Schumer may shatter fundraising records

Sen. Charles Schumer, who will become the Senate’s top Democrat in 2017, could become one of the greatest fundraisers of all time.

The New York Democrat has developed a reputation as a tenacious money magnet who doesn’t take no for an answer. When handed a $25,000 check, he’s been known to respond, “You can do a little better than that.”

He’s asked donors to send him contributions by courier to quash any possible excuses about a “check in the mail.”

{mosads}“I would use the word ‘relentless.’ He knows every year what money is out there and how to reach it,” said Tom Quinn, a Democratic lobbyist who has known Schumer since he was elected to the House in 1980.

Schumer is constantly looking for new donors, and will even badger Republicans for cash. Sources say he has multiple cellphones, and he’s seen regularly in the Capitol with one attached to his ear.

The 64-year-old has strong ties to New York’s powerful financial services industry, as well as to titans of the tech industry and Hollywood. His fundraising network is vast, helped tremendously by twice running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

The money solicited from Schumer’s countless calls has helped his party, and played a major role in his ascension in leadership. With him as DSCC chairman, Democrats won the Senate in 2006 and achieved a filibuster-proof 60 seats in 2008.

In 2017, he will replace retiring Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as the chamber’s top Democrat. If 2016 is a good year for Democrats, Schumer will be the majority leader in the next Congress.

But there are some thorny questions that need to be resolved, such as when he will take over the Senate Democrats’ fundraising machine — now, or later.

Party strategists predict he could significantly accelerate Senate Democratic fundraising this cycle if he takes the reins. But Reid, who is very close to Schumer, wants to remain the Senate Democrats’ point person for fundraising.

Democratic operatives are wondering how Reid’s retirement will shape the fundraising landscape.

“This is a topic of conversation among a lot of us,” said a Democratic strategist who requested anonymity. “Reid’s not going to give up his fundraising piece. He cares about how he leaves things. He’s been an integral force fundraising for Senate Majority PAC and the DSCC.”

Several Democratic operatives expressed optimism that the two Democrats would combine their strengths to rake in a record amount of cash.

“Moving forward, what we’re going to get out of this cycle is both of them really charging hard on the fundraising piece,” the strategist added. “They bring two separate worlds of fundraising together.”

The Democratic insiders say Reid’s longstanding relationships in the labor community will complement Schumer’s ties to Wall Street and the tech sector.

Reid has noted that he doesn’t have to worry about his own reelection and will devote his time to raising money for Democratic candidates and political committees.

He wants to keep the title as the Senate Democrats’ fundraiser-in-chief for this election cycle in hopes of winning back the Senate majority and retiring on top.

“If you ask me who the driving force will be, it’s going to be Reid,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to the Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee devoted to helping Senate Democrats. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to focus all of his time on trying to win back the majority.”

Senate Majority PAC raised nearly $70 million in the 2014 election cycle and is seen as Reid’s baby, although Schumer has also played a role in its fundraising efforts.

The PAC is run by Reid’s former chief of staff, Susan McCue, and J.B. Poersch, who served as executive director of the DSCC from 2005 to 2010, as well as by Democratic operatives Craig Varoga and Rebecca Lambe, a former senior adviser to Reid. 

In a hallway interview, Reid declined to talk about Senate Majority PAC, but said he “absolutely” intends to take the lead on raising money for the DSCC. He said his focus this year and next will be on winning back the majority.

But some Democratic strategists say it’s time for Reid to cede control of fundraising operations to Schumer.

“Donors don’t want to give money to somebody on their way out. If there’s a clear signal that Chuck’s the guy, they would want to give to him,” said a strategist.

Quinn predicts Schumer will be a fundraising boon at the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC.

“He’s going to accelerate it and improve it. He’s just good at the game,” he said of Schumer’s impact on Democratic fundraising.

DSCC fundraising jumped a whopping $32 million — from $89 million to $121 million — after Schumer took over as chairman in the 2006 cycle. He helped push its fundraising total to $163 million in the 2008 cycle, when he served a second stint as chairman.

The committee failed to match that mark in the following two cycles, when it raised $130 million and $146 million, respectively, under Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Yet, a few Democrats grumble that Schumer wants to jump back in the fundraising spotlight in what is likely to be a favorable election cycle after playing a more limited role in the 2014 election.

Republicans have to defend 24 seats compared to the Democrats’ 10, and strategists predict Democratic donors will be energized if Hillary Clinton is atop the ticket.

One senior Democratic strategist familiar with Schumer’s fundraising activities said he didn’t do much in 2014 other than cut a $1 million check to the DSCC.

“He got a lot of attention for giving $1 million, but he was sitting on $13 million,” said the source. “He didn’t do much. He sits out bad election cycles. He was gone in 2010. He did a lot in 2012 when Democrats had a good year but not in 2014.”

Schumer made clear in the last cycle that his top priority was to head into his 2016 reelection with a massive campaign war chest, even though he won with 66 percent of the vote, the strategist said.

A spokesman for Schumer declined to comment for this article.

Another Democratic strategist said Schumer played a smaller fundraising role in 2014 because he was focused on policy.

“It’s not wrong to say Schumer was less involved in some of the fundraising in 2014. He wanted to put a little more emphasis on his policy work,” said the strategist. “He was a real powerhouse in 2006 and 2008. It’s not about him sitting out bad cycles.”

Federal law allows Reid, Schumer and other lawmakers to seek donations up to $5,000 for the Senate Majority PAC. The Associated Press reported last year that Reid attended 116 meetings and fundraisers in 14 cities for the PAC during the 2014 cycle.

Reid said Schumer has been helpful and that he expects his participation to remain the same.

“He’s always had a big role and I’m sure it won’t change,” Reid said.

Correction: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attended 116 meetings and fundraisers for the Senate Majority PAC in 2014. A previous version of this report included incorrect information.

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