A star is born: Wilson raises big bucks

Weeks after a public outburst made him a national name, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is becoming a hot commodity on the fundraising circuit, pulling in big bucks for fellow Republicans around the country.

During President Obama's Sept. 9 address to a joint session of Congress, Wilson shouted "You lie!" when Obama said healthcare legislation would not cover illegal immigrants. He was later reprimanded in a largely party-line vote.

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But instead of making him a pariah, the episode made Wilson a star. His campaign committee has raised about $2 million, nearly twice what he raised and spent during the 2008 election, and suddenly, Republicans around the country are clamoring for his time.

"He's been asked to do multiple events," said Eric Dell, Wilson's chief of staff. "He's always helped his colleagues. He's always been someone who helps the team, ever since he was elected."

On Friday, Wilson's name adorned an e-mail from the National Republican Congressional Committee urging donors to make contributions before next Wednesday, the close of the September reporting period, asking for help to "retire" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and support a bill to require legislation to be posted online for 72 hours before it is voted on.

"Democrats don't want you reading their healthcare bill — or any other bill for that matter. Their legislative agendas will do nothing more than grow the government, raise your taxes and squash individual freedom. That is why they have cloaked their legislation in mystery and rushed it to vote. Democrats cannot win the battle of ideas and they know this," the NRCC letter from Wilson says.

Earlier this week, Wilson penned a missive on behalf of Bill Howell, the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, asking for contributions to Howell's political action committee in order to counteract "big liberal money."

And next Friday, Wilson will head to Jackson, Mich., to headline a fundraiser for ex-Rep. Tim Walberg (R). Walberg lost his 2008 reelection bid to Rep. Mark Schauer (D) and is running for his old seat. An invitation to the event touts the chance to take a photo with Wilson for $150, while a ticket to a larger reception will set donors back just $20.

Dell said other Republicans had asked Wilson to record messages and videos for various events. Though Wilson is focused on his home district, based around Columbia and parts of ten counties that stretch south to the Georgia border, Dell said Wilson would do his part in the future to aide colleagues.

The Republican National Committee, too, has asked for donations to support its efforts to combat the resolution condemning Wilson. In an e-mail to donors Sept. 17, RNC chairman Michael Steele pointed to several Democratic members of Congress with ethical clouds over their heads, including Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and John Murtha (D-Pa.).

"The truth — the Democrats don't want an apology. They want a side show," Steele wrote as the resolution was being debated.

But Wilson has proven a financial boon for Democrats as well. His opponent, Iraq war veteran Rob Miller (D), has raised more than $1.5 million since Wilson's outburst, nearly tripling the amount he spent during the 2008 campaign, when he held Wilson to a 52 percent to 48 percent win.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used Wilson's image just hours after the infamous incident, exhorting donors to "stand against" Wilson's "unacceptable outburst." The DCCC met their goal of raising $100,000 in 48 hours, a spokesman said.

And in Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine (D) responded to the letter on behalf of Howell's PAC with one of his own, writing that Wilson's foray into Commonwealth politics showed state Republicans were giving "tacit approval of disrespectful behavior." Kaine's letter sought donations for his Moving Virginia Forward PAC.

Kaine is also the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but that organization has not used Wilson in fundraising appeals.