Even as their constituents cope with the aftermath of recent hurricanes, several lawmakers from storm-ravaged districts are getting back in the hunt for campaign cash.
Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) are holding events in Washington, D.C., while Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) prepares for a three-day fundraising jaunt through California wine country scheduled for next month.
“For those people in Washington whose lives weren’t disrupted, I don’t know that having a fundraiser here is in any way inappropriate,” said Brian Perry, Pickering’s spokesman. The Mississippi Republican held an event here last week and has several more planned for the next two months.
Not everyone agrees. Other lawmakers representing hard-hit areas have cleared their schedules of fundraising events, arguing that it would be unseemly to engage in political activity while their constituents grapple with a disaster of historic proportions.
“We just felt it would be inappropriate, when there’s so much need, to run around soliciting people for Gene’s re-election,” said Courtney Littig, spokeswoman for Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who lost both his home and his campaign headquarters in Hurricane Katrina-related flooding.
Nevertheless, on Thursday, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) is hosting a fundraiser for Melancon, whose district still lies partially submerged beneath floodwaters, in the offices of the lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates. The Pelican State Democrat is going ahead with the event because Crowley already had done all the work for it, spokesman Ellery Gould said.
“This doesn’t distract from the Congressman’s work whatsoever,” said Gould, adding that Melancon has canceled three other fundraisers since the storm hit and has no more scheduled.
Meanwhile, a posting on the Web site of the National Republican Campaign Committee invites donors to spend Columbus Day weekend with McCrery on a Napa Valley wine tour. Participants will stay at the Carneros Inn, in Napa, Calif., a “luxurious retreat designed to make absolutely everything feel better,” according to the inn’s Web site.
Though McCrery’s district, lying north of Melancon’s, was spared much of the damage experienced by the lower half of the state, it has been overwhelmed by evacuees. His office did not return calls for comment.
In the wake of the storms, most lawmakers from the region have put their fundraising activities on an indefinite hiatus.
Republican Reps. Kevin Brady and Ted Poe, who hail from East Texas districts roiled by Hurricane Rita, have canceled fundraisers they had planned before the storms. Brady had been preparing to host donors for breakfast last Tuesday at the Credit Union House on Capitol Hill. Poe was planning to hold a Texas barbecue down the street next month.
“Right now everything is in the air,” said DeeAnn Thigpen, Poe’s press secretary. “We’ll take a look at fundraising as things eventually get back to normal.”
Aides to Members who have canceled events said it is an open question when it will feel appropriate to begin fundraising again.
“It’s sort of one of those gut things,” said Adam Sharp, spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who has cleared her schedule. “You just listen to your gut and see what you feel is appropriate.”
Both the NRCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continue to suspend fundraising activities in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Neither committee has set a date to resume their efforts in those areas.
In the rest of the country, candidates’ fundraising has proceeded apace since Katrina rumbled ashore in late August. Nevertheless, one Democratic strategist said he was “surprised anybody in Louisiana or the really hard-hit areas is having a fundraiser.”
“I don’t think its politically very smart,” this strategist said. “The most important thing they can do for their re-election is be visible in their districts, helping the recovery efforts. This is an enormous event in the life of their districts, and I would certainly be cautious, about not just raising money, but anything perceived as overtly political.”
Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), noting the work many lawmakers from the area already have put into raising money for disaster relief, said he found no problem with political fundraising inside the Beltway.
“But I would try to make it a double deal, and ask that people give to my re-election and at the same time, contribute to the relief efforts,” he said.
Only two districts in Louisiana’s affected areas are likely to be competitive — Melancon’s 3rd district and the 7th district seat, held by Republican Rep. Charles Boustany.
State Sen. Craig Romero (R), Melancon’s probable challenger, made a visit to Washington earlier this month. Though the trip originally had been planned as a fundraising venture, a Romero consultant said he did not collect any checks on the trip and instead used his time here to advocate for federal disaster relief.