Democrats Fret About Frontline

Posted March 29, 2004 at 6:34pm

The House Democrats’ “Frontline” program is entering a major second drive to raise money for its 18 most threatened incumbents, even as concerns percolate among some of the Members about its success so far.

Frontline, launched this cycle to help marginal House Democrats secure their re-elections, is on the cusp of a new push to collect money from Members, and will begin seeking contributions for a larger joint fundraising committee.

So far, the program has focused almost solely on encouraging House Members to give to their threatened colleagues, but now it will also focus on padding the Frontline fund so that future checks can be cut to the threatened Democrats.

“Frontline has been enormously successful,” said Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees Frontline. “We expect to continue and grow on what we have done in this next phase.”

As the new fundraising offensive gets under way, however, some Frontline Democrats have privately voiced worries they aren’t getting the money they were initially promised.

Several Members sat down late last week to air their grievances with Matsui and Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who heads the program for the DCCC.

Several Frontline Members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while they keep hearing talk of the program’s success, they have yet to see it translate into real dollars to their campaigns.

“It’s just not happening,” one Frontline Democrat said.

Senior Democratic aides and Members said those Frontline Democrats were under the impression they would be receiving large checks from the program, but that hasn’t happened.

They also question whether they’ve gotten more money in direct contributions from their colleagues this cycle as a result of Frontline than they would have otherwise.

“You’ve got a very narrow group of marginal Democrats yearning to get help raising money,” explained a Democratic consultant who works with Members in marginal districts. “All they are saying is, ‘Show me the money.’”

Menendez said the concerns were more a matter of a misunderstanding about the program, saying leaders have since sorted through the concerns and “took care of any confusion.” He said he and Matsui pointed out to the Frontline Democrats that they have received more than $900,000 from their colleagues this cycle, as compared to $300,000 over the same time period last cycle.

“I think the misunderstanding was that people thought that the mutual or common fund was going to be the main vehicle by which disbursements would be made to them,” Menendez said. “The reality is the largest chunk of money that we’ve solicited on behalf of Frontline Members has come from other Members.”

“It’s been very successful and will continue to be so,” Menendez added.

One Democratic leadership aide said the money is there, it just is less visible because the contributions have gone directly to Frontline Democrats from Members.

The aide said threatened Members wouldn’t be getting nearly as much money from their colleagues this cycle without it, and more money is on the way with the kickoff of the second phase of the program.

“There was just some confusion about the money allocation,” said the leadership aide. “Once it was explained, it was fine.”

The next wave of fundraising begins Wednesday with a letter to House Members asking them to write checks to the 18 lawmakers. Also, the program will launch a donor outreach effort to encourage groups to give to the Frontline joint fund, and will partner the threatened incumbents with House Democratic ranking members to help raise money for the individual Members.

Another Frontline Democrat said “rightly or wrongly” some Members were upset because they thought they were going to receive one large contribution: “There were some misunderstandings. They attempted to clear that up.”

The Democratic consultant said Frontline Democrats never accused the program of failure, but continue to seek proof from leaders that it is working and they are better off because of it.

“No one is saying this is an awful thing, but there are Members with concerns,” the consultant said. “If they are raising all this money, they are doing a really bad job educating Members about what they are doing.”

Not all Frontline Members, however, are unhappy.

Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas) said he’s not privy to any grumbling and has been “very pleased” so far with the program. He said the party is “really pitching in” to help with his re-election.

“My fundraising is going very well, and a number of my colleagues have come forward to help,” he said.

The 18 Frontline Democrats are: Reps. Rodney Alexander (La.), Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Chet Edwards (Texas), Martin Frost (Texas), Baron Hill (Ind.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Darlene Hooley (Ore.), Rick Larsen (Wash.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike Michaud (Maine), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), Max Sandlin (Texas) and Stenholm.