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Obamacare fight sparks jump in political fundraising

Night falls over the U.S. Capitol Dome, as members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives deal with a budget showdown wi
Night falls over the U.S. Capitol Dome, as members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives deal with a budget showdown wi

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The budget and debt standoff in Washington that led to a U.S. government shutdown this month was a fundraising boon for Democratic groups, which had one of their most lucrative months of the year.

But the Republicans' push to hold up government funding to try to delay or defund Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law also apparently paid off for independent conservative groups, which raked in millions of dollars in the two months before the partial shutdown of the U.S. government began on October 1.

Monthly reports from the independent and party-affiliated groups, as well as the Federal Election Commission, shed light on the political fundraising frenzy that unfolded in September, as Congress' stalemate over spending and debt issues pushed the government toward the shutdown.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which funds campaigns of candidates for the House of Representatives, had the largest haul of the month, bringing in $8.4 million. That topped its Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which raised $5.3 million in September.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised more in September than the Republican National Committee (RNC) - $7.4 million to $7.1 million - for the first time this year. These numbers represent a significant bump in donations: the DNC raised $4.3 million in August, compared with the RNC's $6.8 million.

"This means the Democrats have jumped to a fundraising advantage" ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

In those elections, Democrats will seek a net gain of 17 seats in the 435-seat House to try to take over that chamber from Republicans, while Republicans will aim for a net gain of six seats in the 100-seat Senate to try to seize control from Democrats.

Analysts see the challenge as particularly difficult for Democrats in the House, where dozens of Republicans are safely tucked into conservative districts.

"It looks good on paper for Democrats in the House, but they've got such an uphill fight that it's not so bothersome" for Republicans, O'Connell said.

'ENERGIZED' DEMOCRATS

Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said the fundraising totals indicate that "voters across the country are fed up with the Republican brand."

The DSCC raised more than its Republican counterpart in September, $4.6 million to $3.6 million.

"I do think donors were absolutely outraged at the recklessness and irresponsibility of the Republican shutdown, and were energized by it," Barasky said.

Independent political groups on both sides of the aisle, from the White House-aligned Organizing for Action to the right-wing Heritage Action, used the shutdown and the debate over the healthcare law, known as "Obamacare," as an opportunity to send a flurry of fundraising pitches beginning in September.

Organizing for Action, the group that grew out of Obama's successful re-election campaign, reports its fundraising quarterly. The group raised more than $7.7 million from July through September as it prepared to promote Obamacare at the beginning of the program's enrollment period, but it is not clear precisely how much it brought in during the shutdown debate.

For independent conservative groups, the Republicans' shutdown strategy became a rallying cry against Obamacare that boosted their fundraising.

The Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) - a group co-founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a leader in the Tea Party movement - pulled in $2.1 million, up from $1.5 million in August.

The SCF and the influential Club for Growth are the two largest donors to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican whose 21-hour speech on the Senate floor in late September helped set the stage for the shutdown fight.

The group has endorsed Matt Bevin, a Tea Party challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, leading to what the strategist O'Connell has called a "two-front war" for Senate Republicans who face well-funded opponents on the political right and left.

The Club for Growth's political action committee raised nearly $127,000 in September, and its "Super PAC" - an independent group that can raise unlimited amounts and is not required to disclose its contributors - hauled in $282,000.

The PAC had raised about $74,000 in August, but the Super PAC collected $683,770 as the Republican strategy against Obamacare gained momentum, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Spokesman Barney Keller refused to comment on the groups' fundraising totals. A representative from Heritage Action, which is influential among staunch conservatives and has not disclosed its fundraising data, also declined to comment.

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Beech)

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