With very little on the Congressional agenda this month, vulnerable Members are finding something else to do with their time: Raise money.
House Democratic and Republican incumbents, for instance, have scheduled about 415 Washington, D.C.-based fundraising events in September, according to party campaign committee lists obtained by Roll Call. The stakes couldn't be higher: Analysts and opinion polls have suggested Democrats are at risk of losing the House and possibly — although less likely — the Senate.
And with Members planning to spend just three or four weeks in session before heading home to campaign full time, both parties are looking to take advantage of Washington's wealthy, lobbyist-driven donor base.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Tuesday that the number of fundraisers this month isn't surprising, particularly for Republicans who are trying to close the money gap with Democrats. Senate Republicans need to pick up 10 seats in November to retake the chamber; House Republicans need to net 39.
"Historically, the Democrats have raised and spent more than we have — at least in recent history," Cornyn said. "The challenge is going to be making sure that our voices and our candidates are heard in these last 49 days. That is a very serious issue."
But it's not just Republicans who are getting in on the action. Vulnerable House Democrats such as Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), Glenn Nye (Va.) and Chet Edwards (Texas) are among those making a heavy pitch to K Street donors.
Skelton is holding four events before the end of the month, including a fundraiser hosted by law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and a labor industry luncheon at Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill. Edwards and Nye are holding three events apiece.
Senior Democrats are pitching in to help their colleagues. Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), who is in line to assume the Appropriations Committee gavel in the next Congress as long as Democrats keep control of the House, is scheduled to headline seven events this month for vulnerable Members and fellow appropriators.
House Republicans are hosting about 160 events before the end of the month, according to a National Republican Congressional Committee list. The NRCC also listed nearly 50 challenger fundraisers set for the coming weeks.
[IMGCAP(1)]Vulnerable Republicans such as Reps. Anh "Joseph" Cao (La.) and Lee Terry (Neb.) are among the leading money chasers. Cao is holding three events featuring Republican leaders, including NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), chairman of the GOP leadership.
"We've had a lot of support from Republican Members in helping us close our fundraising gap," NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said in a statement. "Many of them are very motivated to take the opportunity to raise money while they're in town, both for Republican candidates and for their own campaigns."
The fundraising drive comes as House and Senate leaders consider whether to heed the requests of their vulnerable Members and cut the legislative schedule by one week. Congress is scheduled to stay in town until Oct. 8.
"The House has gotten its legislative business done for the most part," a senior Democratic House aide said. "Arguably the most important thing right now that Members can be doing when they are back in Washington is fundraising."
"This is one of those critical moments when what you do now has an impact on your overall strategy," the aide added, noting that Members are at the stage where they are reserving and buying television advertising time before Election Day.
Former NRCC Deputy Chairman Dan Mattoon said that for most Members, fundraising must be the No. 1 priority, particularly with the Sept. 30 third-quarter fundraising deadline looming.
"It's the deadline of deadlines," Mattoon said.
Of course, some say that the flood of eleventh-hour fundraisers isn't unusual at this stage in the cycle.
"It always gets more intense the closer you get to the election," said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2006 and 2008 cycles.
Lawmakers typically line up a bunch of fundraisers before a recess, but several lobbyists said the number of invitations to events they have received this month is off the charts.
"It's far more intense now because the two chambers are at stake in this election," one veteran lobbyist said. "What makes it doubly intense is you have both the Republicans and the Democrats fundraising like crazy."
Michael Herson, president of American Defense International, said: "I'm getting probably 20 invitations a day to fundraisers. Now that they are going to be here, it is breakfast, lunch, dinner and receptions."
Problem is, some lobbyists say, they are nearly tapped out, as they have already dug deep into their individual checking accounts and organization's political action committees, giving the maximum amount allowed to candidates under campaign finance rules.
"Obviously you want to be helpful to people when they ask," one Democratic lobbyist said. "But there's a lot more Members in a tough spot than there have been in the past two cycles."