Money Matters: Money in Politics

Posted July 15, 2008 at 6:41pm

Correction Appended

The House passed three election-related measures under suspension Tuesday.

[IMGCAP(1)]The first bill would allow federal candidates to designate an individual to disburse funds from a candidate’s campaign committee in the event of the candidate’s death.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), who has personal reasons behind introducing the bill.

His father, former Rep. Walter Jones Sr. (D-N.C.), died in September 1992, while still in office. At the time of his death he had already announced he would not seek re-election. He had also announced that he would take advantage of an expiring loophole in election law, which would allow him to pocket his campaign treasury. Members are no longer able to take their excess campaign funds when they retire.

“It’s something that he saw first hand,” Jones spokeswoman Kathleen Joyce said of figuring out who is responsible for determining how deceased Members’ funds get spent. “The process could be confusing.”

Also passed Tuesday was a bill sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) that is aimed at establishing a grant program that would help state and local governments defray the cost of making backup paper ballots available for the November elections in the event that electronic voting equipment fails. The Election Assistance Commission would establish the program.

A third bill seeks to extend through 2013 the Federal Election Commission’s authority to impose civil money penalties on the basis of a schedule of penalties established and published by the commission. The legislation is sponsored by House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.).

Helplessly Hoping. The July 28 performance of Crosby, Stills and Nash at Wolf Trap is sold out. But for a mere $1,500, you can go anyway — provided you’re willing to support the re-election campaign of freshman Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.).

Hall is hardly the first Member of Congress to raise money by inviting donors to join him at a rock concert. But Hall is probably one of the few to have a genuine, long-standing relationship with the performers.

Back in 1979, when he was a hit-making star with the pop group Orleans, Hall — along with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash (yes, that Nash) and others — was a co-founder of an organization called Musicians United for Safe Energy. The group organized five landmark concerts that fall at Madison Square Garden, the proceeds of which were used to fight nuclear energy and promote alternative energy sources.

While MUSE still exists, in some fashion, today, the principal political activity of some of its founders seems to be helping Hall — who appears to have an easy path to re-election. Still, if anyone doubts that Hall needs the help, perhaps CSN can give them “49 reasons.”

Going to Towns. Roll Call reported last week that former House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (Okla.) was hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.).

Although the J.C. Watts Companies hosted a fundraiser Tuesday for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Towns was not the first Democrat it has helped in recent months. According to Steven Pruitt, a managing director, the firm has hosted fundraisers for Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), among others.

Pruitt, a former Democratic staff director at the House Budget Committee, said Watts, despite his Republican roots, is happy to help certain Democrats.

“These are folks who he worked with when he was a Member of Congress,” Pruitt said. “Last but not least, J.C. Watts is a businessman now. He’s not a Republican leader of Congress.”

As for the Towns fundraiser specifically, which is scheduled for Thursday, Pruitt said the 13-term Congressman, who faces a tough Democratic primary challenge from author Kevin Powell, asked for help.

Towns, in fact, had a handful of fundraisers on tap from mid-July to the end of the month, including a golf outing this weekend on Long Island and luncheons later in the month featuring Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Back to the Future. GOPAC, the forward-looking Republican political action committee that grooms and trains GOP rising stars and operatives, took a decidedly backward look in a recent fundraising appeal.

In an e-mail solicitation to “fellow conservatives,” GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele tried to shake the money tree by invoking the names of former President Jimmy Carter and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee two decades ago.

Steele said he interviewed Dukakis while serving as a guest host on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” program, and that the former governor “sent me through the roof” when he “had the audacity to say the Democrats are stronger on foreign policy than Republicans.”

Steele then offered a dose of political reality, saying that Republican candidates across the country are underfunded and that Democrats could “expand their majorities in every state in the country.”

But Steele, in the solicitation, seemed to recognize that the GOP brand needs some buffing up.

“Together,” he wrote along with a plea for $25 or $250, “we can change the Republican Party!”

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Correction: July 18, 2008

The article incorrectly reported the name of Rep. John Hall’s (D-N.Y.) old band. It was Orleans. Also, Musicians United for Safe Energy, in addition to fighting nuclear power, worked to promote alternative energy sources.