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CBC Still Slow to Help DCCC

Congressional Black Caucus members notched a win earlier this year when they convinced House Democratic leaders to count more than just how much political money they raise in weighing who is doing their part for the team.

Under a plan hashed out by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) at the urging of the CBC, House Democrats now award “points— to lawmakers who help out the party in other ways: traveling for candidates, recording robocalls and doing interviews with local press, among other things.

But six months into the 2010 election cycle, the overwhelming majority of CBC members have yet to register any points. It’s a fact that quiet critics of the system said raises questions about its purpose — and of the CBC’s commitment to pulling its political weight.

“This is a big extra-credit circle-jerk waste of time,— one senior Democratic aide said.

So far, only a handful of CBC members have collected any points under the new system. Clyburn leads the pack with 123 points, according to a DCCC document dated June 24. Behind him is Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) with 11 points, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) with three, Reps. David Scott (D-Ga.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) with two points each and Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) with one point.

Under the system, lawmakers earn five points for raising at least $20,000 for a vulnerable lawmaker or Democratic challenger; three points for traveling to a district to campaign; two for attending “individual money meetings— in a district to benefit the DCCC or for doing press interviews, radio ads or robocalls for candidates; and one for serving as a special guest at a fundraising event or soliciting colleagues on behalf of the party, according to a DCCC document.

Defenders of the point system said it is still too early to draw any conclusions about its effectiveness and lawmakers’ participation in it. They argued that as the political season heats up and Democrats hit the campaign trail, CBC members and others will start putting points on the board.

“Our expectation is that the great majority of the points will be generated in the last months of the cycle,— said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who implemented the system.

Tensions between CBC members and the DCCC have long simmered.

Black Democrats have complained for years that the campaign committee does little to help reciprocate the work they do for the party. While most CBC members represent safe seats, they feel that when they do face a challenge — particularly in primaries — the DCCC hasn’t always backed them up. And CBC members have griped that the DCCC has not done enough to seek their input, failed to spend money to boost minority turnout and not hired enough minority consultants.

Those protests were loudest when then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) ran the DCCC in the 2006 cycle, and Van Hollen has taken steps to repair the damage, in part by implementing the new credit system.

But some raw feelings remain. “Our concern is financial,— said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a CBC member. “We pay our dues and then end up becoming the most dependable votes in the Caucus. And there is some resentment over the folk who are not as dependable and don’t get pushed as hard to pay any dues.—

That likely won’t change under the points system, which has no impact on what lawmakers owe the party. Facing the daunting task of defending a significantly expanded list of Democrats from marginal districts, party leaders resisted allowing points to count against required Member dues, which make up about a third of the DCCC budget.

Despite the advantages of fundraising with a commanding majority, the committee ended May with only a slight advantage over its Republican counterpart in cash on hand, reporting $5 million in the bank compared with $3.7 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee. And the DCCC is carrying more debt from the 2008 cycle — $6.6 million, compared with $4 million for the Republicans.

Although CBC members have yet to rack up many points under the DCCC’s new program, they aren’t alone. In fact, most House Democrats have yet to get on the board.

Still, the average Democrat has collected six points, compared with the average CBC member’s three and a half, a review of the DCCC document reveals.

“It’s unfair to say when people are not in campaign mode that they’re not doing anything,— Clyburn said, arguing that points will start piling up when lawmakers hit the road after Labor Day. There is some evidence of that in the results so far. One of the top points-earners is one of the most junior Democrats in the House: Rep. Paul Tonko (N.Y.), a freshman, racked up 73 points this spring for helping Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) win a special election in his neighboring district.

Clyburn said that kind of effort is the goal of the program. “There’s something unbecoming about saying a person’s only value is their ability to write a check,— he said. Lawmakers from poorer districts have a harder time raising money but need to be honored for their non-monetary contributions, he said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is so far setting the pace, with 191 points. Van Hollen is close behind with 187, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) follows him with 179.

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