After failing to gain the presidential nomination, several leading Democrats have continued to raise six- and seven-figure sums that they have in turn used to make donations and barnstorm the country for candidates, while a pair of primary campaign veterans have at least temporarily shuttered their political operations.
From the multimillion-dollar political action committee run by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) to the closing of Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) storied leadership PAC, the failed Democratic presidential candidates have followed different routes since their campaigns ended earlier this year.
Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who went on to become the vice presidential nominee, and Dean came out of the primary process as the most successful of the unsuccessful candidates, prompting them each to immediately reignite their political operations to benefit Democrats and boost their own future prospects.
Working off of his “two Americas” campaign theme, Edwards changed the name of his leadership PAC to the One America Committee and from the end of March through June 30 took in about $530,000 from donors.
A highly regarded plaintiffs lawyer before turning to politics in 1998, Edwards continued to rely on his fellow attorneys to finance his political activities in the spring — what amounted to Edwards’ trial run for securing the vice presidential nomination.
About 75 percent of the $530,000 — more than $400,000 — came from attorneys or relatives of attorneys, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. In the second quarter of the year, One America Committee spent more than $412,000 entirely on staff, overhead and travel expenses in his stumping efforts for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential bid and for other Democrats.
No donations were made to Congressional candidates from the committee, and he ended that period with $107,000 cash on hand in One America Committee.
Kim Rubey, an Edwards spokeswoman, said One America had been shut down since Edwards was selected as Kerry’s running mate.
“The purpose was to allow him to continue to help the Democratic Party by campaigning around the country,” she said, citing trips to state Democratic Party gatherings and other events benefiting candidates for a variety of offices.
Dean opened his Democracy for America PAC on April 1 and raised almost $1.3 million in the second quarter — half of it coming in amounts of less than $200, the same sort of small-dollar donations that fueled Dean’s insurgent primary campaign.
But Dean has not relied solely on small donations. Because he is not a Member of Congress, he was allowed to open a nonfederal account for Democracy for America, legally accepting unlimited checks from big donors into what is known as the 527 account of his PAC.
Dean raised another $473,000 for the 527 account, bringing his three-month fundraising total to almost $1.8 million. Dean’s biggest checks came from a trio of supporters in the presidential primary: $100,000 each from two big unions, Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and $250,000 from George Soros.
Laura Gross, a Dean spokeswoman, defended the six-figure donations, noting that the average contribution to Democracy for America had been $90. The two unions and Soros have been long-time supporters of Dean who stand to gain nothing by their donations, she said.
“It’s still the same people who were backing him before,” Gross said.
Unlike Edwards, Dean has used his PAC as a major fundraising vehicle for both Congressional candidates and nominees for state and local office. By June 30 Dean, who at his high point garnered 37 Congressional endorsements for president, had donated directly to 53 House and Senate candidates.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), who is locked in the toughest battle of any Senate Democratic incumbent, received a $5,000 check in late June from Dean — despite the fact that Dean’s presidential bid was an implicit rejection of the stewardship by Daschle and other Congressional leaders.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who backed Gephardt for president, got a $2,000 check from Dean.
As of June 30 Dean still had $883,000 in his federal account and almost $275,000 sitting in his 527 account.
In addition to the direct checks, Dean has been hitting up his supporters to contribute to more than 100 candidates he has identified as critical to helping fulfill his vision of the Democratic Party.
An e-mail sent out by Dean on the evening of Sept. 8 has already yielded $220,000 for Daschle’s campaign, according to Gross. Other e-mail pitches by Dean brought in $130,000 for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and $110,000 for the Senate campaign of Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), Gross said.
While Dean continues to hit the campaign trail for Democrats and their candidates — he did a fundraiser for Senate Democrats in Chicago on Monday — his frenetic efforts are about the progressive movement and not Dean’s own political ambitions, Gross said. “This is something we’re investing in for the future.”
Another unsuccessful presidential contender who is still active on the political scene is Wesley Clark, the retired general who opened WesPAC after bowing out of the campaign in February. By June 30, Clark’s PAC had taken in $287,000.
While he had yet to give out any checks to candidates, Clark was sitting on $230,000 and an e-mail pitch sent out Wednesday indicated he was trying to help Kerry-Edwards as well as the campaigns of Daschle, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Senate candidate and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D).
Calling President Bush a flip-flopper in the war on terror, Clark vowed to continue stumping for Democrats across the country. “George Bush has deceived the American people, and the American people deserve to know the facts,” he wrote in the fundraising pitch.
Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) have essentially closed down their political operations. Gephardt’s Effective Government Committee had been his primary political vehicle during his run as Majority Leader and Minority Leader from the early 1990s through 2002.
After losing badly in the Iowa caucus, Gephardt bowed out of the presidential campaign and, since he’s retiring from the House in December, did not jump-start his Effective Government Committee. He took in two $5,000 donations in April from a pair of unions that had supported him, the United Steelworkers of America and International Association of Bridge, Structural, and Ornamental Iron Workers, enough money to close out the PAC.
As of June 30, Effective Government Committee had $10.75 left in it.
Lieberman’s ROCPAC has also gone “dormant,” as his aides put it in a Sept. 9 letter to the FEC. There is no staff and no office space for the former presidential candidate’s PAC, no money has been raised this year.
But the PAC still had $187,000 in its account and had dished out $35,000 to Congressional candidates this year. Lieberman said Wednesday that, after a grueling campaign, he and his donors needed a rest, instructing them to give to the presidential ticket and other Democratic causes.
He vowed to become a player in the leadership PAC circles after Nov. 2. “After the election, in November, in December, I intend to get active,” he said.