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Daschle Seeks to Get Back in Game

Seeking to re-establish himself as a political force, former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is forming a new political action committee, raising money for his former colleagues and trying to pump new life into his state’s Democratic Party.

Daschle transferred more than $500,000 in leftover funds from his unsuccessful 2004 re-election bid into the new committee and launched the New Leadership for America PAC at a retreat for potential new Democratic candidates in the Black Hills of South Dakota held Sept. 9-11.

The PAC will become Daschle’s primary political vehicle as he seeks to maintain a level of political relevancy beyond that of other Congressional leaders who have left office in recent years.

Last Wednesday, Daschle and his wife, aviation lobbyist Linda Daschle, hosted a fundraiser at their home on Foxhall Road on behalf of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who is facing a potentially difficult re-election in 2006. The event brought in more than $100,000 for Byrd’s campaign, according to Steve Hildebrand, formerly Daschle’s top campaign aide.

Hildebrand, who also serves as a consultant to the Byrd campaign, continues to be a political adviser to Daschle as director of the new PAC.

Daschle also just sent out a direct-mail pitch on behalf of Byrd, a missive that is expected to pull in as much or more than his event last week for the octogenarian lawmaker.

Despite being out of office more than eight months now, Hildebrand said Daschle’s brand name carries a high degree of cachet in Democratic circles and he intends to use it to help out wherever he can.

“His name is still valuable among Democrats,” Hildebrand said. “You will see a fairly aggressive fundraising effort.”

Earlier this summer Daschle penned a direct-mail piece for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who may face one of the toughest re-elections in 2006. The piece yielded $190,000 for Conrad’s campaign.

And Daschle is in the process of lining up a series of political travel on behalf of Democratic candidates around the country.

The new political activity is not being viewed as any sort of a potential springboard for Daschle to return to electoral politics, as his friends and former aides say he has settled fairly happily into a post-Senate career combining a mix of private-sector jobs as well an academic component. Daschle is working with a longtime supporter, Leo Hindery, in a New York investment outfit focusing on mid-size media companies. In addition, he has set up shop in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Alston and Bird, where he is not lobbying but instead advising clients.

And he has an office at the Center for American Progress, where he is assembling a small staff. His former foreign affairs legislative aide, Denis McDonough, is leaving his post as legislative director for Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) to join Daschle at CAP. Daschle is also teaching a class at Georgetown Law School this semester as a visiting professor.

Most recently departed Congressional leaders have taken on similar endeavors, mixing law or lobbying with some public policy work at a nonprofit or other institution. Those include former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who is now at Alston and Bird with Daschle and has been a key fundraiser for veterans’ causes, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who first set up shop at the American Enterprise Institute before forming his own nonprofit network for promoting conservative ideas. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) has served as a lawyer and been on many corporate boards as well as being an international peace negotiator.

But none of these former leaders has tried to start up a new PAC and aggressively raised money for it to continue to actively promote his political causes. It remains to be seen how effectively Daschle will be able to raise money, particularly in Washington, where there are legions of Democratic lobbyists who feel loyal to him but who also want to see their limited donations going toward active federal candidates.

New Leadership for America is taking over where Daschle’s old committee, DASHPAC, is leaving off. DASHPAC, with just $11,000 in its coffers on July 31, will officially terminate in the next few weeks, leaving Daschle just with New Leadership.

In the first seven months of this year, DASHPAC remained open but raised virtually no money, less than $4,000, even after Daschle’s longtime friend Cappy McGarr sent out an e-mail pitch for the PAC earlier in the summer.

That PAC has handed out more than $70,000 in donations to federal candidates and Democratic Party committees this year. Those candidates who have received the maximum $10,000 from DASHPAC, such as Conrad, cannot now take any money from New Leadership for America. McGarr serves as the treasurer for the new PAC.

But, because he is no longer a federal officeholder, Daschle is incorporating a nonfederal account within the PAC that will file under Section 527 of the tax code. That account will be allowed to accept unlimited donations, although Daschle plans on capping such donations at $25,000 a year per individual.

With that arena for fundraising open to him, Daschle may be able to raise enough money from longtime donors such as Hindery and McGarr to mount an effective PAC that will be a player in state and local races.

Hildebrand said that was the aim of the Black Hills retreat in South Dakota, an annual event Daschle did while in the Senate to find new Democratic talent in the conservative state.