Campaigns Look to Staff to Fill Coffers

Posted September 17, 2004 at 5:55pm

Seeking to squeeze every possible dollar out of Washington before the Sept. 30 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission, three of the four party campaign committees will host fundraisers either aimed at or featuring Congressional staffers over the next 10 days.

The most organized effort is being run out of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has asked Members’ chiefs of staff and staff directors at House committees to bring in at least $10,000 each from donors for an event this Thursday.

The fundraiser, known as “40 Days, 12 Seats, 1 New Majority,” has a stated goal of $100,000, according to DCCC Communications Director Greg Speed. It will be held at the Credit Union House at 403 C St. NE.

“It is a program that is trying to take advantage of the fact that no one wants to win the House back more than the staffers who work under a Republican majority,” Speed explained.

In a letter sent out Sept. 2, the campaign committee asked top staffers to raise the money “from individuals in the D.C. lobbying community or Political Action Committees who have yet to contribute to the DCCC in 2004.”

The giving levels range from $250 to $2,500 for an individual and from $2,500 to $5,000 for a PAC.

The host committee for the event includes top staffers for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.), Assistant to the Minority Leader John Spratt (S.C.), and the House’s dean, John Dingell (Mich.), among others.

While the DCCC has encouraged staffers to give money and help raise dollars for the committee in the past, there has never been an effort this organized, according to several staffers well-acquainted with the process.

“These chiefs of staff have tremendous contacts downtown and within the PAC community and can help to open doors, raise funds and equip the DCCC with the resources we need to get our threatened incumbents re-elected and to win some of the key races around the country,” said a senior Democratic staffer involved in the program.

Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have similar events on the calendar.

On Wednesday, an event hosted by many of the top GOP lobbyists in town will feature 50 Senate chiefs of staff as well as “the Republican Members of the United States Senate and White House VIPs,” according to the invitation.

The fundraiser will be held on Capitol Hill with individuals asked to give $250 and PACs $1,000.

One week later, the DSCC will hold a small-dollar “Almost Oktoberfest” fundraiser for Senate chiefs of staff at the Mott House, which is adjacent to the committee’s headquarters on Maryland Avenue Northeast. That event follows on a Cinco de Mayo fundraiser that featured 24 Democratic chiefs of staff.

The National Republican Congressional Committee does not solicit staffers for money, according to Communications Director Carl Forti.

Under the ethics laws of both the House and Senate, Congressional staffers may solicit contributions from their colleagues as long as they do so outside of regular business hours and do not ask members of their own staff to contribute.

Hoping to avoid any legal entanglements, the DCCC letter includes a memo from two lawyers at Perkins Coie explaining the parameters under which staffers can help raise dollars.

“While an individual who works for a Member of Congress is prohibited from making a campaign contribution to his or her employing Member, House employees may still participate in partisan campaign activities, including helping to raise money, as long as the activity is not conducted using government resources or done on official time,” wrote Judy Corley and Christine Neville.

The decision by the three committees to use staffers as both a fundraising conduit and a draw for potential donors shows the increased importance on raising hard dollars in the wake of the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002.

That law banned the raising and spending of soft dollars by the party committees. Those donations could be accepted in unlimited amounts.

With soft money taken out of the equation, a premium has been put on hard-dollar contributions; an individual may only give $50,000 per cycle to a party committee.

Given their growing dependence on soft dollars in the cycles leading up to this one, the DSCC and DCCC have performed surprisingly well in the fundraising chase.

At the end of July, the NRSC had raised $54 million to the DSCC’s $51 million, though the Republican committee had a $9.5 million cash-on-hand edge.

On the House side, the total fundraising gap is much wider, as the NRCC had raised $125 million at the end of July compared to $55 million for the DCCC.

The cash-on-hand difference was much more narrow, as the NRCC ended July with $24 million in the bank compared to the DCCC’s $17.6 million.