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Money Matters: Schock and Awe

Although President Bush’s approval ratings are in the dumps, Illinois state Rep. Aaron Schock became the latest GOP candidate to perhaps exchange a few votes in November for immediate truckloads of campaign cash that the chief executive can still raise in conservative pockets around the country.

[IMGCAP(1)]According to Schock’s campaign, 1,400 true Bush believers coughed up $500 a plate for a president-hosted fundraising luncheon last Friday afternoon to support Schock’s campaign. The campaign also offered $5,000-a-pop grip-and-grins with the president at the Peoria fundraiser, but Schock’s campaign declined to say how many attendees actually purchased the pricey photographs.

Estimated haul for Schock’s campaign: $700,000-plus before costs.

The 27-year-old state lawmaker, who is looking to replace retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R), continues to be a rare recruiting bright spot for House Republicans this cycle.

But could Schock’s decision to campaign with the wildly unpopular chief executive this close to the election become the latest rookie blunder in what should be a safe GOP district?

Schock’s campaign doesn’t seem to think so. Spokesman Steve Shearer told Roll Call on Tuesday that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) recently came to town for local broadcaster Colleen Callahan (D), Schock’s Election Day opponent, so why shouldn’t Schock bring out the GOP’s biggest rainmaker?

“Congress’ approval rating is half that of the president,” Shearer reckoned.

Still, a Land of Lincoln Republican strategist told Roll Call that Schock’s decision is not without risks. The source said LaHood’s district “is pretty safe territory,” where the Democratic presidential standard-bearer, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), is not considered particularly popular, but Schock is fast gaining a reputation for getting too big for his britches — even recently assuming an “inevitability that he’s going to win.”

“There’s been some concern among certain Republicans that [Schock’s campaign] has gotten cocky about the race,” the source said.

But in a district where Bush won twice by more than 10 points, “the payoff is much greater than the downside,” the source said. “There’s always a risk, but it is a solidly Republican district and it looks like the payoff is going to be pretty good.”

Schock had about $300,000 in cash as of July 1. Callahan had about $155,000.

Open Season? The Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the “Millionaires’ Amendment” earlier this summer has begot another major target for conservative activists: the public financing of elections.

Jim Bopp, a prominent conservative lawyer, filed papers with the high court last Friday challenging a North Carolina law that sets aside public funds for campaign expenses in judicial contests around the state.

In an interview on Tuesday, Bopp said the Supreme Court’s recent decision provided a wide opening for challenges to public financing laws in the Tar Heel State and perhaps elsewhere — laws, he said, that “punish the independent spenders and privately funded candidates.”

In court papers, Bopp argues that his case, which involves a 2006 judicial candidate from the state, is “at the forefront of a long raging judicial debate over the constitutionality of provisions of public financing schemes,” including potentially House and Senate races.

“Public funding of candidate campaigns has long been advocated by some campaign finance reformers and has become a feature in a significant number of federal, state and municipal jurisdictions,” Bopp wrote. “The Federal Election Campaign Act contains a public funding scheme for candidates for president and Congress is currently considering a proposal for public funding of congressional elections.”

Although he declined to speculate on the case’s prospects, Bopp told Roll Call that the John Roberts-led Supreme Court has shown increasing hostility to some campaign finance laws put on the books in recent years, including the recently scrapped Millionaires’ Amendment.

“They’re serious about the First Amendment, which states: ‘Congress shall make no law …’” Bopp said. “No means no, [and lower courts] have a hard time figuring out what the word ‘no’ means, just like my daughters when they were growing up.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission announced Friday that candidates who raised money under the Millionaires’ Amendment, which upped contribution limits for candidates with self-funding opponents, should return money raised after June 26, the day the Supreme Court threw out the provision.

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