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Vice Chair Contenders Put Focus on Fundraising

As the three House Democratic vice chairman candidates campaign for their colleagues’ support, another war is heating up over who among them is doing the most to raise cash for the Caucus.

According to the latest fundraising numbers covering activity through June 30, Reps. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), John Larson (Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) have each paid roughly a third of their party dues and are showing strong fundraising in their own re-election accounts.

Party committee and Member-to-Member giving is closely monitored for those with leadership ambitions and widely regarded as a test of loyalty and commitment to efforts to win and maintain majorities. The three are vying for the No. 4 Democratic leadership position, now held by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), who is expected to succeed Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.) as Caucus chairman in the next Congress.

“Raising and giving money to fellow Democrats is key for leadership wannabes,” observed one House Democratic leadership aide. “It shows that you have the relationships, the organization and the work ethic to help lead the party. And money is critical to winning races, so leaders need to be able to deliver.”

Schakowsky has given the most so far this cycle to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, having met $70,000 of her $250,000 dues, followed by Crowley, who has given $65,000 of his $250,000 ask, and Larson, who has contributed $50,000 of his $150,000 requirement. Member dues, which vary widely among lawmakers, are based on committee assignments, leadership position and the lawmaker’s political circumstances at home.

Like Larson, Schakowsky and Crowley sit on exclusive committees with hefty dues requirements, but the pair has a greater obligation than Larson because they are also chief deputy whips. Schakowsky sits on Energy and Commerce, Crowley is on Financial Services and Larson serves on the Ways and Means Committee.

If elected Caucus vice chairman, the candidates’ dues would jump significantly. Clyburn’s dues this cycle are $400,000.

On Monday, each of the three vice chairman candidates touted their fundraising abilities and reaffirmed their respective commitments to helping secure House Democratic incumbents, elect challengers and win back a majority for the party.

“My donors share my mission to help win a Democratic majority,” Schakowsky said. “So when I highlight important races, they are willing to give. The vice chair position will help me contribute even more by combining my fundraising success with my organizing experience in a way that will benefit the entire Caucus and help us defend and gain more seats,” Schakowsky said.

Crowley similarly pointed to his fundraising efforts and the hours he spent helping raise funds for his party, saying: “While it will not be until summer of 2006 when I will have an idea what sort of primary and general election I will face, I always believe that is the responsibility of all Members who have the ability to do so to help out the Democratic Caucus and individual candidates.”

Through a spokesman, Larson too reiterated his commitment to Democratic candidates and the party and said he will hold a DCCC event in his home state this fall. Brian Mahar said his boss understands that fundraising plays “an important role in leadership,” but added that Larson also brings other strengths to the race including his “experience bringing together a Caucus as Senate president in Connecticut and rolling up his sleeves for the Caucus as ranking member of House Administration.”

Beyond direct contributions to the party, Crowley is overwhelmingly ahead of Schakowsky and Larson in money raised on behalf of the DCCC. Crowley, however, is arguably in the best position to do so as the party committee’s Business Council chairman, which is dedicated to raising money from the business community.

Crowley raised $1.85 million for the DCCC in the first half of the year, while Schakowsky brought in $386,500 on its behalf and Larson raised just $2,500 for the committee. Schakowsky also holds a key position with the DCCC as the chairwoman of Women LEAD, dedicated to raising money from and expanding outreach to female donors.

Larson doesn’t hold a formal leadership slot with the DCCC.

While party giving is viewed as one of the best litmus tests for a prospective leader, overall fundraising is also worth a look. Members often tap into their personal re-election accounts or leadership PACs to help their colleagues win races.

Larson collected $127,000 in the most recent quarter and had $226,000 in the bank when June ended. Schakowsky raised $206,000 in the past three months and had $265,000 on hand. Crowley, for his part, collected $237,000 in the most recent quarter and had $545,000 in his coffers.

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