Reynolds Nets Big PAC Haul

Posted July 7, 2004 at 6:31pm

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) steered more than $1 million from a handful of powerful political action committees to 39 targeted races in the waning weeks of June in a move aimed at blunting talk that the House majority will be up for grabs in November.

Known as the “Million Dollar Club,” the 10 PACs — which includes the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, American Hospital Association and the Alpine Group — were asked by Reynolds to speed up their timeline for giving to bolster the war chests of Members, open seat candidates and challengers in time for the June 30 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission.

Reynolds said that in past cycles some large PACs have not given the entire amount allowable to candidates prior to Labor Day, and the formation of the club was “a quick, manageable solution to drive $1 million into the arena before June 30.”

It also appears to be a new wrinkle in the ever-expanding attempt to find new avenues by which to collect all-important hard-dollar contributions after the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002.

The recipients of Reynolds’ transferred largess are generally a who’s who of top-tier races although several incumbents including Reps. Steve LaTourette (Ohio), Phil Crane (Ill.), and Mark Kennedy (Minn.) who made the list have not been previously seen as particularly vulnerable.

Aside from simply pushing money to these candidates, the success of the “Million Dollar Club” also serves a symbolic purpose, according to David Rehr, chief lobbyist for NBWA.

“Reynolds wanted to make a big bang before the June 30 reporting period to signal to the Washington community that Republicans are in charge, continue to be in charge and have a high expectation of building their majority in November,” said Rehr.

He added that following the two special election losses earlier this year, which brought House Republicans’ margin down to 11 seats, “Reynolds wanted to slam the door shut” on talk that Democrats had a real chance at winning back the majority they lost a decade ago.

Since winning seats previously held by Republicans in Kentucky’s 6th district in February and the South Dakota at-large seat in June, national Democrats have worked to cast those contests as barometers of what they claim is displeasure among voters with the Republican-controlled Congress.

“If I were those PACs I would want to know where that money is going because [the NRCC is] zero for two and they have spent most of the money they have raised,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards.

Reynolds, who is in his first term at the helm of the party’s House campaign committee, has emerged relatively unscathed from the setbacks, as most Members attributed the losses to unique circumstances largely out of the chairman’s control.

Reynolds’ ability to deliver a huge fundraising bump in such a short period of time also serves as a rebuke to any whispering campaign in Republican circles that the New York Member has somehow sacrificed the aura of invincibility surrounding Republicans’ majority after the 2004 election.

For his part, Reynolds said his decision to form the “Million Dollar Club” was a direct response to the passage of BCRA, which banned national party committees from raising and spending nonfederal, soft money.

“Under BCRA there is going to be less money,” said Reynolds. “It is important to raise hard money.”

Reynolds said that he came up with the idea at a fundraiser for his Together Our Majority leadership PAC (TOMPAC).

“We just keep looking to find different ways” to raise more hard money, he said.

Reynolds has already funnelled $478,000 to candidates through TOMPAC this cycle, quickly emerging as one of the strongest fundraisers in the Republican Conference despite being elected just six years ago.

“I have an excellent relationship with many of our D.C.-based PACs,” said Reynolds. “There are always people willing to help.”

After the idea of the “Million Dollar Club” germinated for a short time, Reynolds met with some of the heaviest hitters in the PAC community to see whether they might be receptive to the idea of quickly directing a large sum of money to candidates in need.

He then gathered the members of the club for an “intimate briefing” on the 39 races — 25 incumbents, five open seats and nine challengers — expected to be targeted in November. (See accompanying chart for full slate of contests.)

“It was an opportunity to tell a story of what our challenges are and what is going on,” Reynolds said.

Joe Stanton, head of government relations for NAHB, said his organization had already developed a list of potential recipients and was glad to give to those candidates that also showed up on Reynolds’ list.

“We had most of this money already approved,” said Stanton. Reynolds “just asked for us to give it by June 30.”

Membership in the “Million Dollar Club” is not without benefit for the lobbyists involved.

Reynolds said an event will be held at an as-of-yet-unscheduled date that allows the Members that received the donations to say the “appropriate thank yous” to the PAC community.