The second- and third-ranking Senate Democratic leaders are doling out huge sums of cash, laying the groundwork for a leadership race should Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE lose reelection.
Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCruz: 'Schumer and the Democrats want a shutdown' GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat Dems: Trump risks government shutdown over border wall MORE (N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, has been the biggest giver to Democratic Senate candidates, contributing $210,000 to colleagues and candidates.
The leaders gave money to newcomers and candidates facing tough races. But they also contributed to those whose reelection prospects seem solid, such as Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyLawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Poll: Sanders most popular senator in the US Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules MORE (D-Vt.), who last won in liberal Vermont with 71 percent of the vote. While Leahy probably does not need the money for reelection, Durbin and Schumer may feel they need to contribute to his campaign to cement his loyalty.
Both lawmakers gave the money through their leadership political action committees (PACs), which allies say is a sign that they are preparing for a possible leadership battle if Reid (D-Nev.) loses reelection, a prospect that is looking more likely.
Spokesmen for Durbin and Schumer declined requests for comment.
“You have a leadership PAC for a reason: You give to people that you want to support you at some point in the future,” said a former aide to one of the Democratic leaders. “Is a future leadership race part of the calculation when you give? Yes, it is.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP leaders, top tax writers: Trump principles will be 'critical guideposts' Trump proposes sweeping tax reform McConnell warns Dems: No 'poison pills' in funding measure MORE (Ky.), on the other hand, seems to be strengthening his grip on the top job, giving away $330,000 through his leadership PAC in 2009. That exceeds the $310,000 he doled out in 2008 and the $275,000 in 2007.
But McConnell is facing pressure from conservatives to move the party rightward. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has emerged as the strongest voice in the chamber for that movement, gave away $148,000 to candidates.
The situation with Schumer and Durbin is a delicate one. Both support Reid and do not want to do anything to undermine his reelection effort. But at the same time, they realize — as do many political analysts — that Reid faces a serious threat.
Reid’s job approval rating has hovered around 40 percent in recent polls, and the national political environment is shaping up as a challenging one for Democrats.
The Nevada lawmaker gave far less to Democratic candidates in 2009 than he did in 2007, the last off-year before an election year. In 2007, Reid contributed $197,500 to federal candidates and other political committees. Last year, he gave away $126,000.
Reid has given $95,000 to Senate Democratic candidates but targeted his gifts to challengers such as Rep. Paul Hodes, who is running in New Hampshire, and Rep. Charlie Melancon in Louisiana.
Reid did not give money to incumbents in cushy seats, focusing instead on his own reelection. He showered dozen of local candidates and political organizations in Nevada with money, including $5,000 to the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus and $2,500 to the Clark County Democratic Hispanic Caucus.
“While the size and number of contributions to candidates may vary, the goal of the fund has always remained the same: electing individuals who share Sen. Reid’s commitment to creating jobs and turning the economy around,” said Zac Petkanas, Reid’s campaign spokesman.
A Durbin ally said the possibility of replacing Reid is “far more in the mind of Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerCruz: 'Schumer and the Democrats want a shutdown' GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat Dems: Trump risks government shutdown over border wall MORE than anyone else” but acknowledged that Durbin has by no means ignored the possibility.
A Schumer ally, however, argued that the New York lawmaker has always been a prolific Democratic fundraiser.
“Chuck’s level of activity of giving to his colleagues has been pretty consistent and Chuck wants to be the first to help out just generally,” said the source. “It’s part of the reason he led the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC)] for two election cycles.
“Essentially, 14 Senate Democrats owe their seats to him and he wants to continue to protect that majority that he helped to build,” the source added.
Schumer gave $10,000 to Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenTrump gets tough with Canada Five things to watch for in Trump’s tax plan Overnight Finance: Dems want ObamaCare subsidies for extra military spending | Trade battle: Woe, Canada? | Congress nears deal to help miners | WH preps to release tax plan MORE (D-Ore.), $10,000 to Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayTrump said he would create ‘more jobs and better wages’ — he can start with federal contractors Sanders, Dems introduce minimum wage bill Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's FDA pick MORE (D-Wash.), $10,000 to Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.), $10,000 to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and $10,000 to Leahy, none of whom is considered endangered. He made these contributions in late 2008 and earmarked them for the 2010 election cycle, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Durbin gave $10,000 to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), $10,000 to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), $5,000 to Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterBattle begins over Wall Street rules Dems hunt for a win in Montana special election Tester raises M for reelection MORE’s (D-Mont.) leadership PAC and $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).
Schumer also gave to Feingold, Dodd and Dorgan.
Both lawmakers also gave to Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenSenate votes to confirm Rosenstein as deputy attorney general Twitter jumps on news of O'Reilly's ouster Senate Dems seek review of products linked to tax refunds MORE’s (D-Minn.) election recount fund as well as $15,000 to the DSCC.
Reid, Durbin and Schumer filed the year-end fundraising reports for their leadership PACs with the Federal Election Commission last week, making possible a comprehensive comparison of their donations.
McConnell gave contributions to several GOP Senate candidates who are running in primaries against more conservative opponents. He has given $5,000 contributions to Carly Fiorina in California, Trey Grayson in Kentucky and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE in New Hampshire since July of last year.
DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund reports on its website that it has contributed, raised, bundled and spent $256,000 in support of conservative candidates running in GOP primaries.
Money that is raised for candidates through fundraisers, the Internet or mail is not reported to the FEC.
Most of DeMint’s PAC support went to Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat’s with Trump’s spelling mistakes? Boeing must be stopped from doing business with Iran Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms MORE in Florida ($133,000), Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania ($51,000) and Chuck DeVore in California ($23,000), according to the PAC website.
A person familiar with McConnell’s fundraising operation said that the leader’s reported contributions to GOP candidates would have been much greater if it included money raised.
“It would at a minimum be double [the $330,000 reported],” said the source, who noted that McConnell helped DeMint raise $60,000 at an event last year.