Matsui Names DCCC Advisory Group

Posted January 28, 2003 at 6:46pm

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) has selected a handful of Members to serve as a formal advisory committee for the 2004 election, sources close to the Californian said Tuesday.

Matsui has also picked his current chief of staff, Jim Bonham, to serve as executive director at the DCCC. A seven-person finance team led by Brian Wolff, a San Francisco fundraiser with close ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), has also been put in place.

Matsui has recruited a mix of old political hands — including Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) and John Dingell (Mich.) — and new faces such as freshman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (Texas) to help Democrats regain the majority.

The guiding principle behind the construction of Matsui’s kitchen cabinet is “continuity,” according to a Democratic source familiar with his thinking.

“He doesn’t want to be in a position where his successor or anyone else has to reinvent the wheel,” the source said.

“Republicans have been more businesslike in that respect, and he wants to put a businesslike component” in place at the DCCC, added the source.

The involvement of both Rangel and Dingell — senior Members with significant heft in the Caucus — was considered essential to a successful tenure for Matsui, according to a number of Democratic observers.

Rangel will chair the DCCC’s executive board, while Dingell will head up the Chairman’s Council, a fundraising group comprised of the ranking members of each House committee. Each played the same roles in 2002.

In addition, Matsui’s California colleague, Rep. Mike Thompson, will chair the Business Council, a new position created by Matsui.

“Thompson will be involved with the D.C. business community issue-wise and raising money,” said one Democratic source.

Matsui is seen as one of the most pro-business Democrats in the House Caucus, and his decision to establish the post clearly signals an effort to extend an olive branch to the business community, a key source of funding that has gone overwhelmingly to Republicans in past cycles.

Thompson was considered the odds-on favorite to chair the DCCC before an ill-timed trip to Iraq last fall with Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.) and then-Rep. David Bonior (Mich.).

The selection of Emanuel and Gonzalez, as well as Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), as vice chairmen for the DCCC, shows that Matsui is playing his geographic and interest-group politics within the Caucus effectively.

One of the most-hyped freshman in recent memory, Emanuel is seen as being groomed to serve as a future chairman of the committee.

After working as a DCCC staffer and in the Clinton White House as a political aide, Emanuel won a hard-fought primary last cycle to claim the northside Chicago district long held by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D).

Gonzalez became increasingly involved in the DCCC last cycle as a leader in the efforts to raise more hard money from his colleagues, a technique that will increase in importance given new campaign finance guidelines passed in the 107th Congress. He said that the regional vice chairmen are charged with “fundraising, recruiting, message and issues,” not their particular geographic area.

Gonzalez’s new role may amount to a peace offering from Pelosi, who passed the Texan over for a spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee despite his backing from the Hispanic caucus.

Instead, Pelosi chose fellow California Rep. Hilda Solis, who is also Hispanic.

Gonzalez rejected that idea.

“This is not a reward, this is penalty box time,” joked Gonzalez, noting that the post requires “heavy lifting and long hours.”

Markey, who turned down the opportunity to chair the DCCC, is seen as a key bridge to the party’s crucial fundraising base in Boston and is recognized as a savvy political operator within the Caucus.

Roybal-Allard, a Hispanic and a Californian, is taking a leadership role with the committee for the first time in her 11 years in the House.

On the staff level, Bonham will allow Matsui to rely on a trusted aide to oversee the committee’s operations, according to numerous Democratic sources.

Bonham has served as chief of staff since 2000 but previously served as communications and legislative director from 1995 to 1999. In between, he was communications director for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), brought on to handle the Senator’s re-election race.

“Jim is going to be the manager of this thing,” said one source, providing further evidence of the business approach Matsui is planning to institute at the DCCC.

Neil Dhillon, Matsui’s chief of staff from 1989 to 1993 and now a senior vice president at Hill & Knowlton, called Bonham a “talented behind-the-scenes tactician” who will “will work tirelessly to help the Democrats win in 2004.”

Fred Yang, a pollster at the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, added that Bonham “knows how Congressional campaigns are won and lost.”

Aside from Bonham, only the finance department at the committee has been fully flushed out.

Wolff will direct the operation with Lane Luskey as his deputy. Luskey served as finance director for the unsuccessful 2002 Senate campaign of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D).

Interestingly, Luskey has close ties to Rep. Martin Frost (Texas), who made a brief run at Pelosi for the top leadership spot last fall before seeing the writing on the wall and dropping out.

Nicole Runge will serve as National Women’s Finance Director after heading up fundraising for the Senate campaign of former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in 2002.

These staff decisions leave only two major positions at the committee unfilled: political director and communications director.