DCCC to Members: Fork It Over

Posted December 9, 2008 at 6:53pm

The 2008 elections are finally over, but the financial hangover lingers for House Democrats who are pushing their rank and file to help the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee retire the $20 million in debt it incurred this cycle.

In a letter sent to Members on Tuesday night and obtained by Roll Call, Democratic leaders did not specifically call out the names of those who had not met their fundraising and dues goals, but they intimated that the reluctance of some Members to pony up was a contributing factor in the size of the DCCC’s debt.

“In taking advantage of every opportunity to expand our majority combined with the lack of full participation of all Members, the DCCC incurred more than $20 million in debt,” the leaders wrote. “It was worth every penny to bring 24 new Democrats to Congress.”

The letter was signed by the incoming leadership team for the 111th Congress, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and asked Members to give more before the end of the year. It also made an overt reference to recognizing those who heed the call.

“To ensure that we begin the midterm cycle in a commanding position, we are asking every Member to write an additional dues contribution of $35,000 above and beyond the dues you have already paid before December 19, 2008. A contribution over this $35,000 request would be greatly appreciated. The House Democratic Leadership will recognize those that participate in the Team effort.”

An updated Member dues sheet was distributed with the letter Tuesday, showing which Members had gone above and beyond their fundraising obligations for the cycle and those who had fallen well short of their goals.

A look at the Members who appear to be nowhere close to meeting their goals showed that many do not have enough cash in their campaign accounts to transfer anything significant to the DCCC.

Among exclusive subcommittee chairmen who did not have competitive re-election races, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) and Bobby Rush (Ill.) have all paid less than $100,000 toward their $250,000 dues goal (Rush and Mollohan have paid nothing). Rush, Mollohan and McDermott all have $56,000 or less in their campaign accounts. Mollohan’s only financial contribution to the DCCC for the cycle was raising $500 for the committee’s “Red to Blue” program, making him the least active of exclusive subcommittee chairmen.

Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.), another exclusive subcommittee chairman, has contributed just $100,000 in dues, but he also raised $142,000 for the Red to Blue program, substantially more than most of his peers.

Further down the food chain, Appropriations members who have not met their $200,000 dues goal for the cycle are Reps. Chaka Fattah (Pa.), Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Betty McCollum (Minn.) and Ciro Rodriguez (Texas), who is part of the DCCC’s “Frontline” program for vulnerable incumbents and therefore is generally given a pass when it comes to party dues.

McCollum, however, was more active than the others in raising money for the DCCC.

Excluding Frontline members and Members running for Senate, only eight Democrats had not paid any dues to the DCCC as of this week.

Among the rank-and-file Members who were shown as being well short of their dues and fundraising goals were Reps. Diane Watson (Calif.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Gene Taylor (Miss.), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), David Scott (Ga.), Al Green (Texas), Joe Baca (Calif.) and Jim Matheson (Utah).

During the fall sprint to the Election Day finish line, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) repeatedly said that the committee had more opportunities to pick up GOP-held seats than the committee could afford. He and other leaders made repeated pitches down the stretch for Members to pony up more money to help fund the effort to expand their Democratic majority.

According to a post-general fundraising report filed with the Federal Election Commission last week, the DCCC showed close to $4.9 million in vendor debt stemming from the Nov. 4 elections and had $2.7 million in cash on hand as of Nov. 24.

The committee also has $15 million due on a $20 million bank loan taken out in September and October, after paying off $5 million on the loan on Nov. 21.

The debt figure is about double what it was at this point in the last election cycle. The DCCC showed a little more than $10 million in debts on its 2006 post-general fundraising report, the same cycle that Democrats won a majority of seats in the House.

Even if Members don’t come through, Congressional Democrats are likely to look to their new ally in the White House for some help in retiring their debt early on in the 2010 cycle.

The campaign of President-elect Barack Obama still has about $30 million in excess funds after raising a record $750 million. It remains unclear what the Obama campaign will do with the extra money, but legally it can transfer an unlimited amount to other political committees.

Obama’s campaign already donated $500,000 to the DCCC after the elections, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the White House chief of staff designee, gave another $100,000.

Across the Capitol, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is close to $13 million in debt.

Although Van Hollen has agreed to stay on as chairman for another cycle, top staffing decisions at the DCCC have yet to be announced. It remains to be seen whether Executive Director Brian Wolff, a close confidant of Speaker Pelosi, and other senior level staffers are going to stay on for another tour as well.

At the National Republican Congressional Committee, incoming Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) announced Tuesday that his chief of staff, Guy Harrison, will become the executive director at the committee, a move that had long been anticipated.

Additionally, Johnny DeStefano was named deputy executive director. DeStefano is a top political aide to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is looking to have more influence over the committee than he did in the 2008 cycle.

“I’m pleased and honored to have Guy and Johnny in place as we move forward in our efforts to recapture the majority,” Sessions said in a statement. “Guy and Johnny both bring the kind of battle-tested experience to the table that the NRCC needs in what is sure to be a rigorous and successful upcoming campaign cycle.”