Chairmen Sing Dues Blues

Posted April 18, 2008 at 6:17pm

Amassing mounds of campaign cash for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is expected for committee chairmen, but only half have paid their dues in full so far this cycle.

Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (Mich.), for one, hasn’t yet given a dime to the DCCC, but that doesn’t mean he’s been sitting on his hands. Dingell has raised $937,000 for the committee and $385,000 for the committee’s Frontline program that steers money to vulnerable incumbents, according to a tally sheet through March 31 obtained by Roll Call.

“He has focused his efforts on raising money for the DCCC and other candidates and plans to give later,” a Dingell aide said. The aide said Dingell was pleased with the DCCC and Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), including their efforts in Michigan.

Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.) had not contributed anything until March 28, shortly before the end of the first quarter, when he disgorged $200,000 from his war chest –– still well short of the $500,000 goal expected of chairmen of exclusive committees. Obey raised just $19,500 toward a $1 million goal for the committee and has given or raised a relatively paltry $35,000 for Frontline.

Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) has given $125,000, leaving her $375,000 short. She raised $254,500 toward a $1 million goal for the committee and $6,000 for Frontline.

Slaughter said she’s committed to raising the money and attributed her poor showing to being a bad fundraiser. “I just don’t get it done,” she said.

But, she said, “I have a strong sense of responsibility, and I will raise that number.”

Slaughter said “there’s a gentle nudge every now and then” from other leaders that she step up her giving but said “there’s nothing in there that depends on that,” gesturing to the Rules Committee Hearing Room.

“My chairmanship is not dependent on that,” she said.

Van Hollen said he’s not worried about the the pace of contributions. “I’m confident that before the end of the cycle, they will all do their part,” he said.

He said the committee isn’t exactly hurting for cash, with $20 million raised in the first quarter and $44 million in cash on hand. “Everybody is stepping up,” he said.

There is no set timetable for Members to pay their dues to the committee, as long as they get their money in before the November elections. The DCCC doesn’t do the bulk of its spending for the cycle until the fall TV ad campaigns begin, and therefore direct contributions to or fundraising for candidates is most helpful at this stage in an election year.

Two chairmen with sway over the financial community have led the way and exceeded their dues: Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) has blown away his dues goal with $800,000, and Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (Mass.) has given $550,000. (Rangel also has raised $321,500 for the committee and more than $1 million for Frontline.)

Chairmen of nonexclusive committees are expected to give $250,000, and about half have met their dues.

Notably, Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (Minn.), who had been criticized for failing to contribute to the DCCC for years before being named ranking member of the panel in 2004, paid his dues right off the bat last year.

“I got in trouble back when I didn’t do it,” Peterson said, noting that he got a call from the Speaker last year suggesting that he pony up, and he did. “I’ve been supporting her, and she’s been supporting me on the farm bill,” he said.

Peterson said he and the DCCC had a falling out dating to his unsuccessful 1986 race, adding, “We’re over that.”

“I think they’re running a good shop, and [Caucus Chairman] Rahm [Emanuel] ran a good shop,” he said of the DCCC.

Peterson, however, expressed distaste for the fundraising system. “I’m a public finance guy,” he said.

While Peterson contributed quickly, Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.) hasn’t, putting up $110,000 so far and raising less than what might be expected of someone in a position to influence the massive defense industry.

Frank, meanwhile, said his early giving was simple. “I want us to stay in the majority. As chairman, you are in the position to get money.” He was quick to add that the money didn’t affect what he did as chairman.

Frank said dues mattered less with Democrats than with Republicans because Democrats generally stick with seniority for chairmanships, “so it’s noncoercive.”

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t peer pressure, or occasionally a nudge or two.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (Calif.) gave $85,710 the same day that he was named to the post last month, giving him a nice, round $150,000 to date.