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GOP Squeezes Its Own

House Republican leaders have announced a new fund-raising drive to collect $16 million from GOP members in an effort to maintain the party's slim six-seat majority in the House.

The "hard-money" contributions will be raised by each of the GOP's 222 House members and turned over to a National Republican Congressional Committee's program called "Battleground 2000." According to the Washington Post, Republican officials have warned members that failure to meet the fund-raising goals could affect their committee assignments.

The NRCC said five GOP leaders - House Speaker Dennis Hastert, NRCC Chairman Tom Davis, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Majority Whip Tom DeLay and Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts - have promised to raise $700,000 each.

The balance - $12.5 million - will be raised by the remaining members. Each member will get an individual fund-raising target that has yet to be determined.

GOP leader said that once those targets are set, members (whose participation is mandatory) will be pressured to meet them. Officials warned that if the Democrats take control of the House in November, "committee decisions will be based on who helped the team, not necessarily on seniority," according to material prepared for a GOP meeting on the fund-raising effort.

GOP leaders said "Battleground 2000" will focus on about three dozen close House races, funding voter turnout events and campaign ads.

In 1998, many Republicans were angered by a similar effort called "Operation Breakout." That effort funded nationwide ads featuring the impeachment scandal and President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Republicans later faulted the ad blitz for contributing to the unexpected losses the GOP suffered in the House.

The GOP is trying to play catch up. The Democrats have $28 million to spend on House races, compared to $18 million for the Republicans. And 24 of the 33 open House seats in the election are held by Republicans.

The Democrats criticized the GOP's fund-raising tactics.

"We implore our members to donate excess funds to the committee, absolutely," said Erik Smith, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "But we do not make leadership positions and committee chairmanship contingent on the donations. That's the difference."