House Democratic leaders are pressuring their rank and file to pony up party dues as they get ready for potentially brutal midterm elections.
The pinch is starting at the top, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been hammering home the necessity of an improved fundraising performance both to her lieutenants and the wider Democratic Caucus, insiders said. House Republicans outdid House Democrats in gathering personal campaign money for party coffers in January and February — a rare bright spot for an otherwise beleaguered GOP money machine and a wake-up call to the majority.
“That spooked some folks,” one senior Democratic aide said. “And she’s using it to motivate people. We can’t take our foot off the gas and allow them to catch up.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee received more than $2.3 million in Member transfers in January and February, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee saw just less than $700,000 in transfers during that time. Consecutive victories in the transfer war are something that the NRCC was unable to accomplish during all of 2009, when the committee saw more transfers than the DCCC just once, in October. In the first 12 months of the cycle, the NRCC collected about one-third of the Democrats’ $16.3 million in transfers.
Overall, House Republicans still have a fraction of the Democrats’ cash on hand, with $6.1 million in the bank compared with the DCCC’s almost $20 million war chest.
But Democrats are pivoting onto full-time political footing after wrapping up the heaviest legislative lift of their majority by passing sweeping health care reform late last month. The weeks-long push to gather votes for that package distracted leaders who otherwise would have been banging on Democratic lawmakers to meet their dues obligations.
“We all need to get focused on it,” another top aide said. “We’re behind on Member money, and it’s an issue.”
The party counts on direct transfers from Democratic lawmakers’ campaign accounts for about a third of its funds, or about $54 million. Through March 24, Democrats had forked over about $16.8 million, less than a third of what they owe in total, according to a Roll Call analysis of a party fundraising tally.
The roster of Democratic deadbeats on dues — those who have yet to contribute a penny to the DCCC — runs to 99 lawmakers.
Of those, leaders generally exempt the 41 “Frontline” program members — lawmaker who face the most difficult re-election races. Likewise, leaders aren’t counting on much support from the six Members who are running for higher office.
But the list also includes several Democratic Members who have plum committee assignments, sit on comfortable piles of cash or face no serious political challenges — or some combination of the three.
Among them are: Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.), a subcommittee chairman and top adviser to Pelosi during the health care debate; House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (Pa.); Energy and Commerce Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (Mich.); Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), a Financial Services subcommittee chairman; Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health Chairman Pete Stark (Calif.); and Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), a chief deputy whip and Financial Services subcommittee chairwoman.
Leaders are also likely to put an extra squeeze on Democrats who have announced their intention to retire but have yet to pay the party piper. Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.), Marion Berry (Ark.) and Dennis Moore (Kan.) are all heading for the exits and so far have paid no dues. And Rep. Bill Delahunt (Mass.), likewise retiring, had forked over $50,000 toward the $150,000 that he owes as of March 24.
The DCCC does not publicly discuss the particulars of its fundraising. “The DCCC is a Member participation organization and, especially in this challenging political environment, we appreciate our Members’ commitment to the DCCC and a strong Democratic majority,” spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.
The committee is getting a lift from some standout rainmakers at the top of the Democratic leadership ladder. Pelosi, all told, has raised more than $24.4 million so far this cycle — including more than $3 million between the end of January and the end of March, when she was leading the charge in the House to resurrect the comprehensive health care overhaul. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) had pulled in more than $6.5 million; Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), about $4.8 million; DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), about $9.8 million; DCCC Vice Chairman Joe Crowley (N.Y.), about $6.7 million; and DCCC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), about $5 million.
Meanwhile, the Democrats appear to be benefiting from what many regard as a shadow race for the Ways and Means Committee gavel between acting Chairman Sander Levin (Mich.) and Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures.
Democratic sources said both men have dramatically ramped up their political activity since Rep. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) was forced to step aside on March 3 in the wake of an ethics wrist slap. From Jan. 21 through March 24, Levin generated $177,500 for the party and Neal raised $141,000, a study of fundraising tallies shows.
As for the GOP, Republican insiders credit several factors for their uptick in Member transfers this year, including an increasingly favorable environment, a plea from NRCC Finance Vice Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) at the House GOP retreat in January and a pattern in GOP House giving where Members hang on to their money until later in the cycle. Now that filing deadlines are starting to pass, some Members who had been stockpiling their cash for a potential challenge are expected to open their checkbooks for the party.
During January and February the NRCC saw 11 Members transfer $50,000 or more to committee coffers, with six of those giving $100,000 or more. Four other GOP Members gave at least $50,000 in March.
But before Republicans get too excited about the prospect of pulling off a hat trick in the monthly transfer battle, a look back at recent fundraising history shows the DCCC traditionally does very well with transfers at the quarters of the year. The DCCC averaged nearly $2.5 million per month when adding up Member transfers during March, June, September and December of 2009. The committee also had its strongest transfer showings on the quarters of the last cycle (with the exception of November 2008).
This cycle the DCCC has again proved it can wring more dollars out of its membership.
Through February, Democrats could count 13 Members who had already given $200,000 or more to the DCCC, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. On the Republican side, only Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Hensarling had given more than $200,000 to the NRCC through February.
“It’s a culture over there. They’re used to doing it,” one Republican operative said about transfers by Democratic Members. “They’re going to continue to do it, and we have got to get better at it.”
To get there, the NRCC will likely have to lean on Members who have traditionally been stingy when it comes to transfers, such as Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who was sitting on more than $2.5 million at the outset of the year. Or perhaps it will lean more on Members who are facing only token opposition when it comes to their general elections.
One example might be Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who started the year with more than $400,000 in cash on hand but has given just $5,000 to the NRCC this cycle. Emerson is facing a long-shot Democratic candidate in a district where President Barack Obama won just 36 percent of the vote in 2008.
Retiring Members are another historically tough sell when it comes to transferring cash to the party.
Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.), who announced his retirement earlier this year, had not made any transfers to the NRCC through February despite the fact that he was sitting on nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in campaign cash at the start of the year.
Rep. George Radanovich (Calif.) is one retiring Republican who may not have transferred a lot of cash (reports show he gave the committee just $5,000 through February), but he has fulfilled his obligation to the NRCC in other ways, such as by raising money for the party.
“I think what the Members have got to do is they’ve got to make up their mind whether they want to win or not,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), an NRCC vice chairman, said last week. “I think more and more people in our Conference are believing that we are going to take over, and therefore, they are more willing to participate” by making transfers.