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With an eye toward boosting the coffers of some of the Republican Conference’s most vulnerable lawmakers, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) has started a new PAC designed to help freshman Members.

Named Freshmen PAC (“Fresh PAC” was already taken by the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association), the committee’s initial goal is to raise $165,000 and then donate the $5,000 maximum to each of the House’s 33 first-term Republicans.

“The motivation for this is pretty clear,” said Sweeney. “We want the freshman Representatives to know that there will be the resources they need to run their re-elections.”

The PAC will hold its kickoff fundraiser April 9 at the Capitol Hill Club, and Sweeney said all of the top House Republican leadership are slated to attend.

Sweeney is being helped in running the PAC by Rich Galen, the former head of GOPAC who is now of counsel at the government relations firm American Continental Group. Two other ACG operatives, David Metzner and Shawn Smeallie, are also aiding the effort.

Galen said Freshmen PAC will try to help new Members navigate the complicated new world of campaign finance laws while also providing seed money to give them a head start on 2004. “It’s like the first round of funding for an entrepreneurial enterprise,” he said.

Sweeney’s new PAC complements a broader effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee to aid freshman lawmakers. At a fundraiser Tuesday night, Republican leaders raised roughly $100,000 apiece for 10 first-termers as part of the Retain Our Majority Program.

With new campaign finance restrictions in place, party committees will likely try to hold more fundraisers for freshmen to substitute for the old practice of spending soft money on their behalf.

“Since our help will most likely be limited now, we have to give them the resources to help themselves,” said NRCC spokesman Carl Forti.

A quick look at the 2002 election results reveals why Republicans plan to make protecting freshmen a priority. Of the 22 House Republicans who won with 55 percent or less of the vote last year, 12 are freshmen. And of the six who took 50 percent or less, five are newly elected — Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.) and Chris Chocola (Ind.).

Many of those Members won seats that were drawn to be inherently competitive in the latest round of redistricting, meaning they are likely to be high on Democratic target lists.

Even the freshmen who won more comfortably still face some disadvantages. With little seniority, most have yet to begin reaping the fundraising benefits that come with plum committee assignments, and some are still working to erase campaign debt.

In addition to aiding current freshmen, Sweeney believes the new PAC could help him in his other job as head of recruiting for the NRCC. He said he hopes that potential candidates will see the level of support Republicans are providing for new Members and be encouraged to run themselves.

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