Retiring Dems aren’t paying their dues

House Democratic leaders want a going-away present from the members who are leaving Congress next year — their committee dues.

A dozen retiring House Democrats have racked up almost $2 million in outstanding balances with the party’s campaign committee while, in some cases, maintaining flush war chests.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), for instance, has only paid the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) $100,000 of the $500,000 he owes in dues, according to documents obtained by The Hill.

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Obey, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, announced his retirement last month after serving 20 terms in the House. He had more than $1.3 million in his campaign account as of his last Federal Election Commission (FEC) report.

A spokeswoman for Obey did not respond to a request for comment.

The DCCC said it welcomes contributions from its retiring members.

“The DCCC is a member-participation organization, and we appreciate everything our members do for us in ensuring we have a strong Democratic majority,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the DCCC.

Even in a good year, collecting member dues is hard for committee staffers from both parties. Dues are set on a scale, taking into account factors like time in Congress, whether a member is in leadership and the lawmaker’s campaign needs.

Many members want to hold on to their hard-earned cash until they know they’re in the clear. And this cycle is going to be tough for incumbents. Many are viewing it as every-man-for-himself and could try to avoid paying for as long as they can. 

But retiring Democrats are leaving the political arena, and strategists want them to help their party before they go.

“Dues are an investment in keeping a strong Democratic majority. If the DCCC doesn’t have the resources to fight back, every member pays the price,” a senior Democratic strategist told The Hill.

That price could be heavy this year. An NPR survey released Tuesday showed Republican candidates leading in 60 Democratic-held seats. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg’s firm called the results a “wake-up call for Democrats, whose losses in the House could well exceed 30 seats.”

A loss of 40 seats would shift control back to the Republicans and result in the loss of plum committee positions for Democrats. Still, some committee chairmen, such as retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), are also behind on their payments.

Gordon owes slightly less than $100,000 despite having $1,103,554 in the bank as of his last report.

A spokeswoman for Gordon said the money will be forthcoming.

“The campaign sends the DCCC a check every month. Much of its money is tied up in C.D.s that won’t mature until this summer and fall,” Emily Phelps, a spokeswoman for Gordon, said in an e-mail. “Congressman Gordon anticipates paying his dues in full and on time. The FEC places strict limitations [on] how leftover campaign funds can and can’t be used and requires reports to be filed as long as funds remain.”

Other Democrats in leadership positions have also fallen behind.

Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a deputy whip, has paid $165,000 of the $300,000 he owes, despite retiring and having some $1.2 million cash on hand. Additionally, he’s raised only $65,000 toward his goal of $500,000 for the DCCC.

“Congressman Tanner is dedicated to supporting like-minded candidates and plans to meet his commitments,” Randy Ford, a spokesman for Tanner, said in an e-mail.

Other members have burgeoning campaign accounts but have contributed zero dollars to the committee.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), for instance, had $540,491 cash on hand as of his spring FEC filing. He announced his retirement in December last year. He hasn’t paid any of the $150,000 he owes the DCCC for the 2009-10 cycle. Moreover, of his $100,000 fundraising goal for the committee, he’s chipped in just $1,000.

Some members took issue with the suggestion they weren’t contributing their fair share.

Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who announced in December he’s retiring after seven terms, said he doesn’t raise money in the off-year. 

“I don’t have money, and I don’t have money to donate,” Snyder told The Hill.

He hasn’t paid any money toward the $150,000 in dues he owes the committee, the documents show.

Snyder said it’s “illegal” for him to raise money after announcing his retirement. “We’re actually trying to shut the whole thing down,” he said about his campaign account. “I don’t have a war chest. I have almost no money at this point.”

His April FEC report shows him with $1,512 in the bank. Snyder’s office said he plans to raise money for other candidates this cycle.

Federal regulations allow a retiring member to continue to raise money for his campaign if his cash on hand is less than his debt, according to a spokeswoman for the FEC. The rules don’t specify whether a member can keep fundraising if he’s not in debt, and there are no restrictions on a retiring member raising money for the DCCC.

Members often roll their campaign funds into a political action committee after leaving office because it allows them to remain politically active. But with the Democrats in danger of losing their majority in the House, strategists suggest it may be a better career move to use the cash to help maintain their numbers come November. Former members have more attractive job prospects if they’re connected to the majority party.

Not all members are thinking about their next career move. 

Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) is retiring this year but his wife, Stephene Moore, is running to succeed him. His entire $250,000 balance is outstanding with the committee, despite having $412,188 in his campaign account as of March 31. He may be hanging on to that cash to find a way to help his wife’s candidacy.

A spokesman for Moore’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.