Hispanic Lawmakers Eschew DCCC Dues

Posted October 1, 2010 at 4:53pm

Congressional Hispanic Caucus members are among the stingiest House Democrats when it comes to party giving.

All but one of the CHC’s 23 members had yet to meet their Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee obligations for the cycle, leaving close to $3 million in outstanding dues; a handful of Members had given nothing at all as of Aug. 24, according to a DCCC dues tally. Since then, two others ‘ CHC Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) ‘ have paid in full, according to the DCCC.

Party dues for the cycle range from $800,000 for top party leaders to $125,000 for rank-and file Members. Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) is the only CHC member who had paid his dues in full, according to the document. Becerra met his $450,000 DCCC goal and raised close to $1 million more for the campaign committee and for Democrats in competitive races.

Some Hispanic lawmakers cited the challenging political and economic environment as the reason for their scant giving, while others said they are frustrated with the lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform. Those Members said they don’t want their campaign dollars funding Democrats who have blocked progress on an overhaul.

‘I want to make sure that the money goes where I think it’s most appropriate, to individuals who are very supportive,’ said Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), who chaired the CHC in 2007-08.

Baca said he wanted to ensure his money went directly to those candidates and incumbents who support comprehensive reform.

Although Baca hadn’t paid his $200,000 in dues, he had raised more than $100,000 this cycle for the DCCC and for Democrats in competitive races.

At the end of the second fundraising quarter, Baca had contributed to three campaigns through his leadership political action committee. This cycle, Baca’s California Aggressive Leadership PAC gave $1,000 to Reps. Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Mark Schauer (Mich.). He also contributed $1,000 to former Rep. Major Owens (N.Y.).

‘The DCCC is a member-participation organization, and we appreciate everything our members do for us in ensuring we have a strong Democratic majority,’ said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the DCCC.

CHC members are not the only Democrats who have failed to meet their dues obligations over the two-year period ‘ 186 Democratic Members have yet to pay in full. But the group has had a history of strained relations with the DCCC. Hispanic lawmakers have been frustrated in the past when Democratic leaders, including former DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), supported vulnerable Democrats who they say side with Republicans on anti-immigrant legislation.

In November 2007, for example, the CHC boycotted a procedural vote on a Democratic tax bill that was a high priority for leadership. The move prompted an angry exchange between Baca, who helped spearhead the boycott to protest Democratic support for a Republican English-only proposal, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

And CHC members were furious in 2005 when then-DCCC Chairman Emanuel and other Democratic leaders urged vulnerable Frontline Democrats to vote for a GOP proposal designed to crack down on illegal immigrants.

CHC Vice Chairman Charlie Gonzalez said he needs to worry about his own race this cycle.

‘I have to spend a lot more money than I anticipated I’d have to spend … a substantial amount more,’ the Texas Democrat said, noting that he was on track to top his campaign spending for each of the past three cycles. ‘I would not be spending what I’m going to spend on media.’

Rep. Raúl Grijalva said he’s also worried about his re-election bid. He has given just $10,000 of the $150,000 he owes the DCCC. The Arizona Democrat had $135,000 in the bank as of June 30. Neither Gonzalez nor Grijalva is considered vulnerable this cycle.

‘Right now, in this environment, I think you’re going to see more people ‘ I’m speaking for myself ‘ keeping what you raise in order to protect yourself in your own district,’ Grijalva said.

Still, he remarked that it would be nice if vulnerable Frontline Democrats voted with their party ‘every once in a while’ since Democratic Members help fund many of their campaigns.

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (Texas) is the only CHC member who is part of the Frontline program; he and Reps. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) and John Salazar (Colo.) were exempted from paying DCCC dues because they have tough races.

One Democratic strategist that works closely with CHC members said candidates in safe districts also need to bankroll their campaigns.

‘It’s just very difficult to do for them because it’s hard to raise money because everybody thinks they are in safe seats,’ the strategist said, adding that many Hispanic lawmakers help their colleagues in other ways, such as visiting their districts.

‘Members take on responsibilities and do things that help other Members get elected that don’t necessarily go through the DCCC. And the point is they don’t get credit for it,’ the strategist said.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez said he has raised $100,000 for the DCCC, even though he’s disappointed that Democrats have yet to take on immigration reform. ‘I wanted to be helpful, and I was hopeful,’ he said. The Illinois Democrat brushed off a question about why the DCCC dues sheet indicates that he didn’t pay any dues out of his campaign fund.

‘Nobody told me it had to come out of my account,’ he said, adding that he feels he has done a lot for the party.

Gutierrez noted that he has cut $2,000 checks to about 30 Members and candidates, including seven or eight on the day the House adjourned. In addition, he said he is traveling to various districts to help elect Democrats, including a trip to Miami for Democratic House hopeful Joe Garcia.

Rep. Albio Sires, a DCCC vice chairman, has paid just a third of his $300,000 in dues payments. But the New jersey Democrat had only about $285,000 on hand as of June 30, significantly less than any of the other three DCCC vice chairmen. A spokesman for Sires did not return several requests for comment on his DCCC giving.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose leadership position rests on the outcome of the midterm elections, has been cracking the whip on delinquent dues payers, urging them in letters and in person to open their wallets.

Another Democratic strategist noted that many CHC members have histories of not paying their dues. The strategist said it’s ‘ridiculous’ for CHC members to say they need to worry about their own electoral prospects.

‘The reality is there are not that many CHC members who are vulnerable,’ the strategist said, adding that they should recognize that heavy Democratic losses would impede movement on their priorities ‘ particularly immigration reform.

‘We aren’t going to be able to pass the sort of bills that many people in this Caucus would like to see passed if we have fewer Members, so let’s put off any internal issues that we may have on particular bills and legislation until next Congress,’ the strategist said.

But Gonzalez said he wants to make sure Democrats win regardless of their individual stances on immigration.

‘They make me relent by being in the majority,’ he said. ‘I have no problem understanding that several of my colleagues can’t be with me on certain issues. … I want them to come back because they will be voting for the same person for Speaker, we have a majority in the committees and such. They empower me. So I have a vested interest in their success.’

Steven T. Dennis and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.