Washington Prowler

Demzilla Devours Dean

McAuliffe sandbags his successor.

By 2.17.05

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Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe left a few surprises for incoming DNC chair Howie Dean. Perhaps the biggest was McAuliffe's decision to give to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) full access to the DNC's donor database known as "Demzilla."

McAuliffe didn't consult with Dean or any of Dean's advisers in giving the two congressional campaign committees access to the list. For years, the RNC has given its party's House and Senate campaign committees access to its version of the data base, but that's partly because both committees help finance the list and its upkeep. Neither Democratic committee will be paying the DNC a dime for what many on Capitol Hill consider a huge windfall to the DCCC and the DSCC.

Dean was not happy when he learned of McAuliffe's decision. "He was pissed," says a former Dean campaign staffer, now at the DNC. "Demzilla is one of the few tools the DNC had that it can leverage for fundraising. The money we raise would then be used to help support Democratic candidates and the party operations. Now everyone has the same list, the same data. The DNC has no chit to play."

According to a senior adviser to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, McAuliffe was approached about opening up Demzilla during a Democratic retreat after the November elections. New campaign committee chairmen Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Chuck Schumer, along with Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, lobbied McAuliffe for full access. "Each of them made the point that given Dean's background and the doubts Reid and Pelosi had about him, it would be most helpful to give them the same tools the DNC would have. This was a pure power play by Pelosi and Reid, nothing more, and a slap at Dean."

Dean publicly has said he is supportive of the file-sharing, but privately advisers say he is seething that McAuliffe made a major executive decision without fully consulting with him. "Dean might have come to the same conclusion that McAuliffe did," says the new DNC staffer. "Or he might have disagreed. The issue from our standpoint was did McAuliffe have the right to make that big a decision on his own. This is something that may hamstring the DNC for some time.

The biggest concern is donor exhaustion. Demzilla contains more than 175 million donor names, along with voter and general consumer data. The database allowed the DNC to better target specific fundraising appeals to segments of the population, saving the party money on mailings, and giving the DNC a bigger return for the appeals it sent out.

Demzilla was touted by McAuliffe as the great equalizer for the Democrats in the search for "small" donors, those who typically donate smaller amounts of money, but more frequently, say, several times a year, to the party. Since the 1980s, Republicans have held a huge edge in drawing upon those types of donations.

Dean, though, believes he still has a couple of cards to play that may give the DNC some proprietary data. He has asked his staff to pull up his full mailing list from both his presidential run, as well as from his organization, Democracy For America, and to run it with Demzilla to determine how many unique names they can draw upon for the party. "We expect that after we scrub these lists, we'll have something that the congressional campaign committees won't have," says the DNC source. "And we won't be sharing it with them."

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