In the first two months of 2004, Members of Congress contributed nearly $150,000 to four of their Texas colleagues who will face off against one another in November, according to pre-primary and 48-hour contribution reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R), who is running against Rep. Martin Frost (D) in the 32nd district, received the most financial support from his colleagues, raking in $68,000 from 15 Members, roughly 15 percent of the $525,000 he raised in total from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28.
“Every time he sees a Member on the floor it is amazing how many of them say ‘I have to get you a check,’” said a source close to Sessions. “It just keeps on flowing.”
Not to be outdone, Frost sent a letter to his colleagues last month seeking donations to his campaign. Twenty-seven Members responded with $37,500 in total donations through Feb. 28.
“I have never asked them for help in the past, but I needed to ask this time,” Frost explained.
He predicted that the race for the suburban Dallas 32nd district will cost upwards of $3 million.
“When you are trying to raise that much money you need help from a variety of sources,” Frost said.
Frost has outspent Sessions heavily so far this cycle. The Texas Democrat has disbursed $859,000 compared to his counterpart’s $226,000.
Sessions showed $1.1 million in the bank through Feb. 18; Frost had $806,000 on hand at that time.
Across the state in West Texas, the financial figures being tossed around are somewhat smaller in the contest between Reps. Randy Neugebauer (R) and Charlie Stenholm (D).
Seven Republican Members donated $18,500 to Neugebauer, while 11 Democratic incumbents chipped in $14,000 to Stenholm.
Neugebauer had a $482,000 to $385,000 cash-on-hand edge over Stenholm through Feb. 18.
Neugebauer said he plans to send a letter to his colleagues soliciting contributions in the near future but so far they “have just reached out to us.”
Stenholm campaign manager Jeff Benson said that “Members understand” the Texas Democrat’s situation and “he is getting a lot of support.”
None of the four incumbents faces a serious primary challenge in the March 9 primaries, but all are required to file reports detailing their finances from Jan. 1 to Feb. 18 as well as any other contributions of $1,000 or more received between Feb. 19 and March 6.
Both Member-versus-Member races are the result of a GOP-led redistricting that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry (R) late last year.
The plan endangered seven Democratic incumbents, who held a 17-15 advantage in the Congressional delegation following the 2002 elections.
Almost immediately, the new map led to the party switch of Rep. Ralph Hall (R), who reportedly was concerned about a Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Max Sandlin (D).
The new lines also forced the retirement of Rep. Jim Turner (D), whose East Texas base was fractured into a variety of other seats.
That left Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards and Nick Lampson as well as Frost, Stenholm and Sandlin to choose among a variety of relatively undesirable options if they wanted to seek re-election.
Frost entertained a number of potential options before settling on a race against Sessions in the 32nd district, a new seat awarded to the state in reapportionment that Sessions won easily in 2002.
Stenholm found his political base in Abilene drawn into the new 19th district, which also contained Neugebauer’s Lubbock stronghold.
Both the 19th and 32nd district favor Republicans. Stenholm and Frost are likely to benefit even further from donations by their colleagues because of their presence in the Frontline Democrats program, a plan hatched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to reap Member contributions for their most vulnerable compatriots.
Stenholm has been on the list since its formation, while Frost is being added, said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed.
“We’ve placed a higher priority than ever before on Member-to-Member giving as a means of solidifying our incumbents with the most challenging races,” said Speed. “And it’s no surprise Members have been eager to assist Congressman Frost and Congressman Stenholm.”
A handful of Democratic Members ponied up for both Frost and Stenholm in the period.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) gave Stenholm $2,500 from AMERIPAC, his leadership political action committee, and $1,000 from his personal campaign account; he contributed $5,000 from AMERIPAC and an additional $1,000 from “Hoyer for Congress” to Frost.
“Charlie and Martin are two of the smartest and most principled Members of Congress,” said Hoyer. “It would be a loss for Texas and the entire country for either of them to not return to Congress next year.”
While Hoyer was the most generous, Reps. Bobby Etheridge (N.C.), David Obey (Wis.), Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Cal Dooley (Calif.), Gene Green (Texas), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Allan Mollohan (W.Va.) also gave to both Frost and Stenholm.
Fewer Republican Members gave to their endangered colleagues, but those who contributed did so generously.
Both House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) gave $10,000 to Sessions from their leadership PACs.
The only Republican Member who gave to both Neugebauer and Sessions in the period was Rep. Sam Johnson (Texas), who contributed $5,000 to each.
Breaking with tradition, Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) gave $5,000 from his American Success PAC to Sessions. Frost is the ranking member on that panel.
Traditionally, committee chairmen do not actively work for the defeat of the ranking member on their panel.