Obama Gives $300K to Other Races

Posted February 5, 2008 at 6:40pm

Late last year, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign called out the New Yorker’s chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination for using his political action committee to funnel money to downballot candidates, many of them in key early-voting states.

At the time, Clinton allies called Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s Hopefund PAC a “slush fund,” accused the campaign of skirting campaign finance laws and urged that the committee be shut down. Presidential candidates are prohibited from using their leadership PACs to directly influence the election, and Clinton effectively deactivated HillPAC when she officially became a candidate for president.

But Obama campaign officials said they were merely trying to help elect Democrats and argued there was nothing improper about the contributions. Eventually, the issue faded.

Lost in that back and forth, however, is the fact that Obama’s PAC giving made him one of the largest benefactors of House and Senate Democrats in 2007.

Year-end fundraising reports filed last week showed that Obama stopped donating to candidates in October. But he still directed a little more than $300,000 to federal candidates last year, giving out the bulk of his contributions at the end of September, just as the third quarter was about to close.

Of that amount, $117,500 went to Members who are now supporting his presidential bid, though at the time of his contributions many of them had not yet announced their endorsements.

Records show that Obama gave money to candidates in almost all of the competitive Senate races this cycle and to some of the most politically endangered House Democrats.

At the end of September, he directed a total of $40,000 to a group of Democratic Senate candidates, including Reps. Tom Allen (Maine) and Mark Udall (Colo.), former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. He also gave to Oklahoma state Sen. Andrew Rice (D), who faces a considerable uphill battle in trying to knock off Sen. James Inhofe (R), and an additional $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Obama gave to several colleagues who are up for re-election but are not considered likely to face difficult races: Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). He also gave $5,000 to Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), the only Senate Democrat currently in jeopardy of losing in November. Johnson is the only one in the group who later endorsed Obama; the rest have thus far remained neutral.

In the House, Obama’s giving pattern aligns more closely with his current list of supporters.

Obama donated to 48 Members and three Democratic challengers last year. Of that total, 23 incumbents have endorsed his campaign, five endorsed Clinton and one backed former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who is no longer in the presidential race. The rest have kept their powder dry.

On Sept. 27 alone, Obama’s PAC contributed to 44 House Members. That day, he sent $4,000 checks to 18 of his fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 15 of whom were then or are now supporters of his presidential bid.

On the same day, he sent checks in a lesser amount to a handful of vulnerable Democratic freshmen who have not endorsed any candidate in the White House race. Among those who received $2,500 checks from Hopefund were Reps. Steve Kagen (Wis.), Jason Altmire (Pa.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Christopher Carney (Pa.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Nancy Boyda (Kan.), Chet Edwards (Texas) and John Yarmouth (Ky.).

Last year, the Clinton campaign delighted in noting that while Obama has touted his refusal to accept money from lobbyists or from PACs during the campaign, Hopefund accepted PAC contributions. The Clinton camp also noted that Obama was using his PAC to donate to local Democratic officials and party interests in early-voting primary and caucus states.

Indeed, Hopefund was generous to the five House Democrats from New Hampshire and Iowa, sending each of them $9,000 last year. Ultimately, three out of the five backed his bid.

Of the three House Democratic challengers to whom Obama gave money, two are running in the early caucus states of Iowa and Nevada.

Meanwhile, the only member of the Democratic leadership to whom Hopefund gave was House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), whose PAC received a $5,000 contribution from Obama. Clyburn remained publicly neutral in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary last month.

To put Obama’s PAC giving in perspective, Hopefund’s contributions to candidates last year totaled more than twice what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave out in PAC contributions. Reid doled out $142,500 though his Searchlight Leadership Fund, almost exclusively to Senate incumbents and candidates.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is also up for re-election in 2008, gave $47,500 through his Prairie PAC, mostly to Senate candidates.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave $377,000 to House and Senate candidates through her PAC last year.

Hopefund began 2007 with a $677,000 bank balance and ended December with $94,000 remaining. Between Nov. 6 and Dec. 31, the committee spent just more than $5,000 and made no candidate contributions. Obama is not actively raising funds for his PAC.