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Pelosi Tying Dues to Perks

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is making her strongest push yet to encourage her Members to pay their dues to the party’s fundraising committee, including dangling an “incentive package” of plum 2004 Democratic National Convention benefits.

Pelosi has been making a hard-core drive to get Members to pay their Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dues in Caucus meetings, with personal phone calls (including on her 64th birthday) and through her closest allies in the House. Senior Democratic aides said Member contributions have been falling flat, and the Minority Leader, by offering a new set of incentives, is initiating her most aggressive campaign yet to get her Caucus to ante up.

“We’re trying to encourage people to give as much as they can,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “The incentives are to get Members to go above and beyond what they would normally do.”

Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the DCCC, said Pelosi is looking for creative ways to reward the biggest givers to the committee, while encouraging other Members to give more. Matsui said the party has always rewarded its largest contributors with enhanced convention benefits, and the leader thought the top givers in the Caucus deserve the same perks.

“As big donors, they should be recognized,” Matsui said, adding: “Incentives really do mean a lot.”

Extra benefits at the convention are highly sought after given that Democratic Members, despite serving as superdelegates to the convention, receive credentials only for themselves, their spouse and one staffer. Members pay for the cost of their hotel and airfare through their own campaign funds.

Senior Democratic sources said the package includes additional credentials to the convention, better hotel rooms and access to special events at the July nominating event in Boston. Pelosi is offering the package to Members who not only meet, but give more than their required dues, aides and Members said.

House Democrats’ DCCC requirements this cycle are at their highest levels, and for many Members are twice or more what they were asked for in previous election years. Those higher dues come in the wake of new campaign finance regulations that prohibit the party from raising soft money.

“This must be as a result of the fact that the dues aren’t coming in and we have to do whatever we can to get the dues in,” said a high-level Democratic staffer. “In the past, when we could raise soft money, dues weren’t as important as in the hard-money world.”

Matsui said in addition to the new campaign laws, he and Pelosi are making such a strong push for dues now because the November election is less than eight months away. He said collecting dues in the first quarter, which ended March 31, is especially important because Democrats want to make a strong showing at the beginning of the year and get a head start toward raising what’s needed to take back the House this cycle.

“Early money is so important,” Matsui said. “Members know the stakes are high and really do feel an obligation to each other.”

Democratic dues this cycle range from a low of $70,000 for vulnerable Members who have their own re-elections to worry about, to a high of $300,000 for leaders. The dues for ranking members, Chief Deputy Whips and lawmakers on the top three exclusive committees top out at $150,000 for the two-year period.

One veteran Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said leadership has recently pressed Members about ponying up DCCC dues. This lawmaker is discouraged, rather than encouraged by the leadership approach to offer up extras such as convention benefits in exchange for prompt dues payment.

“Our arms are being twisted after we have been so unified and supportive,” the Member groused.

Beyond the convention incentives, the Minority Leader is also trying to persuade Members to pay up through peer pressure.

As recently as last week, Pelosi had rolled out a chart outlining the top three tiers of DCCC contributors: “Team Players” or those Members who have paid their dues; “All Americans” or Members who have paid more than their dues; and “Hall of Famers” or lawmakers who are the top party donors and have given more than $100,000.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), a Chief Deputy Whip and consistent DCCC dues payer, has been talking to his fellow Members to encourage them to give more to the DCCC. He said the leaders must use whatever tactics they can to raise money.

He said while he’s not privy to the details of the convention package specifically, he isn’t surprised by the move. Crowley called it “a vehicle by which to get people to focus and get their money in, and the earlier the better.”

“Some can do a lot more than others, but everyone can do something,” Crowley said. “We’re trying to convince people it’s in all of our interests to give.”

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), another strong DCCC donor who also didn’t know about the convention benefits, said Member giving is critical to Democratic efforts to retake the House.

“There is a Member culture that this is a team sport and everyone has to be on the field,” Emanuel said. “No one can sit out.”

To encourage that, Matsui said House Democrats have to be imaginative, and by coming up with new ways to reward the strongest givers, other Members are encouraged to do the same.

“We have to think of these things to really raise money among Members,” Matsui said.