While other party committees have remained mum about their plans, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared that House Democrats will not solicit soft money in the wake of a court ruling that may have left open that opportunity.
Pelosi said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will continue to operate under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which prevents the national parties from raising unrestricted soft money. A federal district court recently struck down major portions of the soft-money ban, leaving the matter unsettled until the Supreme Court steps in.
“We’re in a state of limbo now in terms of not knowing what the Supreme Court will decide and we hope it does so soon,” Pelosi said in an interview. “But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be operating under the McCain-Feingold law, as written, between now and when the court makes a decision.”
Pelosi is the first Congressional leader to state firmly that her Caucus will not seek soft-money contributions while the fate of the campaign finance law hangs in the balance.
After being informed of Pelosi’s comments, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) dismissed it as a “publicity stunt” and added that House Democrats could legally follow no other path.
Under BCRA, soft-money contributions to the national parties are banned, and if there is no stay in the district court ruling, then Republican leaders such as Reynolds don’t think the DCCC, NRCC or two Senate campaign committees can raise soft money either.
“That’s like me saying I’m not going to murder someone,” Reynolds said of Pelosi’s comments. “It’s the law.”
Reynolds added: “In the early stages, my lawyers all agreed that there could be questions what the [Republican National Committee] could do, but federal officials and candidates cannot raise, solicit, spend — there’s a whole list of them, what they can’t do — which is basically raise and spend soft money. It is clear even for me to understand, that can’t be done. … We will not, nor can we, raise soft money.”
Pelosi said she’s had discussions with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) about the possibility of forgoing soft-money contributions, though the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has refrained from comment on the district court ruling.
Daschle spokesman Jay Carson said Senate Democrats are operating under BCRA and are hoping for a stay in the case. But he declined to speculate what Senate Democrats will do if the stay is rejected.
DSCC spokesman Michael Siegel said he could not comment on Pelosi’s position. “We are operating as we always have, but we aren’t commenting on this until our lawyers have fully vetted it,” he said.
Democrats have been stepping up efforts to raise hard dollars under the new regulations, but continue to trail Republicans in the money chase. Pelosi said House Democratic leaders must raise an average of $100,000 per day, or $60 million, for the coming election cycle.
DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) said Pelosi is “absolutely correct” that House Democrats will not seek soft money during this period of time.
“It would be foolhardy for any of the six committees to begin soliciting soft money or figuring out a way to avoid the initial legislation,” he said. “My belief is that until we have something much more definite, we will abide by the current law.”
But Matsui said if the court denies a stay on the district court ruling and “my counterparts on the other side of the aisle begin the process of raising soft money, then I would undoubtedly want to reopen the discussion.”
Matsui added that under that scenario, he would talk to Reynolds to try to reach an agreement so that both parties play by the same rules. That does not mean House Democrats will then seek soft money, he said, but they will “revisit” the issue.
The recent district court judgement has since left the party committees scrambling, and many have speculated they may return to raising unlimited funds from corporations, unions and wealthy contributors. The case automatically is appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to take it up soon.
Multiple parties involved in the lawsuit have filed motions for a stay of the opinion, which would keep BCRA in part or wholly intact.
Pelosi said even if the door is opened to raising soft money, House Democrats do not plan to step through it.
Noting the numerous motions to stay the ruling, she said: “I hope the court will grant the stays so that everybody is operating under the same [rules]. But whether they are or not, we will be.”
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who has long had concerns about the soft-money ban, said of the Pelosi tact: “That’s exactly the right position. We shouldn’t be raising soft money while it’s on appeal. But if the Republicans started, then we’d have no choice.”
Guillermo Meneses, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, said the committee “has not changed our fundraising activities as a result” of the May 2 decision, although Meneses added that DNC lawyers are still evaluating the ruling.
Democratic officials, though, were very surprised when told of Pelosi’s comments, and privately said there is no doubt the DNC will raise soft money if it can.
“If they don’t get a stay, then we will raise soft money,” said a senior Democratic official. “There is no doubt about that.”
Democratic insiders predicted there would be quick action, no more than a week to 10 days, on the numerous requests for a stay in the district court ruling. A stay would make BCRA the law of the land for campaigns until the Supreme Court rules on the matter.
Some Democratic legal experts believe the district court ruling did not make any substantive distinction between the DNC and RNC and the four Congressional committees, thus allowing the DCCC and DSCC to raise soft money if the Democratic National Committee does.
The party committees are still reviewing the 1,600-plus-page ruling to determine how to proceed. The soft-money ban has damaged both parties but perhaps caused more trouble for Democrats, who raise far fewer hard dollars than Republicans.
Pelosi said House Democrats aren’t trying to avoid hypocrisy by sticking strongly by BCRA. Rather, she said, Democrats fought hard for the McCain-Feingold bill and now stand behind it as law.
“I think they believe in it,” she said of her Democratic colleagues. “I really hope the court upholds it.”