conservatives’ favorite arguments against campaign finance reform—an argument voiced often by the Journal editorial board as well as by campaign finance reform arch-nemesis Mitch McConnell—is that it is unfair of liberals to limit political contributions by the wealthy and corporations when one set of companies—newspapers and other media outlets—are able to hammer away as much as they want for or against certain candidates, via their own content. Implicit in this argument is that the nefarious media companies exploiting this advantage lean left. But it’s hard to recall the New York Times or MSNBC ever rattling the tin cup and rallying the troops as effectively as News Corporation just did.