House Democratic leaders are mounting a major push this week to wrest outstanding party dues payments from their rank and file, racing to fill their coffers before the close of the second quarter.
Leaders jump-started the effort Tuesday morning in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where they picked up the phone to call their deadbeat Members. The move was the first of its kind this cycle and comes in the wake of House Republicans kicking off their Member fundraising drive.
The top Democrats' pitch: "Protect your investment." That is, Democrats hustled to win the majority, and lawmakers shouldn't let it slip away now by slacking on their obligations to the DCCC.
"We've worked very hard to get where we are today, and we've accomplished a great deal," said Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a vice chairman of the DCCC. "But there's more the Obama administration and we want to get done, and Members need to step up and be supportive of the Caucus and our political efforts through the DCCC."
The majority got a jolt last week when House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) pledged $1 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Battleground" fundraising effort.
That promise came as GOP brass told their colleagues in a closed-door huddle that the only thing standing between them and control of the chamber is money. And Tuesday morning, six Republicans followed Boehner's lead by promising to fork over a total of about $640,000 to the program.
The DCCC maintains a lead of more than $16 million over its Republican counterpart in cash on hand, but the NRCC in May outraised the DCCC for the second month in a row — another fact fraying nerves among Democratic political captains.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) used the Boehner pledge to pen a fundraising solicitation through the DCCC on Tuesday, telling donors: "The world is watching our next move. The media will use our grassroots totals to measure our response to Leader Boehner and also as a referendum on President [Barack] Obama's leadership."
Pelosi made a fresh internal appeal to her colleagues during their Tuesday morning Caucus meeting. Then Pelosi, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and a number of committee chairmen — Barney Frank (Mass.) of Financial Services, George Miller (Calif.) of Education and Labor, Ed Markey (Mass.) of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) of ethics — headed over to the DCCC headquarters to work the phones from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Crowley and Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (Mich.) made calls separately on Tuesday.
"It's going well," Van Hollen said Tuesday. "People are responding. ... The message is everybody's got to get on board. We have to be a team here, and that's it. We're all in this together."
One challenge for Democrats is that many of their rank and file aren't yet buying the all-for-one appeal. Facing stiff political headwinds this cycle, a number of Members eyeing potentially tough re-election fights for the first time in years are holding on to their reserves. Others on the left flank are still fuming from the compromises that leaders struck with moderates to pass a historically ambitious agenda.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the 78-person Congressional Progressive Caucus, was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune over the weekend saying he had decided against paying his DCCC dues — money that will largely be funneled back out to fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats — and instead would direct his political support to like-minded liberals.
Grijalva offered a more conciliatory assessment Tuesday, saying he would pay dues but would like to be able to earmark those funds for liberal candidates.
"I hate to think the money that I and any progressive or any member of the Hispanic caucus gives goes directly to the most vehement anti-immigrant people on that list. That's an example," he said. "We don't mind paying our dues, but we would like it to go to people who are consistent with some of the things that we believe. I could be cutting my nose to spite my face here."
The party counts on direct transfers from Democratic lawmakers' campaign accounts for about a third of its funds. The ask for Members varies, with top leaders owing $800,000 per cycle, exclusive committee chairmen being asked to give $500,000 and back benchers owing $125,000.
Through May 26, Democrats had given more than $19.5 million, according to a Roll Call analysis of a party fundraising tally. Leaders generally exempt the 41 "Frontline" program members — or those lawmakers who face the most difficult re-election races. Likewise, leaders aren't counting on much support from the five Members who are running for higher office.