With control of the House within reach for the first time in more than a decade, Democratic lobbyists say they’re feeling unusually intense pressure from House Democratic leaders to open their wallets and help their party close the deal.
But Democratic lobbyists are rising to the challenge, a dozen Democratic consultants said, upping their personal contributions and making the case to their corporate clients that they need to pony up as well.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) “has been pretty blunt with people,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “Now, people downtown are finally paying attention and believing.”
“There’s been a significant increase in House Democratic fundraising activity. Folks are really working it hard,” said another well-placed Democratic lobbyist.
With recent media coverage and poll numbers suggesting a Democratic takeover of the House, aides and lobbyists alike said the fundraising pitch is becoming an easier sell.
While a shift in giving to the Democrats is not yet showing up in public disclosures, Democratic lobbyists report that their corporate clients, who have bankrolled Republican majorities in past cycles, are looking for ways to hedge their bets between now and Election Day.
A House Democratic campaign aide offered a more skeptical assessment, saying that “the business community and the K Street crowd may be talking a big game about contributing to both parties in light of the looming election, but the reality is that they are still nearly completely devoted to House and Senate Republicans.”
The shifting momentum also has helped redirect to House candidates contributions that might otherwise have gone to Senate contenders. Since at least a handful of Democratic votes have been necessary to end debate on all Senate measures, the minority party has remained key to business in that chamber. But in the House, iron-fisted Republican control and chamber rules that make it tougher for the minority party to shape the debate have largely left Democrats and their lobbying allies on the sidelines. Consequently, House Democratic candidates have had a tougher time finding corporate contributions to back them up, several lobbyists said.
“In recent years, K Street has placed more focus on the Senate,” said Bruce Andrews, a former Democratic House aide now lobbying for Quinn Gillespie & Associates. “But with likely Democratic gains in November, K Street is renewing its focus on the House as well.”
Both parties in both chambers typically roll out high-pressured fundraising gambits at the close of every cycle to round up as much loose change as possible. But strategists close to the House Democratic operation said they’ve been struck by the volume of activity this year.
“It’s not a different movie. It’s just in Technicolor this year,” said Paul Equale, a Democratic consultant.
And Emanuel, who has distinguished himself as an aggressive fundraiser, also is dialing up the intensity of his appeals. “Rahm’s message certainly now is that we’re getting to the crunch time, and we need it more than ever,” said one Democratic lobbyist.
In that drive, the Illinois lawmaker is being backed by House Democratic leaders and committee members who stand to wield powerful gavels if the chamber flips.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, on Wednesday huddled at the Washington Court Hotel with about 35 lobbyists who make up his informal kitchen cabinet.
Dingell usually organizes the irregular get-togethers to discuss policy matters. This week, however, the talk was purely about the upcoming elections, an aide said.
“We want to make sure they’re helping frontline candidates [in competitive races], doing everything they can, ready to be on call and work with the leadership of the DCCC to make sure Democrats win back the House,” the aide said. “This is his No. 1 priority.”
On Sept. 13, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is hosting a lunch to raise PAC contributions for top-tier, open-seat candidates.
That night, the DCCC is hosting a “March to the Majority Reception” at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum on Capitol Hill. And later this month, Dingell and several colleagues are hosting a dinner at Bistro Bis to raise money for the DCCC. Guests can attend for $500, but the price tag to be an event chair is a $10,000 check to the campaign committee.
Efforts to gather campaign cash from former Hill staffers working downtown have gotten another boost this cycle from an informal effort led by Hoyer and by Democratic Reps. John Tanner (Tenn.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.). That program had collected $100,000 by mid-summer, with nearly 60 percent of the money coming from personal checks, according to a source familiar with the effort.
While House Democrats are finding many loyal soldiers among the ranks of K Street lobbyists, the party is facing resistance in some downtown quarters where Democratic ties are outweighed by policy demands.
Since a key component of the minority party’s messaging has been tagging Republicans as corporate handmaidens, Democrats have kept certain industries in their cross hairs — most notably the energy and pharmaceutical sectors.
One Democratic lobbyist for a drugmaker said the attacks have gone too far, prompting him to redirect money he would have otherwise offered the DCCC.
“At some point politics is politics, but when you demonize an industry that cures things, it just goes beyond the pale,” this lobbyist said, calling the fundraising appeals from the DCCC on the heels of attacks “dishonest.”
That criticism follows a line of attack Republicans have leveled at Democrats for accepting donations from lobbyists while blasting GOP ties to the community.
“It’s shocking that the architect of the ‘culture of hypocrisy’ is now shaking down K Street for campaign cash,” said Ed Patru, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Nevertheless, Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf said that the buzz about Democrats retaking the House is enough to prompt lobbyists to keep cutting checks and leaning on clients to follow suit.
“I called the DCCC today and asked them to send me a list of their events,” he said, describing a move that turns on its head the normal fundraising dynamic. “I already give, but I’ve got clients.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.