By Josh Lederman - 03/21/12 09:00 AM EDT
Many senior House Democrats have not paid what they owe their party as
part of its effort to win back control of the lower chamber, according
to records obtained by The Hill.
Instead of fulfilling their financial obligation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, these lawmakers are stockpiling their campaign cash.
Each cycle, every lawmaker owes dues to the party’s campaign arm. The committee sets different targets for different members based on various factors, including seniority, fundraising ability and the lawmaker’s reelection needs.
More than halfway through the 2012 cycle, five Democratic ranking committee members — plus one deputy whip — have given nothing to the DCCC. Another six ranking members have given less than one-quarter of what they owe, according to dues sheets obtained by The Hill.
Other lawmakers have less money in their campaign accounts but have yet to meet their DCCC obligations.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who faces a primary opponent, and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have yet to contribute any of the $250,000 they owe, while Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) has transferred just $60,000 of the $500,000 the DCCC expects her to hand over as the top Democrat on the Committee on Rules. She faces a tough GOP opponent, however.
Other ranking Democrats, including Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and Adam Smith (Wash.) have given $50,000 or less of the $250,000 they owe. Rep. Linda Sanchez (Calif.) has given only $25,000 of the $300,000 she owes, but her coffers were emptied out last year by Kinde Durkee, the money manager accused of defrauding dozens of California Democrats.
Most lawmakers did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.
Ranking members will become committee chairmen if Democrats are successful in flipping the 25 seats they need for a majority in November. But those coveted slots could be in jeopardy if members lose the good graces of Democratic leaders who dole out appointments.
Adding to the pressure this cycle are a handful of high-profile retirements that will leave open the top Democratic spots on key committees, including the Appropriations and Veterans Affairs committees and the Foreign Affairs subcommittee dealing with the Middle East.
“Jockeying for positions on key committees and subcommittees is already taking place,” said an aide to a House Democrat. “There’s no doubt leadership will look toward these metrics when choosing to support or not support any particular members.”
Complicating matters is the redistricting process, which was delayed in some states — meaning several lawmakers were waiting to see where they would run and against whom.
In total, more than 70 Democratic House members have yet to contribute to the DCCC this cycle, records show. But many of those members get a pass from leadership for holding onto their cash, either because they are in a tough district, are facing a primary challenge or come from poorer districts where dollars are harder to raise.
But ranking members are expected to be team players — especially when the fate of all Democrats rests on the party’s ability to shed its minority status in November.
“Leadership have made an appeal to the members who would be chairmen to pay their dues,” said a Democratic source with knowledge of party discussions.
Ranking members have faced similar challenges as rank-and-file members this cycle, the source said, including the redistricting process, and might just now be in a position to start making dues payments. In the last presidential cycle, when Democrats were in the majority, every committee chairman had pitched in by mid-June, save for Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), who faced a tough race in 2010. He hasn’t paid any of the $200,000 he owes this year.
But the later the money comes in, the less helpful it is for Democrats.
“The case you’ve been hearing leadership make to members is that the DCCC is going to have to set a budget and make a decision about how many races they can invest in,” said the source, who requested anonymity to be able to speak freely.
“The sooner the DCCC knows what a member’s commitment is, the more accurate that budget can be.”
Realizing that some members just can’t afford to part with their cash lest they make themselves vulnerable to defeat, the DCCC created a second category to account for funds that members raise for the DCCC through events and other means. But in many cases, ranking Democrats are falling short there, too. Brady, Conyers and retiring Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) have neither contributed to nor raised any funds for the DCCC this cycle.
“If people can’t cite reasonable justification for their being essentially AWOL, at some point that comes home to roost,” said former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), who chaired the DCCC in the early 1990s.
One repeat offender is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a chief deputy whip eyeing the top spot on the Financial Services Committee, where the ranking member — Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) — is retiring. Waters has given nothing to the committee this cycle and raised only $500 for the DCCC, The Hill reported in early March. Her DCCC dues are $300,000. Reviews of dues sheets from midway through the election year in 2008 and 2010 showed she hadn’t made any contributions in those years, either. Frank, who is retiring, has paid $275,000 of the $500,000 he owes.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) would have been given a pass for much of this cycle due to the rough primary she faced against fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), who lost to Kaptur on March 7. But Kaptur transferred $25,000 to the DCCC by the end of February — perhaps because she aspires to take the helm of the powerful Appropriations Committee come January.
“She’s always put the interests of her colleagues foremost, and it was not different this year,” said Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought. “That’s what it’s going to take — that type of commitment — for the Democrats to recapture the House.”
Kaptur’s main rival for the Appropriations position, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), has donated more than $165,000 of the $250,000 she owes, and raised another $250,000 for the DCCC.
Meanwhile, the party’s leaders in the House are exceeding their goals and using valuable campaign time to raise cash for the party. DCCC Vice Chairwoman Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) is already $30,000 ahead of her $300,000 contribution goal and has raised almost a million more for the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has ponied up $600,000 and raised almost $27 million since the start of the cycle.
"The DCCC and our grassroots supporters are aggressively focused on the Drive to 25,” said a DCCC representative. “We appreciate everything our members do to help us reach that goal."
Oliver Bussell contributed