DCCC’s Member Infusion

Posted July 16, 2003 at 6:48pm

Despite House Democrats’ lagging fundraising numbers this cycle, Members are picking up the slack by pouring a record $3.8 million into the party’s campaign arm so far this year, plus more than half a million more to their most vulnerable incumbents.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear to her Caucus that Member giving is expected at higher levels — and at an earlier stage — than in the past. The pressure is especially great for Members to help the 19 vulnerable incumbents in the party’s “Frontline” program designed to ensure their re-election.

Pressure from the top, coupled with new campaign finance laws that make fundraising a greater struggle have prompted heightened Member involvement, Democratic leaders and aides said.

“They’ve just realized that given the new laws and the fact we no longer have the opportunity to raise soft money anymore, we have to rely on direct mail, political action committees and obviously them,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.).

The push comes as Democrats work harder than ever to raise hard money and compete with the GOP fundraising machine.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has raised $44 million in the first six months of this year, roughly $30 million more than the DCCC. But the NRCC has spent far more money, leaving the two committees with about $6.5 million each in cash on hand.

Democrats have been helped by the fact that lawmakers and aides have convinced Members to give earlier in the election cycle than usual to bolster the overall party fundraising numbers, create incentives for others potential donors to contribute and secure needed resources for candidates.

In the past six months, House Democrats have given $3.8 million to the DCCC, a record level in an off year. In 2001, the DCCC took in $1.4 million from lawmakers in the same period, compared with $3 million for the same time in 2000.

Members also have made gains reaching the $1 million goal for the cycle to help Frontline members, with 45 lawmakers giving $540,000 in the last quarter alone, and a total of more than $647,000 overall this year. That averages about $34,000 per Frontline candidate.

“All Members have gotten the message that they are part of the Democratic team by being unified on the floor with their votes and giving to the DCCC and other members in competitive races,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

But the GOP remains skeptical that Democratic Members will be able to keep up the pace over the whole cycle.

While the NRCC has only collected about $500,000 so far this year from GOP Members, they have not even really begun the push for their Battleground 2004 program. That program targets GOP races throughout the country, and the last cycle brought in $20 million.

“Democrats get X amount of dollars from their Members year after year,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the NRCC. “It remains to be seen at this point if they are just getting money early in the cycle rather than traditionally late in the cycle and that’s it — or if they can actually expand their base within their Caucus and get more net dollars.”

But Democrats believe there will be a trickle-down effect of the early Member giving.

“Early money breeds success,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who heads the Frontline program.

Of the 19 Democratic Frontline candidates, Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.) has received the greatest Member support with $44,000 in the last quarter; followed by Rep. Dennis Moore (Kan.) with $39,000; and Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), who took in $37,000.

Rep. Joe Hoeffel (Pa.), who is leaving the House to run for the Senate, received the smallest share with $3,500 and will quickly be removed from Frontline now that he has decided to not run for re-election to his seat.

The largest contributor to the incumbent project is Pelosi herself with $126,000; she has also chipped in $300,000 to the DCCC so far this cycle. She is followed closely behind by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who has given $97,500 to Frontline and $125,000 to the DCCC. Menendez has given $19,000 to Frontline candidates and $150,000 to the committee.

“The leaders have all demonstrated with their own contributions and Members are following suit,” Daly said.

Rep. Max Sandlin (Texas), who has received $19,000 from Members as a Frontline candidate, said Pelosi has convinced the Caucus that helping out marginal Members is key to Democratic success.

“I’ve been very pleased that the Caucus has stepped up to the plate and recognized the necessity of swing districts to taking back the House,” Sandlin said.

Beyond Frontline, 121 of the 206 House Democrats have contributed to the DCCC. Excluding the Frontline candidates — who are not expected to help out — some 65 House Democrats have yet to ante up.

Menendez said Member giving helps convince other prospective Democrats to contribute to the party, saying: “We can’t convince others to give if don’t get our own Members to give.”

Democratic leaders say they have tried to personalize the contributions by convincing the Caucus that aiding a fellow Member is akin to helping family.

“Members feel they are part of a team and realize they have obligations to each other,” Matsui said.