Facing criticism from moderate Democrats that he bears some responsibility for the political peril they face in November, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Friday defended his tenure as chairman and his financial support for electing Democrats.
“This year I’m doing more than I’ve ever done before to help Democratic candidates get elected,” Waxman said.
Waxman plans to give an additional $275,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, bringing his total to $850,000, according to his campaign. That’s $350,000 more than his dues and the most of any Democrat outside of leadership.
Waxman — who unseated Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) as chairman in a contentious battle after the 2008 elections — also is stepping up his giving to individual candidates to $600,000, giving a combined total of direct aid to nearly $1.5 million. The DCCC also gives Waxman credit for separately raising another $531,000 for its coffers, about half of a $1 million goal.
In an Oct. 21 Roll Call article, several Democratic aides and former aides complained that Waxman and two other chairmen were sitting on large campaign war chests — $1.4 million in Waxman’s case — despite being in safe districts. The aides argued that the three lawmakers — Waxman, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (Mass.) and Subcommittee on Health Chairman Frank Pallone (N.J.) — should do more for fellow Democrats because of their roles authoring liberal health and energy bills that moderates consider to be the chief causes of this year’s GOP wave.
But Waxman said he’s doing more because his party faces an “unprecedented” situation.
“We’re seeing something quite unprecedented, and I think a real threat to our democracy,” Waxman said. “And that is: the rules of the game being changed as the result of the Supreme Court decision and the efforts by the Republicans and their outside supporter groups to put unlimited corporate dollars into campaigns at the last minute, without any disclosure of the source of that money.”
Waxman later added, “My giving this year has nothing to do with anything other than the fact I want to elect more Democrats, and it’s not something that I’m doing in response to anything other than getting more Democrats elected.”
Waxman said he did not accept the argument of some of his critics that the health and climate change bills passed by the House are playing a central role in this year’s difficult environment for Democrats.
“All I can say is I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” he said. “I regret the Senate didn’t act on the energy bill. I’m very proud of the health bill that we adopted for the first time to ensure every American access to health insurance coverage and to hold down the costs.”
Waxman also noted that he’s gone beyond his dues in previous cycles.
“Since 2000, I’ve been responsible for raising and giving $4 million,” he said. “I’ve never done in any cycle the bare minimum.”
Waxman said that in the 2006 cycle, he gave $575,000 to about 70 candidates and the DCCC, upping that to $725,000 to about 100 candidates and the committee in the 2008 cycle.
“I want to emphasize that I’ve done all I can to help Democrats across the political spectrum — conservatives, liberals, people who voted with me on one bill or another, it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “My approach is to do everything I can to elect every Democrat possible.”
As for his critics, “people can say whatever they want, but they can also not know all the facts. After people see all the facts, they can come to any conclusion they want,” he said.
Waxman added that he had no regrets about how he has run his committee and had no particular plans to change his approach in the future.
“I’ll always try to improve, to get things done, work closely with the Members, try to get all the Democrats on my committee reelected, as well as all the Democrats in the House reelected and get new ones here,” he said.