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What Makes Barbour So Powerful

Politico has a long article today on Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association (RGA), and how he is, well, powerful. The article points out that while governors’ races typically aren’t considered as sexy as the race for control of Congress, Barbour is playing a crucial role in developing the next generation of Republican leaders — and leading his party towards control of a majority of statehouses at an important moment because redistricting is set to occur early next year.

The main source of his power, however, is his prolific fundraising, and here’s where Politico buries the lead. The article calls him “uniquely adept” at soliciting big contributions, and notes that his “clout is also derived from his serious interest in running for president in 2012, a point he is making clear in private conversations.” But the principle cause for the RGA’s success is structural in nature, not personally related to Barbour at all:

Barbour has a huge advantage over Republicans in Washington when it comes to raising money. The RGA is a 527 organization, which unlike the RNC or the federal PACs, can raise money in unlimited sums from individuals and corporations, the latter of which have been barred since 2002 from giving to party committees. That’s enabled drug makers and energy companies, for example, to give millions to Barbour’s RGA.

If your group is allowed to raise millions from individual donors and corporations, while the national parties and their Senate and House committees must stick to strictly capped donations from individuals and PACs, it’s easy to see how you might come to be regarded as “uniquely adept” at fundraising — but hardly fair. To be sure, Barbour’s reputation for fundraising also tracks back to his successful chairmanship of the RNC in the 1990s, but that was before “soft money” donations to the national parties were banned in 2002.

Heck, I’m mortified when it comes to asking people for money but I imagine that even I could outperform the RNC with the comparative advantages the RGA currently enjoys. Nonetheless, Barbour’s success at the RGA is earning him front page profiles and bolstering his chances at making a credible run for the Republican nomination in 2012.

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