Senate Democrats, seeking to retain their majority, have gotten off to a rapid start in helping their colleagues’ 2008 re-election bids, with three Senators already topping the $100,000 mark in contributions to their party’s top fundraising arm.
Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Tom Carper (Del.) sit atop the heap in writing checks to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee so far this cycle. As of the end of March, Carper had given the most to the DSCC at $125,000, while Conrad had shelled out $115,000 and Baucus had doled out $100,000.
The trio’s donations — largely from their respective re-election accounts — make up close to half of the $685,000 collected overall by the DSCC from 20 Democratic Senators in the first three months of 2007. And while the National Republican Senatorial Committee successfully solicited contributions from 18 of its Members so far this cycle, the GOP campaign arm still fell far short of the Democrats, collecting just $257,500 from its Senators.
“Donations from members of the Caucus were a huge part of our strategy last cycle,” said DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller. “It was very successful. We are hoping to continue and even improve on that success this cycle.”
The Democrats have a record of tapping into their colleagues’ fundraising muscle and in 2006 named to their million-dollar club a high-profile lineup that included Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). Those donations helped the DSCC best the NRSC in overall fundraising by nearly $30 million and contributed to the Democrats’ takeover of the chamber in November.
“I think everyone realizes that strengthening the majority will require a team effort,” Miller said. “With a one-seat majority, you can never be complacent.”
Under NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.), Republicans have sought to reinvigorate their incumbent fundraising this cycle and set a goal of raising $30 million from sitting Senators. So far, all the GOP Senate donations have come from Senators’ leadership political action committees and mostly in $15,000 increments, the maximum allowed annually under federal campaign finance laws.
No GOP Senators have yet dipped into their re-election accounts to give to the NRSC, which many Republicans say is not surprising given that the party is looking to hold onto 21 seats this cycle and Senators’ priority is padding their own coffers first. Unlike PAC donations, which are capped, Senators can give unlimited donations from their re-election accounts to the party committees.
“We are encouraged this early in the game to be at the point we are with Senator cooperation,” said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher. “We certainly know the mountain in front of us. We are not fools. We know the hurdles in front of us.”
Fisher said the NRSC will assess the early response from GOP Senators to determine how best to move forward. As part of that effort, she said the NRSC will “look at the numbers and see how we get [Senators] to take it to the next level. They’ve done more than they really ever have in the past. We’re trying to figure out how to encourage them to go to the next level.”
Ensign has set an overall fundraising target of $119 million for the NRSC and is working to put in place a multitiered approach to meet that goal. He also has urged Senators to create joint fundraising committees, which allow them to raise money for their own re-election campaigns while at the same time collecting funds for their colleagues or the NRSC.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is up for re-election this cycle and has given $15,000 to the NRSC from his leadership PAC, is one of the first GOP Senators to help put that blueprint into action. McConnell hosted a big-ticket event with President Bush in Kentucky in March where he raised money through his joint fundraising committee, McConnell Majority Committee, allowing him collect contributions for his own campaign as well as another $100,000 for the NRSC.
“He has to wear two hats,” one GOP leadership aide said of McConnell. “Not only is he the senior Senator from Kentucky, but he’s also the Republican leader. He needs to get reelected, but he wants a title change at some point. You can’t do that without working in the weeds.”
Meanwhile, with the obvious jump-start to pad his party’s bank accounts, DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) appears to be on course to follow the clip he set in the previous cycle. The DSCC far outdid the NRSC in the first three months of this year, collecting $13.7 million compared with the GOP’s $7 million.
Undoubtedly, several Democrats are enjoying their new majority status, including Conrad and Baucus, who recently were installed as chairmen of the Budget and Finance committees, respectively. Unlike the other top DSCC givers, though, Baucus is facing re-election to a sixth term next year and thus is focused on raising money for his own political future as well.
Jim Messina, Baucus’ chief of staff, said Monday that his boss isn’t taking the 2008 cycle lightly, either for himself or for his fellow Senate Democrats. Baucus had $2.9 million in his re-election account as of the end of March.
“This is a no-brainer,” Messina said. “Max Baucus will do whatever it takes to help his friends who are up in 2008 and everyone in the Caucus should do the same.”
Beyond the threesome of Carper, Baucus and Conrad, several other Democrats also have forwarded sizable checks to the DSCC in the first three months of the cycle. Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and freshman Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) gave $50,000 apiece.
Schumer joined Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and 10 other Democratic Senators in giving $15,000 from their respective leadership PACs. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), up for re-election this cycle, has given $5,000 from his PAC, while freshman Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) has given $10,000 from his leadership account.
On the GOP side, 16 Senators shelled out $15,000 from their leadership PACs, including Ensign and McConnell, as well as Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), John Sununu (N.H.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Trent Lott (Miss.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Ted Stevens (Alaska), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Bob Bennett (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.).