CHC makes concessions in standoff over Dem dues

Satisfied with the actions and promises from Democratic Party leaders, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are ready to get out their checkbooks.

CHC members last Wednesday agreed to stop withholding their dues payments from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), noting that the party committee had responded in part to their concerns that it was doing too little to engage Hispanic voters and that it rarely included Hispanics in important decision-making.

CHC members had mounted the protest in March after a rancorous meeting with DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) during which Emanuel reportedly balked at the lawmakers’ demand that the DCCC hire a Hispanic to a high-level position.

Since then, Emanuel has reversed course and in late June hired Adrian Saenz, a longtime aide to Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), to be national field director for Hispanic programs. He starts in mid-August.  It was still unclear whether Saenz would have budgetary authority, as Hispanic lawmakers had requested.

Citing the hiring, many members who had been withholding their dues – numbering as many as 14 of the Hispanic Caucus’s 21 members – committed to turn over a portion of their dues to the DCCC during a meeting at Democratic headquarters last week.

They decided to pay “up to their first quarter dues,” said a source present at the meeting, a compromise stance that recognized both their ongoing concerns about Hispanic outreach and the recent calls by party leaders for members to make good on their dues obligations.

CHC Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) said that Hispanic members were still working out their differences with the DCCC.

“We’re working on it.  We seem to be on track temporarily,” she said.

Emanuel characterized the dispute as over.

“I don’t think that’s happening anymore…Questions that got raised have been answered,” he said.

Member dues, which range from $100,000 to $600,000 per member, form a significant portion of the DCCC’s budget. The committee has requested that lawmakers contribute $35 million in funds to the DCCC in a biannual effort to regain the majority in the House. Dues from Hispanic members account for nearly $3.5 million or 10 percent of those funds. 

Party leaders wrote to all members at the end of June threatening to withhold fundraising support services from members who had not paid their dues. Facing that pressure from leadership, Hispanic members came to last Wednesday’s meeting hoping to reach an agreement among themselves that would allow them to make at least a token contribution. 

“A lot of us had our checks in our pockets, ready to give,” said Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas)  “We discussed the issue and reached a general consensus” to pay a portion of the dues.

“There is still concern, not only about hiring a Hispanic but also making sure they involve the Hispanic members of Congress in high-level strategy discussions.  There are still some members who feel they haven’t done enough,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas.)

Hispanic members had earlier submitted a “laundry list” of requests, in Napolitano’s words, to the DCCC. Aside from the hiring of a Hispanic, they also sought assurances that that position be given an operating budget and that the committee would develop an outreach plan that would be incorporated in its overall strategy. Saenz’s hiring represents only a part of their original demands. 

One of those members still not at all satisfied with the DCCC’s response was Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) whose spokeswoman said he was still withholding all his dues. 

“He has not paid because of the CHC issue. That’s the reason he hasn’t paid,” the spokeswoman said.

Still, other CHC members had recently written checks to the DCCC.

Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) paid $20,000 of the $150,000 he owes in dues.  Cuellar paid $12,500 of $100,000 and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) paid $10,000 of $100,000.

Reyes and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who has been serving as the CHC liaison to the DCCC, have also paid a portion of their dues, although the amounts were not known.

It was unclear whether Napolitano had turned over any dues payments.

Several CHC members did not take part in the protest and paid a part of their dues long before last Wednesday’s meeting.  They include Reps. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.).