Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), long the owner of the most-coveted treasure trove in Democratic politics, has agreed to give $1 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and state parties that will play host to competitive races this fall.
The donation comes from the more than $22 million in funds Schumer has accumulated in his campaign account over the past six years, and may presage an even larger donation in the next few weeks.
Roughly two weeks ago, Schumer donated $500,000, a large portion of which went to the DSCC with the remainder being parceled out to state parties.
On Tuesday, Schumer pledged another $500,000 that will go directly into the DSCC’s coffers at the party’s weekly luncheon on Tuesday.
Schumer spokesman Stu Loeser refused to comment on the specifics of any promised donation, or even whether a pledge had been made.
“Senator Schumer has been and will continue to be helpful to the DSCC and Senate candidates,” said Loeser.
Schumer’s war chest has been the subject of intense speculation among party insiders for most of the 2004 cycle.
The news that Schumer would donate a portion of his stash to the party — a pledge matched last week by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D) — brought him kudos from his colleagues, sources said.
“It’s a nice down payment and appreciated,” said one senior Democratic Senate aide. “If we want the majority, everyone has got to pull their share, and then some.”
The aide noted that Schumer was being pressured by his colleagues to make good on a larger donation in the near future.
At the end of August, the DSCC trailed its Republican counterpart in cash on hand by a 2-1 margin, although those totals do not include the Reid or Schumer donations, nor do they include $3 million that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) has transferred to the committee from his presidential primary account.
Before making his $1 million gift, Schumer has given $55,000 to Democratic Senate candidates this cycle.
These donations, all of which came from IMPACT — the New York Senator’s leadership political action committee — were made on July 23.
In 2002, Schumer donated $19,000 to the DSCC and an additional $3,000 to the New York Liberal Party from his personal campaign committee.
He gave an additional $82,500 from IMPACT, including $15,000 more to the DSCC.
Schumer is widely regarded as the second strongest fundraiser in the Democratic Caucus behind fellow New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Since first running for Senate in 1998, Schumer has raised roughly $44 million and spent $22 million through his campaign account, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.
In that first race, Schumer used $5 million in excess cash sitting in a House account to jumpstart his bid for the Democratic nomination to oppose Sen. Al D’Amato (R) in the general election.
After using his fundraising prowess to overwhelm two better-known primary opponents, Schumer raised and spent nearly $17 million to unseat D’Amato, who expended more than $24 million. Schumer won by a convincing 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
Seemingly determined to never be outspent again, Schumer began his Senatorial career raising money at a torrid pace.
By the end of 2001, Schumer had nearly $9 million on hand — more than double that of any Senator up for re-election in the 2002 cycle.
Initially, political observers wrote off Schumer’s fundraising as an attempt to ward off a high-profile challenge from Gov. George Pataki (R) or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).
Even after it became clear that Pataki and Giuliani had their sights set on other offices, Schumer continued to raise massive amounts of money. Speculation then turned to the possibility that he might run for governor in 2006 Schumer is opposed by state Assemblyman Howard Mills (R) this fall.
It appears as if Schumer would be able to use every penny he raised for his Senate account on a race for governor of New York.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s no restrictions,” said Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections.
Under New York state election law, individuals and political action committees can give up to $33,900 to each candidate in a statewide race — a far looser cap than holds for federal offices. Donors can give up to $16,200 for a party primary (though primary caps vary slightly, dictated by the number of enrolled voters in the party.)
Theoretically, then, Schumer could turn to donors who have maxed out to his Senate campaign and ask them for almost $30,000 more for a gubernatorial race.
If Schumer does seek the governorship, he is likely to face stiff primary competition from high-profile state Attorney General Elliott Spitzer (D). Spitzer already has expressed interest in the governor’s office.
Pataki has not said whether he will seek a fourth term in 2006. A new Marist College poll showed Pataki tied with Spitzer at 47 percent and trailing Schumer, 50 percent to 46 percent.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.