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Democrats Dig Deep to Give

With Republican fundraising lagging, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is having no trouble shaking down his fellow Democrats for cash as the party in power prepares for the home stretch of a lengthy election season.

In the first three months of 2008 alone, 33 of the Senate’s 51 Democrats contributed a total of $840,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, padding the fundraising arm’s war chest overall and boosting its quarterly haul of $16.9 million. The Senate Democrats gave money from their re- election, personal and political action committee accounts in varying amounts ranging from $15,000 to $115,000.

Schumer, who is completing his second tour as chairman of the DSCC, said Wednesday that he hasn’t had to make the hard sell to his colleagues to do their part this cycle because Senators see potential opportunities in November to strengthen their margins. Schumer said Democrats “feel the wind at their backs but also feel a sense of urgency because Republicans are blocking everything and we need change.”

“We have great unity in our Caucus — every one of them has stepped up to the plate. … They have come through,” said Schumer, who in January transferred $15,000 from his PAC to the DSCC bank account

Leading the giving through March 31 to the DSCC were Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.) with $115,000, Mark Pryor (Ark.) with $100,000, Kent Conrad (N.D.) with $65,000 and Patty Murray (Wash.) with $40,000. Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who gave from both his re-election and leadership PAC accounts, contributed $35,000 in the first three months of the year.

Pryor’s contribution was particularly noteworthy since many Democrats anticipated he would be one of the their most threatened incumbents this cycle. But as it turns out, he faces no serious opposition and is all but assured of a second term this fall. With that in mind, Pryor felt it was important to do his part to help the DSCC and Schumer, of whom he said, “A lot of us want him to be the DSCC chair for life.”

“When I ran in 2002, the DSCC was very helpful to me, and I found myself in a position to give back, and I was glad to do it,” Pryor said.

The bulk of the Senators’ giving this year has come from their PACs in the amount of $15,000, the maximum allowed annually. Among those giving from those leadership committees were several of the Senate Democrats’ powerful chairmen and leaders, but also several freshmen, including Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Benjamin Cardin (Md.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Bob Casey (Pa.).

Whitehouse said most Senate Democrats understand that the stakes are high in 2008, and as such are willing to dig into their pockets to help the DSCC protect incumbents and support challengers this cycle. Almost echoing Schumer, Whitehouse attributed the prolific giving this year to Democrats’ “frustration of seeing relentless Republican obstruction and filibustering on the floor” and “confidence that we can in fact win a significant number of seats.”

Asked whether Schumer had anything to do with his recent check-writing, Whitehouse said: “Chuck Schumer is pretty convincing when he applies the powers of persuasion. But it’s certainly not unwelcome because I am a beneficiary of the goodwill of the DSCC.”

While most Senators have given to the DSCC from their re-election accounts or leadership PACS, a trio of Democrats tapped into their personal wealth to give to the DSCC through March 31, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Herb Kohl (Wis.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), who gave the maximum amount for an individual of $28,500 apiece.

Neither Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) nor Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has contributed to the DSCC this year. Also, one-time presidential candidates Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph Biden (Del.), who abandoned their White House bids in January and still face campaign debt, were not among the quarterly DSCC contributors.

Senator contributions are just one aspect of the DSCC fundraising apparatus, which also relies on big and small donors across the country. Democrats have proved adept at raising money since assuming the majority in 2006, and this cycle have amassed $72.3 million compared with the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s $43.5 million.

Schumer’s counterpart, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), continues to implore his Senate colleagues to contribute to the NRSC. Republicans are battling long odds, not only in fundraising but also in recruiting candidates and staving off challenges to their vulnerable incumbents. This cycle, 23 GOP-held Senate seats are in play, compared with the Democrats’ 12. What’s more, just one incumbent Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), is considered in peril, whereas at least four incumbent Republicans are facing uphill climbs this fall.

With that in mind, Ensign, the chairman of the NRSC, has been leaning on his Senate colleagues for months to contribute to the fundraising committee but has had little success. In an interview with Roll Call in January, Ensign said of Senator donations: “Campaign transfers are by far the most difficult. Members always feel that if they raise money for their campaign that their donors won’t like it if they give it away.”

Not the case for the Democrats, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), who recently gave $15,000 from her leadership PAC to the DSCC. Stabenow said Senate Democratic giving has been on the increase since the 2006 cycle, when the then-minority set a high bar and picked up the six seats necessary to win the majority. Stabenow added that this cycle Senate Democrats are eyeing an even bigger prize of expanding their 51-seat margin to a filibuster-proof threshold.

“People are feeling very confident, but we’re also feeling a great sense of urgency about eliminating the roadblocks of the filibuster and getting to 60 votes,” Stabenow said. “People want to get to that point.”

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