In case there was any lingering doubt about the fullness of Trent Lott’s political comeback, the proof is in the numbers.
The Mississippi Republican has leveraged his return to leadership — as Senate Minority Whip — to raise a pile of political cash he’s not seen since his days as Majority Leader.
During the first four months of the year, Lott wrangled nearly $1 million for his leadership political action committee. That’s more than triple what he raised over the same period in the previous election cycle.
“It’s a combination of his understanding that it’s going to take a lot of money to get the majority, and, by others, that he is tremendously effective as a legislator back in the leadership,” a senior GOP leadership aide said.
Lott’s office was unavailable for comment.
So far, his fundraising for the political account, called the New Republican Majority Fund, is far outpacing those of other Congressional leaders: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pulled in $273,858 for his fund, AMERIPAC, and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) collected $326,103 for the Freedom Project, according to federal election reports.
Other top lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), will not file reports for their funds until after the six-month mark this year.
In campaign off-years, lawmakers can choose whether to file their leadership PAC reports monthly or every half-year.
Lawmakers generally form political action committees to raise extra funds to dole out to party committees and other candidates. Lott has spent the majority of his fund’s money, nearly $500,000, on fundraising expenses. He spread $50,000 around to 10 fellow GOP Senators facing re-election fights and cut a check to the National Republican Senatorial Committee for $15,000, the maximum allowed.
“Senator Lott understands there are fundamental responsibilities of leadership. First of all, you raise money and shore up your incumbents,” said David Crane, a former senior policy adviser to Lott who is now lobbying for Global USA. “Then you look to give money to people who can unseat Democrats. That’s what he’s always done.”
Lott first formed the fund in the closing days of 1994, just as GOPers were sweeping back into power and the Mississippi Republican was eyeing his ascent up the Senate ladder. Once he became Majority Leader in 1996, the fund took off. Over the next three campaign cycles, as Lott firmed his grip leading Senate Republicans, he raised an eye-popping $17 million.
But the money was tied to his political fortunes. In 2002, after an off-color remark at the birthday of then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) prompted his tumble from leadership, the fund cooled off. In the previous cycle, it posted $2.9 million, its poorest showing in a decade.
Now, with Lott restored to power, corporate interests are flocking to fill his fund’s coffers again. He already has banked $5,000 checks from corporate PACs across a range of sectors, including Honeywell, Northwest Airlines, Home Depot, Yahoo, Altria, Bank of America, and AT&T. A who’s who of K Street lobbyists also have opened their wallets to contribute.
“The first rule of fundraising is to ask for the money, and he’s willing to do that,” Crane said. “He reminds people who have traditionally supported Republicans that there’s a reason for that — because we stand for smaller government, less regulation and lower taxes.”
Lott has said he wants to help Republicans win back their Senate majority. His own leadership ambitions are in check, he recently told Roll Call. “I am perfectly content with what I’m doing at this point in my life,” he said.