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Katrina Hasn’t Wiped Out Political Activities

As Congress returned to work this week to grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there appeared to be only minor disruptions to the normal political routine of campaigning and fundraising.

Still, the long-term financial impact the Gulf Coast disaster could have on political giving across the board is unlikely to be known for many months.

All four of the Congressional campaign committees posted messages of support for the hurricane victims on their respective Web sites — urging donors to give to charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross.

But unlike the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when political activity and partisan attacks came to a virtual standstill for weeks, there were few reports of canceled fundraisers this week.

Early Tuesday, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) canceled a fundraiser scheduled to take place Friday in Providence featuring Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez will be in the Gulf Coast region instead that day.

Also on the Senate side, two Democrats postponed their official campaign announcements in the wake of the disaster affecting Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson had planned to officially launch their campaigns today.

Byrd’s office cited the hurricane relief efforts as well as the funeral for Chief Justice William Rehnquist for the delay. Pederson, who will challenge Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in 2006, will make his announcement next week.

Meanwhile, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee suspended all telemarketing activity last week. Their fundraising calls resumed this week except in the states affected by the disaster.

“We want people to give to their favorite charities to help people in need and we’re seeing a response across America that’s just overwhelming,” NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m told there’s actually more money forthcoming to help the evacuees of those three states in the gulf than what came in in 9/11. I think that’s fantastic.”

Asked whether the tragedy could diminish overall political giving for the cycle, Reynolds said he was confident that his committee would have the resources needed for next year’s elections.

“We raised enough money for the ’02 elections when it was time to run in ’02 and we’ll raise the money we need in the ’06 election by the time it’s time for an election there,” Reynolds said.

Indeed, there was little evidence this week that hurricane relief efforts had put a damper on Members’ fundraising. Reynolds, for example, is moving ahead with a fundraiser at this weekend’s Elton John concert at the MCI Center.

On Tuesday, an NRCC staffer sent out an e-mail alerting prospective donors that only four tickets remained for the concert, an event that is benefiting Reynolds’ political action committee. Anyone who buys a ticket to the concert will receive a complimentary ticket to a Sept. 21 reception honoring the Senate’s freshmen class.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) also have fundraisers planned at the concert.

Matt Mackowiak of Keelen Communications, an Alexandria-based GOP fundraising firm, said that none of the firm’s clients decided to cancel upcoming events in the wake of Katrina after some initial hesitation.

“We sort of saw that the Speaker did an event and he continued with his fundraising,” Mackowiak said, referring to a fundraising event House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) held in Indiana Friday morning.

Mackowiak also said that several Members are in the process of organizing individual or group relief fundraisers.

September and October are generally heavy political fundraising months, as incumbents and challengers alike seek to pad their coffers before the Sept. 30 third quarter fundraising deadline and before Congress adjourns for the year.

Labor Day has also traditionally been used as the kickoff for many campaigns.

Wisconsin State Speaker John Gard (R) announced his 8th district Congressional bid on Tuesday, setting off on a 15-county tour of the district. Gard, who is seeking to succeed Rep. Mark Green (R-Wisc.), noted the devastation caused by Katrina in his announcement speech.

“There is tremendous sadness for everyone in America,” Gard said, encouraging supporters to help those affected get back on their feet and rebuild their lives.

Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman sent a letter to all donors last Tuesday, urging supporters to make a donation to the Hurricane relief efforts. The RNC, like the two GOP campaign committees, also suspended its phonebanking last week.

“During times like these, there is no room for politics and partisanship,” Mehlman wrote. “This is a time when we all come together to help our neighbors. Due to the size of this storm and the area of impact, the cost for recovery will be staggering.”

The RNC is going ahead with its President’s Club meeting with donors in Washington, D.C., next week.

The Democratic National Committee has canceled meetings scheduled for Phoenix this week. The Arizona Democratic Party also postponed a fundraising dinner that would have been keynoted by DNC Chairman Howard Dean, and the state party will donate some of the proceeds already collected from the dinner to the Gulf Coast efforts.

The DNC has put out news releases criticizing the federal response to the hurricane, prompting some Republican operatives to complain that the Democrats are attempting to politicize the calamity.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been among the most aggressive organizations discussing the political ramifications of the storm and its aftermath.

The DSCC has a link on its Web site to a New York Times story that discusses Republican efforts “shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana.”

The committee also put out a release criticizing Kyl for suggesting during a radio interview last week “that the victims are to blame for lacking insurance and living in a city below sea level!”

The committee called on Kyl to issue an apology to the hurricane victims for “such callous, disrespectful statements.”

Both the DSCC and the campaign of Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) were also circulating comments made by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) about New Orleans residents over the weekend.