Dem dues threat yields $500K' harsh tactics elicit complaints

One month after House Democratic leaders laid down harsh new penalties for lawmakers who do not pay party dues, the tactics have had mixed results, raising some new money but also eliciting complaints from disgruntled members.

Twenty-eight more Democratic members have made at least a token contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) since the penalties were announced at the end of June, raking in nearly $500,000 in new funds, according to an internal DCCC tally distributed to members last week.

Those extra contributions, however, represent only a small fraction of the $35 million the DCCC has asked members to donate over the course of the 2006 election cycle. Fifty-seven House Democrats were apparently unmoved by the leaders’ threats and have yet to make any donation at all.

Other members have taken issue with the leadership’s emphasis on dues over such activities as raising money directly for the DCCC or giving to vulnerable members.

“I think other factors need to be considered, such as past history of paying dues and raising money, and access to a donor base. … Simply reducing it to a question of member dues is counterproductive,” said Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), who has paid $20,000 in dues.

“They are squeezing us from every direction,” a chief of staff to a Democratic member said, noting that lawmakers had been asked to contribute to the Frontline program, which protects vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and the Red-to-Blue Program, which seeks to unseat Republican incumbents.

“There are lots of ways you can take back the House,” the chief of staff continued. “If it is simply a question of money, then we are already out of luck,” he said, because Democrats have historically lagged behind Republicans in fundraising.

Democratic House members are required to pay between $100,000 and $600,000 in dues to the DCCC, depending on committee assignments and leadership positions.

So far, members have paid a little more than $6 million in dues, which are assessed on a quarterly basis.

Days before the end of the last quarter, Democratic leaders, including DCCC Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), wrote to members indicating that those who had not made any dues payments would be barred from using DCCC “member services,” fundraising support services that include access to phones to make fundraising calls, use of conference rooms for fundraisers and access to mailing and fax lists.

The threat marked the first time Democrats had used a confrontational approach to collecting dues. DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said that members who have not paid dues were indeed being barred from using member services.

Members who paid up for the first time after the announcement of the penalties include Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), both chief deputy whips. Lewis paid $100,000 of the $250,000 he owes in dues over the course of this election cycle. Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on Rules, paid $38,000 of her $300,000.

Several notable members who have not paid dues include Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who serve as chief deputy whips, and Rep. Lane Evans (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Emanuel and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote to members Friday thanking them for their support of the DCCC, noting the party committee’s success in recruiting candidates this cycle and urging them to continue to pay their dues.

“Your quarterly dues payment continues to give us the resources we need to further our efforts and continue to make gains,” Pelosi and Emanuel wrote.

Enclosed with the letter was an individualized “account summary” showing how much the member had paid thus far and how much more was due by the end of the third quarter.

The mailing also included a spreadsheet showing dues payments of the entire caucus. Perhaps in response to some members’ complaints that the party was focusing too much on dues and not enough on other ways members contribute to fundraising, the spreadsheet also showed the amounts members had raised directly for the DCCC, the amounts they had raised or contributed to the Frontline program and the amount they had contributed to the Red-to-Blue Program.

Pelosi raised $11.9 million for the DCCC, according to the spreadsheet, followed by Emanuel with $8 million, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) with $2.1 million, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, with $711,000 and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) with $697,000.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) raised or contributed $2 million for Frontline, the most of any member. He was followed by Pelosi at $762,000, Emanuel at $515,000, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at $372,000 and Crowley at $114,000.

The numbers could play well for Crowley, who is DCCC Business Council chairman and is running to replace Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) in the No. 4 party leadership slot. Fundraising ability is seen as a key component to a successful candidacy. He is running against Schakowsky and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.). Larson raised only $2,500 for the DCCC and $15,000 for the Frontline program.

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