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Members Taking Sides Early

Months before the first ballots are cast in the 2010 election cycle, Members of Congress aren’t hesitating to donate to candidates who are in competitive primary races.

Candidates for Congress who receive contributions from Members can publicize and parlay those endorsements into more financial and political support.

And many Members of Congress have organized leadership political action committees, fundraising vehicles that can give $10,000 to a candidate’s campaign committee — $5,000 apiece for the primary and the general election. That’s more than twice the $4,800 limit that an individual donor can give to a candidate’s campaign committee.

Instead of sitting out the primary elections, plenty of Members have reported giving money to their preferred candidates — particularly in Senate races, which tend to take shape earlier in the election cycle than House races.

In the race to succeed Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who is running for governor, there isn’t much difference on policy issues between Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, the two contenders in the GOP primary. But each can point to backers who are in Congress or recently served.

Moran received a $5,000 contribution from the political action committee of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, who endorsed Moran in September.

Moran, a member of the Agriculture Committee who represents a vast rural district, also received contributions from the leadership PACs of Sen. Mike Johanns (R) a former Agriculture secretary who represents neighboring Nebraska, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

Tiahrt received third-quarter contributions from the leadership PACs of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.).

McCain has also waded into the crowded Republican primary in the western and central Kansas district that Moran is leaving open. McCain’s leadership PAC cut a check to Rob Wasinger, a former aide to Brownback, who also sought the GOP presidential nomination that McCain won.

In Florida, where appointed Sen. George LeMieux (R) is not running in the 2010 election, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has won the lion’s share of money that the party’s membership in Congress has donated in his primary with Marco Rubio (R), a former state Speaker. Crist is backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), among others.

Rubio, who is running as a more conservative alternative to Crist, has backers in Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.)

On the Democratic side, Rep. Kendrick Meek has effectively sewn up his party’s nomination. But Rep. Corrine Brown drew contributions from some Members of Congress after she initiated an exploratory committee in early June, which she terminated in October.

Brown got contributions from the leadership PAC of Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and from the campaign committees of Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.).

Yet Meek continued to rake in contributions from Democratic Members even after Brown began her exploratory effort. One of Meek’s biggest backers is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who gave to Meek’s campaign from her personal campaign committee and her leadership PAC.

In Illinois, where there is no runaway favorite in the Democratic primary for the seat that Sen. Roland Burris (D) is not defending, Rep. Danny Davis (D) has donated from his personal funds and from his campaign committee to the Senate campaign of Cheryle Robinson Jackson (D), a former president of the Chicago Urban League who is seeking to become only the second black woman ever elected to the chamber. Davis also is African-American.

Jackson is an early underdog in the Democratic primary. The leading candidate is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who received a contribution from the leadership PAC of Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio). Both Giannoulias and Space are of Greek descent.

The leading candidate for the Republican nomination is Rep. Mark Kirk, a GOP centrist who has been collecting contributions from Members inside and outside Illinois who are more conservative than him.

In neighboring Kentucky, where Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is retiring, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is backing state Attorney General Jack Conway in the Democratic primary over Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo. Hoyer’s leadership PAC, AMERIPAC, gave $2,500 to Conway’s campaign.

Hoyer was a backer of Conway’s unsuccessful 2002 campaign for a House seat.

On the Republican side, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson has collected contributions from Republican Members of Congress ahead of a primary in which he faces a determined opponent in Rand Paul, an eye surgeon whose father, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), enjoyed fundraising success in his losing campaign for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

Grayson’s third-quarter contributors included Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who gave from their leadership PACs.

Paul didn’t report any third-quarter contributions from Members of Congress and is relying on smaller donations more than Grayson.

To the north in Ohio, where Sen. George Voinovich (R) is retiring, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) has collected donations ahead of his primary with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D), who is struggling to raise campaign funds.

Fisher received third-quarter contributions from committees linked to Ohio Reps. Charlie Wilson (D) and Tim Ryan (D), as well as Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

In Alabama’s 7th district, a majority-black, heavily Democratic area in and around Birmingham that Rep. Artur Davis (D) is giving up to run for governor, state Rep. Earl Hilliard Jr. (D) reported third-quarter contributions from three members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.)

Hilliard is vying with Terri Sewell, a well-funded lawyer, and two other Democrats for the party nomination in a district that Hilliard’s father represented from 1993 to 2002, when Davis unseated him in a primary. Thompson and Cummings served with the elder Hilliard.

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