New Democratic PACs Prosper

Committee to Augment Party Fundraising Established

Posted August 1, 2003 at 5:48pm

Two new political action committees founded by Democratic Senate and House operatives received contributions from a number of influential Members and key interest groups during the first six months of the year, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission late last week.

The filings provide the first extended look at the financial viability of these groups, which were formed in the wake of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s passage; BCRA banned national party committees from raising and spending soft, nonfederal money, which could be collected in unlimited chunks.

The New House PAC brought in $101,000 in hard dollars in the first six months of the year, spent $36,000 and had $65,000 on hand.

Its Senate counterpart, the Democratic Senate Majority Fund, raised $105,000 in the period — $76,000 in hard dollars and $29,000 in transfers from the soft-money end of the operation. The DSMF spent $63,000 and ended June with $11,000 on hand.

Both organizations have a hard-money component as well as a soft-money arm, known as a 527 for its tax designation by the Internal Revenue Service.

“We feel comfortable we are on track,” said DSMF Executive Director Marc Farinella. “Our job this year is to introduce ourselves to potential contributors.”

Howard Wolfson, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now head of the New House PAC, echoed Farinella’s optimism.

“We have been very grateful for the support we have received from Members, allies and friends in town for our hard-money efforts,” he said.

An analysis of the contributions to both groups show an aggressive effort to get a financial “buy-in” from Members.

Eight Democratic Senators gave $35,000 to the DSMF between January and June; Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Ted Kennedy (Mass.), Tom Carper (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Jon Corzine (N.J.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) pitched in $5,000 apiece, and Sens. Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) each gave $2,500.

The DSMF held a May 13 fundraiser featuring 18 Senators and has done two or three breakfast and lunch sit-downs with groups of 10 to 15 people, according to Farinella.

On the House side, 13 Members gave to the New House PAC, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) who gave $5,000 from her campaign committee and another $5,000 from PAC to the Future, her leadership organization.

Interestingly, the only Member to give to both organizations was Clinton.

Aside from Members, the vast majority of contributions came from the traditional troika of Democratic givers: labor, lawyers and the women’s community.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees donated $5,000 to each group as did the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and EMILY’s List.

Neither organization raised a significant amount in individual contributions.

The New House PAC took in $17,000 from individuals, including a $5,000 donation from Hollywood writer — and huge soft-money donor — Stephen Bing, and $1,000 donations from Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential bid, and ber lobbyist and former Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.).

The DSMF raised just $7,000 from individuals; John Jamieson, president of Democratic consulting firm Winning Connections, donated $1,000; Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Mike Smith chipped in $500. Smith was the Midwest political director for then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

The active — if not outstanding — fundraising of the Democratic groups stands in sharp contrast to the minimal activities on the Republican side where the Leadership Forum and National Committee for a Responsible Senate have not taken off yet.

The Leadership Forum, a 527 group founded by Susan Hirschmann, a former chief of staff to Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), was under a cloud for much of the year after accepting a $1 million soft-money transfer from the National Republican Congressional Committee in late 2002.

The group eventually returned the contribution and a complaint alleging that the NRCC and the Forum purposely evaded BCRA was dismissed by the Federal Election Commission.

The future of the NCRS, formed as a 501(c)6 organization, is the most up in the air, because it has seen no staffing, fundraising or other activity in 2003.

Sources familiar with the committee suggest that until the Supreme Court rules on the appeal to BCRA there is little point in trying to get it off the ground. The court is scheduled to begin hearing the case in September.

Even Farinella admitted that many donors are wary about giving a large soft-money check to an organization with which they are unfamiliar. As a result, both the DSMF and the New House PAC have focused on raising hard dollars in the early going.

“For now people are most comfortable doing hard money,” Farinella said. “Soft money usually comes later, and that will certainly be the case this year.”