Democrats' dues punishment could weigh heavily on some

The decision of House Democratic leaders to yank fundraising support services from members who have not paid their party dues is likely to inconvenience some members more than others, according to an internal Democratic document obtained by The Hill.

At least 62 Democratic members have taken advantage of some aspect of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) campaign infrastructure — which offers members space at Democratic headquarters to make fundraising calls, the use of rooms for fundraisers or access to the party’s mailing lists — without having paid any portion of the dues they owe for the 2005-2006 election cycle, according to a June 28 DCCC tally of election-cycle dues and services rendered that was recently distributed to House Democrats.

Those members, especially Reps. Mike Honda (Calif.) and Anthony Weiner (N.Y.), who used DCCC services nearly 100 times in the first six months of the year, will likely have to scramble to find other places to do their fundraising.

Many members trudge down to the Democratic headquarters building along South Capitol Street several times a week to make fundraising calls. But at least 14 other Democratic members behind on dues do not use the DCCC services at all, the document showed. They are unlikely to be fazed by the leaders’ threat, which was designed to spur members to contribute. These lawmakers include Reps. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Pete Stark (Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.)

All together, 76 members had yet to pay at least some portion of their dues.

Democratic members of the House are required to pay dues to the DCCC of between $100,000 and $600,000 during this election cycle to help the party win back the majority.

The document also indicated that, as of June 28, two days before the end of the second quarter, members had anted up $4.9 million of the combined $35 million that Democratic leaders, most notably DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), have asked of them for the entire 2005-2006 cycle.

That total is likely to rise when fundraising totals for the second quarter become publicly available. Democratic leaders distributed the document to the caucus in an effort to encourage party members to contribute before June 30, the end of the second quarter.

The document accompanied a letter sent from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Caucus Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) and Emanuel notifying members that, “as of July 1, 2005, payment of Member dues will become a requirement for use of the DCCC Member Services Center or any other DCCC service. This policy will be strictly enforced!”

The letter represented the first time in recent memory that Democratic leaders have used a stick rather than a carrot to gather dues.

Party dues have risen considerably since the 2002 campaign-finance reforms limited the vast sums of soft money the parties could raise from big donors and shifted much of the onus of fundraising on to members of Congress.

The leaders’ harsher approach to dues collection won kudos from some observers. “I thought it was great. I think it sends a message that people need to be part of a team and at a minimum pay for services they’re receiving,” said former DCCC Executive Director Howard Wolfson. “This is a welcome development.”

It is still unclear how effective the policy has been. Most campaign filings for the second quarter are not yet publicly available, but, with at least one member, the “stick” approach was working.

“I think he’s going to pay his dues,” said Jay Staunton, a spokesman for Honda, when asked how the congressman would cope with not having access to DCCC services. “It’s just a matter of processing, but he fully intends to pay.”

Several other members who had used the party’s fundraising services heavily but had not paid dues were unable to comment.

Weiner has not yet seen the leaders’ letter, his spokesman said. Weiner is running for mayor of New York City.

Rep. Mark Udall (Colo.), who has yet to pay dues, planned to be very generous to the DCCC, as he had been in previous election cycles, his spokesman said.

The document also showed that some notable dues holdouts had relented and opted to contribute. Among them was Menendez, who has given $15,000 of the $600,000 he owes. Menendez has been amassing a multimillion-dollar war chest for a possible Senate bid.

Pelosi, who has not used DCCC services this year, led the caucus in dues, having raised $265,000 of the $600,000 she owes. Hoyer had raised a third of his $600,000, and Emanuel had raised half of his $400,000.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and John Larson (Conn.), who are vying for an expected opening in leadership, are in good standing. Schakowsky has contributed $70,000 of the $250,000 she owes. Crowley knocked off nearly the same amount, transferring $65,000 into DCCC coffers. He also has a target of $250,000. Larson has paid $50,000 of the $150,000 he owes.

The list showed several standouts among the rank and file. In addition to Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Steve Israel (N.Y.), who have both paid their dues in full, Reps. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Adam Smith (Wash.) had forked over half of the $125,000 and $100,000 they respectively owe, while Rep. Jerry Costello (Ill.) had raised 60 percent of his $125,000 dues requirement.

Party leaders often, though not always, consider dues performance when awarding plum committee assignments and other perks.