Specter ends speech with odd fundraising plea

It's no secret that cash rules political campaigns and that candidates spend a lot of their time trying to pry checks out of voters, businesses and interest groups and just about whoever. It's usually done discreetly at fundraisers held in places like the back room of a restaurant or the home of a prominent supporter.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) isn't so shy, apparently.

In an unusual move, Specter pleaded with a roomful of conference attendees Wednesday: Please write me a check. Members of Congress give talks at industry meetings all the time but they rarely - if ever - straight up ask for dough in public, especially when reporters are lurking about.

Specter was finishing up brief speech about healthcare reform to an audience of medical equipment suppliers when he closed his remarks with a fundraising pitch.

"My last [campaign] cost $23 mil. So I'd like you to consider giving me a hand with it. Campaign contributions are limited in the federal system so I have to get 50,000 contributors and the people in your industry have a reason to know my work and analysis of the situation. If you can see your way to help out, I'd be very much appreciative," Specter said.

Specter's campaign coffers are well short of $23 mil. at the moment but he's still got more money than his rivals.

According to the most recent report on March 31, Specter had $6.7 million in the bank, having raised $1.3 million in the quarter. That was before he abandoned the Republican Party to avoid a primary face-off with former Rep. Pat Toomey, who nearly beat Specter in 2004.

Toomey announced his Senate candidacy after March 31 so no information is available but his campaign claimed a month ago that it'd raised more than $500,000 in less than three weeks after Specter switched parties.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D) is weighing a primary challenge to Specter despite vows from President Obama and other senior Democrats to back the incumbent. Sestak's campaign has $3.3 million on hand and raised $550,000 in the first quarter of the year.

(Incidentally, something else weird was happening just as Specter had his hand held out: Audience members were slowly and quietly filing out of the room while the senator was still talking. Maybe they had sit- downs scheduled on Capitol Hill didn't want to be late?)

Specter said he'd already been to a fundraiser earlier in the day that included some of the same people at the conference, which the American Association for Homecare sponsored. "[B]ut there are no second-class citizens here. You're getting the same speech," Specter quipped. On second thought, he added, "the second-class citizens are the people who attended the fundraiser who have to listen to it twice."

- Jeffrey Young