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Vice Chair Money Race Heats Up

As the race for Democratic Caucus vice chairman approaches, the three candidates are accelerating their fundraising activities and writing more checks than ever in a bid to show that they are the most leadership-worthy.

The latest quarterly fundraising numbers show that Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) leads his two rivals, Reps. John Larson (Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), in donations to party organizations and Members this cycle, although all three have made significant strides in the money chase.

In the past three months alone, the three vice chairman hopefuls have given the party a total of $120,000 and raised nearly $1 million on its behalf.

The three Democrats are vying for the No. 4 leadership slot currently held by Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), who is prevented from seeking a third term. Their fundraising efforts are viewed as a key test of their party loyalty and their commitment to Democratic victories in 2006 and beyond.

Crowley has paid the most of his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dues this cycle — $120,000 of his $250,000. He is followed narrowly by Schakowsky, who has paid $110,000 of her $250,000 dues, and Larson, who has given $75,000 of his $150,000 ask.

While all three Members sit on exclusive committees that require hefty dues payments, Crowley and Schakowsky have even higher obligations because they also serve as chief deputy whips. Dues vary among Members based on position in the Caucus, committee assignments and ability to pay.

As vice chairman, the Members would be required to give at least $400,000 in dues and engage in significant fundraising for the party and Members.

Top leaders are on the hook for the biggest sums this cycle. So far, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shelled out $315,000 of her $600,000 dues, followed by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who has paid $300,000 of his $600,000, and DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who has paid $300,000 of his $400,000 in dues.

Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who has his sights set on an appointment to the Senate next year if Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) wins his race for governor, has given just $57,000 of his $600,000 requirement. Clyburn, meanwhile, has paid $150,000 of his $400,000 dues. He is running unopposed to succeed Menendez as Caucus chairman.

Schakowsky said fundraising is “one important indicator” of a future House leader, adding that she will do her part to ensure that Democratic candidates and the party are well financed. She noted that she has nearly doubled her party and candidate giving in the past quarter.

“I feel very good about the pace that I’m raising money and the contributions I’ve given to candidates,” Schakowsky said. “I am willing to do the work, and I have the base of committed donors and people who will also go out and raise money. I think that is significant.”

As the head of the DCCC’s business outreach program, Crowley also leads the two other candidates in money raised on behalf of the committee. So far this cycle, Crowley has collected $2.5 million for the party, followed by Schakowsky, the head of the party’s women’s outreach program, who has raised slightly more than $700,000.

Crowley said leaders are expected to “set an example” for other Members by raising and giving money, and show their dedication to a Democratic majority. He said raising money is “one way to quantify what you are doing for the team.”

“This is all part of the overall big picture of what I bring to the Caucus,” Crowley said. “It’s just one aspect of it. It’s not the totality of who I am, but a part of who I am.”

Larson, who unlike the other two Members holds no leadership position with the DCCC, has raised just $2,500 so far on the party’s behalf. Larson, who hails from a state with a smaller donor base, said through a spokesman that he will do his part to help the party, and as part of that will host a DCCC fundraiser in Hartford, Conn., later this month.

“Strong fundraising skills are one of the assets needed in a vice chair, especially with the number of good candidates already announced,” said Larson’s spokesman Brian Mahar. “He’s shown his commitment to helping them, but he continues to reach out to Members about the other roles of the vice chair, such as being a liaison between Members and leadership and helping craft a unified message to win the majority.

“He’s proven he can do that as Senate president in Connecticut and as ranking member of House Administration.”

The sitting leaders appear to be doing their part as well. Pelosi has raised $13.5 million for the DCCC so far, followed by Emanuel with $8.5 million, Hoyer with $1 million and Menendez with $30,000. Clyburn has yet to raise any money on behalf of the DCCC this cycle.

In an interview, Clyburn said he has helped numerous candidates and met all of his party dues obligations in the past, and will do so again this cycle. He added that leaders must bring many strengths to the table beyond raising money.

“It’s about much more than fundraising,” he said. “It’s important, but I do believe we all have our roles to play. Some of us can organize, some of us can manage, some of us can give a good speech, some of us can raise a good bit of money. When you put together a team, you look for a group of people who can get the job done.”

Menendez could vacate his leadership post as early as January if Corzine wins and taps him as his successor. Menendez is viewed as a strong contender for the appointment.

If Menendez does depart from the House, Democratic leadership elections for chairman and vice chairman could be held sometime between November and January — nearly a year ahead of schedule. Otherwise, the balloting would be held late next year following the November election.

With the possibility of an early election, the vice chairman candidates have been spending recent weeks lobbying Members for support. As part of that, they also have been working to help their vulnerable colleagues win re-election — not only to show their desire to win back the House, but also to win the support of Members when the tally is held.

As of Sept. 30, the third Federal Election Commission reporting period, Crowley once again surpassed his opponents on money raised and given to “Frontline” candidates. Frontline is a DCCC program designed to help the most threatened Democratic incumbents survive re-election.

Crowley has collected $161,000 so far for Frontline members, followed closely by Schakowsky with $93,000 and Larson with $15,000.

The current leadership team also has been working on behalf of vulnerable Members. Pelosi has raised and given $1.2 million so far to Frontline candidates, followed by Emanuel with $871,000, Hoyer with $525,000, Clyburn with $25,000 and Menendez with $24,000.

Schakowsky tops Crowley and Larson, however, when it comes to money raised for the party’s Red-to-Blue program, a fundraising effort designed to elect Democrats to Republican-held districts. The Illinois Democrat has raised $25,000 for that program, followed by Crowley with $9,000 and Larson with $2,000.