DSCC Asks Its Senators to Pony Up

Posted February 6, 2004 at 5:20pm

Seeking to close the hard-dollar fundraising gap with Republicans, Senate Democratic leaders are pressuring colleagues to fulfill their Caucus fundraising commitments promptly and participate in more events for individual candidates as Democrats attempt to take back the majority in November.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has been meeting with Senators to urge them to pony up their Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dues — critical seed money needed to boost a war chest decimated by debt carried over from the previous election cycle.

Daschle said he has had a “great response” to the Caucus fundraising program that requires Democratic leaders and ranking committee members to individually donate and raise a combined $350,000, while rank-and-file Members are expected to chip in a collective $150,000 to the DSCC’s coffers.

“They have all begun, but we just want to get it completed,” Daschle said.

This renewed emphasis on Senators participating in the DSCC fundraising process comes after several months of internal strife at the committee. In the past few weeks, the DSCC has hired a new executive director, deputy executive director and finance director, partly in reaction to significant criticism of the committee’s fundraising numbers in 2003.

DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) acknowledged that the organization has struggled to raise money following passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that bans national party committees from collecting soft money, which Democrats had become increasingly reliant on in previous cycles. But he also noted that the DSCC was saddled with outstanding campaign debt that has been successfully pared down.

With Daschle facing a re-election battle this year against former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), increased campaign activity by other members of the Caucus is critical to Democratic Senators’ election hopes.

“We need to have people focused on pulling together to accomplish a mutually desired objective,” Corzine said.

The New Jersey Senator and DSCC officials said that Senators have embraced the call to become more engaged in campaigning.

Over this past weekend, seven Democratic Senators were scheduled to travel to Miami for the DSCC’s Winter Retreat. Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) were all expected to join Corzine at the event.

Lincoln and Dodd are up for re-election this year, though neither is expected to face a major struggle.

In addition, Daschle, DSCC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (Nev.) are helping Missouri state Treasurer Nancy Farmer (D) raise money in her bid to knock off Sen. Kit Bond (R). Daschle will hold a Washington, D.C., fundraiser in March, Stabenow will host a Michigan event in April, and Reid will be with Farmer in Las Vegas in May. Reid, too, is seeking another six-year term this year, but he is not expected to face a difficult re-election.

Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, will hold an event for former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D) on Feb. 13 in D.C. Sens. John Breaux (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) and former Sen. Max Cleland (Ga.) will also help Knowles raise money for his race against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), although dates for these events have not yet been set. And Dodd has committed to a fundraiser for Rep. Joe Hoeffel’s (D-Pa.) Senate campaign.

Even Democrats who are usually loath to involve themselves in campaign politics are helping; West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D) signed a direct-mail fundraising letter for the DSCC late last year.

“There is a lot more to Caucus participation than simply coming over and making phone calls,” said DSCC spokeswoman Cara Morris. “We need a lot more than just call time.”

Still, direct telephone solicitation by Democratic Senators has bumped up in the new year, with the DSCC raising $1.5 million in the last week alone, committee officials said.

It is the dues program that is the foundation of Senators’ participation. Members of the Democratic leadership and ranking committee members must donate $100,000 from their personal campaign accounts and raise $250,000 more for the DSCC. Rank-and-file Senators are expected to donate $50,000 from their campaign funds and raise an additional $100,000. This program was the main topic of Daschle’s meetings with his colleagues.

“It is just making sure that everyone understands what the stakes are and that we need everyone to pitch in,” Corzine said of the meetings. “Our leader has a lot of credibility on that and it’s very helpful.”

The call for increased participation comes on the heels of the public release of campaign finance reports detailing the fundraising activities of each Senate committee.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $26 million in 2003, banking $8.6 million and ending the year with no debt.

The DSCC roughly matched its GOP counterpart in raw fundraising, bringing in $23 million but retaining only $2.5 million. Senate Democrats also still carried roughly $2 million in debt left over from the 2002 cycle.