Shadow Members Seek Fundraising Team

Posted June 25, 2003 at 5:55pm

Ray Browne believes the District of Columbia’s Shadow Congressional delegation has an image problem, stemming in part from its perpetually empty coffers.

Now, in an attempt to bolster the delegation’s work, the two-term Democratic D.C. Shadow Representative is seeking to create a dedicated fundraising committee.

“The truth of the matter is that we need to ratchet up the effectiveness and the image of the delegation,” Browne said.

The District’s three shadow Members — Democrats Paul Strauss and Florence Pendleton serve as Shadow Senators — are locally elected officials who lobby for statehood and full Congressional representation.

Although the city government provides the delegation with office space at Judiciary Square, the posts are unpaid and the officials must raise funds for day-to-day costs, such as travel or office supplies.

Under District regulations, the Shadow delegation is allowed to establish “Statehood Funds” to raise funds for office expenses or staff salaries (including their own). The Statehood Funds cannot be used, however, for any type of campaign activities.

Browne’s proposal would create a nonpartisan, 19-member committee dedicated to raising funds for the delegation. The group’s members would be appointed by the D.C. City Council and Mayor Anthony Williams (D).

“The success of it is going to depend on the commitment of the mayor and the council to appointing people who can and will do the job,” said Browne, who envisions a committee that would be largely comprised of members of the city’s business community.

Browne, who is working with D.C. City Councilman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) to create a resolution establishing the committee, expects the City Council’s full support.

A spokesman for Williams said he will not oppose the committee, but will need to review the legislation when it is finalized.

By using a resolution, Browne explained, voting-rights supporters can avoid submitting the legislation for Congressional review.

In the annual D.C. spending bill, Congress has repeatedly restricted the use of funds the city can appropriate for lobbying for statehood or voting rights.

“The Congress will not be involved in it in any way, so they can’t say thumbs up or thumbs down,” he said.

Ideally, Browne explained, the committee would be able to raise between $75,000 and $100,000, splitting the money equally among the three posts. He insists, though, that it not be used to pay the Senators or Representative a salary.

Much as with the Statehood funds now raised individually by the Shadow Members, the delegation would be required to file expense reports with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Browne, who often travels to seek the support of various city councils, state Legislatures and governors, estimates he raises between $5,000 and $6,000 annually for expenses, which includes donations from local utility companies, banks and individuals.

“[The committee does] not need to raise a lot of money, we don’t need a lot of money,” Browne said. “But certainly a little bit of staff, and communications expense and travel expense would be very, very helpful to allow the delegation to be more effective.”

Strauss, the District’s junior Shadow Senator, admits he often resorts to paying office expenses out of his own pocket because it is more efficient than continuous fundraising.

“It sometimes makes more sense for me not to take the time away from my business to do a fundraiser and just take the money I can earn in business,” said Strauss, an attorney.

Perhaps the delegation’s most prolific fundraiser, Strauss, re-elected in 2002, has previously raised up to $25,000 for necessities.

In expressing his support for a fundraising committee, Strauss suggested that the structure could encourage organized giving from foundations or other groups.

“When people give money to the delegation it’s for public purposes and is therefore tax deductible,” he said.

The delegation’s senior member, Pendleton, did not return a call seeking comment. According to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Pendleton does not operate a Statehood Fund.

If the proposal remains on track, Browne said, it would be approved by District officials this fall, and members would be appointed by December.