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Pelosi Gets Tough On Member Dues

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the first time Tuesday put some teeth behind leadership efforts to get Members to pay party dues, privately threatening to pull some key services to Democrats who fail to pony up.

Democratic sources said that Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), speaking at the weekly leadership luncheon, expressed a new level of frustration about the number of Democratic Members who haven’t written checks. They are leading what sources described as a unified leadership charge to crack down on Member giving.

According to sources in the room, Pelosi firmly told her Caucus that deadbeats will no longer get a pass, adding that if they didn’t come through, they would miss out on such DCCC benefits as committee telephones for fundraising. She said it is no longer acceptable for some Members to carry the load as others do little or nothing.

“From now on you have to pay your dues to avail yourselves of Member services,” Pelosi told Members at the lunch. “Fair is fair.”

The top House leaders will follow up the latest push with a letter demanding timely dues payments as a condition of receiving DCCC services. That letter, expected to be distributed to Members today, makes clear that no Member will be allowed to take advantage of DCCC offerings unless they pay their dues.

The move by Pelosi and Emanuel comes just days before the June 30 filing deadline for financial reports — the end of the second quarter of the two-year election cycle. Member dues are one of three legs of the DCCC fundraising plan, with the others being money raised through direct mail and Democratic donors.

One Democratic aide whose boss has paid dues said that the leadership’s threat to take away DCCC offerings likely won’t fall entirely on deaf ears.

“Members need somewhere to go,” the staffer said. “I don’t know where Members would go to make fundraising calls if they couldn’t go to DCCC. And every Member needs to raise money.”

Another aide who works for a House leader said Member fundraising is “always a challenge,” noting that there are always going to be Members who give and those who don’t. But the staffer suggested that taking a different approach could aid the party’s efforts to bring in more money.

“I think it can help,” the aide said. “We’ll never get 100 percent, but it can help.”

At the lunch, the leaders noted that, six months into the 2006 cycle, just more than half of the 202 Members have given to the DCCC, while 44 have given to the 10 most threatened House Democratic incumbents. Member dues range from $100,000 to $600,000.

“We can’t ask 100 of our 202 Members to carry the freight,” Emanuel said.

Sources in the room also said that Emanuel acknowledged that the lawmakers present at the luncheon were not the problem, but rather those not in attendance. Several Members asked for a sheet outlining who has given so far this cycle to be distributed in the near future.

One Democratic Member who requested anonymity said the latest round of leadership pressure will only discourage certain lawmakers from giving. The Member added that a better way to lure checks might be to “give Members a sense of the big picture” so they know where the party is headed and how their money will be spent.

“Threats don’t work,” the lawmaker said. “It also lowers morale and creates divisions.”

But some other Democratic Members who have paid some or all of their dues agreed that the leadership should look at new measures to convince the Caucus to pay dues.

“If you can’t get it with the carrot, you’ve got to try to get it with the stick,” said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the first House Democrat to meet his entire party obligation this cycle.

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), who heads the DCCC Business Council, said the latest tactic is “reasonable” given that the political stakes for House Democrats in 2006 are so high.

“If this is a wake up call, so be it,” he said.

While not speaking directly to Pelosi’s crackdown, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that Member dues are a critical piece of the Democratic strategy. Van Hollen, who heads the DCCC recruiting effort, said that getting those contributions early “is a test of strength” for the party and a “signal of commitment by Members to the cause.”

“This battle began right out of the gate, right after the last election,” Van Hollen said.

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