Shelby, Aided by Industry, Will Share Funds

Posted September 24, 2003 at 5:48pm

While Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has grabbed headlines for banking $16.5 million, mostly from bankers and Wall Street executives, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has quietly amassed a $10 million war chest by collecting from many of the same donors — even though he has no opponent so far.

For Schumer, a $16.5 million war chest is a necessity in a state that includes the most expensive media market in the nation. But for Shelby, the $10 million bulge is eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

The money sets up Shelby, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman, to be a major player in the 2004 elections because of his ability to spread the wealth.

The 70-year-old lawmaker has already begun funneling cash to some less flush Republican colleagues through his leadership political action committee, Defend America.

As of June 30, Defend America had doled out $85,000 to other candidates, most of it to potentially vulnerable GOP Senators. For example, it gave $10,000, the maximum amount allowed, to Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), Jim Bunning (Ky.) and Kit Bond (Mo.) — all of whom are up for re-election next year.

“We are encouraged by how aggressive he’s been in terms of campaigning, not just fundraising,” said Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “He’s been a big benefit to others in the caucus and will help challengers in some of our targeted races.”

Allen said that Shelby has become a very popular choice to host fundraisers.

While Shelby has not expressed any desire to ascend to a leadership position, party elders take notice of those who raise a lot of cash and lavish it on their GOP colleagues.

The Senate Finance Committee has traditionally been viewed as the fundraising magnet, but Schumer and Shelby have proven that few committees afford better fundraising opportunities than Senate Banking, which oversees commercial banks, brokerage houses, real estate enterprises and insurance companies.

As of Aug. 11, financial services PACs had donated $369,697 to Shelby’s re-election campaign this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Commercial banks coughed up $114,576, credit card companies forked over $36,500, securities and investment firms anted up $79,621, insurance companies donated $74,000 and Realtors pitched in $38,000.

If contributions from individuals in the financial services sector are added in, the total jumps to $1.6 million.

“It’s a good fundraising committee,” said an industry source who did not want to be identified. “Shelby is an aggressive fundraiser.”

It has been widely reported that Schumer is cleaning up on Wall Street, but less attention has been paid to how a former Yellowhammer State lawyer has been raking in big bucks from big-city interests.

Including bundled donations collected by business PACs and their employees, owners, and family members, Citigroup Inc. is Shelby’s top contributor with more than $61,000. Second is PriceWaterhouseCoopers with $57,950. MBNA Corp., the giant credit card company, collected $40,000 for his re-election, while Fannie Mae, the mortgage behemoth chipped in $39,250.

Corporate PACs directly contributed to Shelby as well. For instance, Goldman, Sachs & Co. handed Shelby $10,000; Citigroup Inc., $9,000; and Merrill Lynch, $5,000.

It all adds up to a bulging war chest for a powerful chairman who hasn’t faced a serious challenger since his first Senate campaign in 1986, when he was still a Democrat.

“He’s a formidable candidate,” acknowledged Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse. Once again, Democrats appear unlikely to put up a competitive challenger.

Last time he ran, in 1998, Shelby raised $5.7 million but only spent $2.3 million, while his opponent, a former county commissioner, raised a meager $15,334.

According to some Shelby watchers and the Senator’s own spokeswoman, it’s simply intelligent planning. Shelby is only focused on getting re-elected and he wants to be assured that he is prepared, spokeswoman Virginia Largay said.

“It’s a good pre-emptive strike,” agreed Dan Michaelis, a spokesman for the Securities and Industry Association.

“I’ve heard him say that the best way to ensure that you won’t have an opponent is to work hard in the off year,” said Ed Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. “It’s just smart politics.”

Shelby is taking a page out of President Bush’s handbook, which is to always be prepared and to raise more money than your opponent, said Kurt Pfotenhauer, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America’s top lobbyist.

His kitty makes him “the envy of every other Senator,” Pfotenhauer said. With that much money this early, Shelby can essentially choose his opponent, he added.

“He’s bullet-proofing himself,” Pfotenhauer said.

But others speculate that more is at play.

Rumors swirled last year, especially in his home state, that the former Senate Intelligence chairman had his eye on a bigger prize — like heading the CIA or FBI — and would forgo a fourth term. Largay insisted that is not the case.

“Senator Shelby loves being a U.S. Senator from Alabama and he wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said.

Another knowledgeable industry source said he does not believe Shelby has aspirations beyond his current position and that he expects Shelby to dispense his extra money to GOP candidates.

One industry lobbyist who did not want to be named said Shelby’s reason for raising scads of money is more personal than it is altruistic: It’s not just about helping other candidates or insulating himself, it’s also about power.

Shelby came into his chairmanship feeling like he didn’t have the standing within the Senate that he thinks he’s entitled to, the lobbyist said. Raising a ton of money is a way of saying: “Look at me — I’m a player, I’m a force to be reckoned with,” the lobbyist said. “He wasn’t taken very seriously before. He wasn’t a brainiac or policy maker.”

This person envisions Shelby getting involved in tight races and becoming the patron of certain Republican challengers.

For example, Shelby is likely to help freshmen or challengers who want to serve on his committee so he can ensure that he has allies and loyalists on the panel, the source said.

A GOP lobbyist dismissed that theory, saying that Shelby has always been a prodigious fundraiser and is not looking for new friends.

“Shelby’s not interested in sending a message to anyone other than that he’s going to be well-armed [for re-election],” the lobbyist, who didn’t want to be identified, said.

Additionally, this lobbyist said Shelby is not likely to dip into his own campaign coffer to help other candidates but that he would work hard to raise funds for his leadership PAC and dole out generously through that.

Indeed, if Shelby was to face a top-tier candidate — though none has shown a willingness to take him on yet — he might need all the $10.6 million he has.

Last year’s gubernatorial race was the costliest election Alabama had ever seen. Then-Rep. Bob Riley (R) and then-Gov. Don Siegelman (D) together spent about $22 million in an election that broke Riley’s way by only 3,120 votes.

Of course, if Shelby ever really needed money, he could always tap his personal fortune. He’s worth about $6.3 million, tying him at number 38 on Roll Call’s list of the 50 richest Members of Congress.