‘Exclusives’ Still Owe Dues

Posted September 28, 2004 at 6:47pm

Although House Democrats on exclusive committees are expected to pony up some of the highest dues to the party, those Members are among the weakest contributors this cycle — prompting leaders to question whether they warrant seats on the chamber’s most powerful panels.

With the exception of leadership and threatened or retiring Members, who face different guidelines, Democrats on the top three committees are not coming through as leaders had hoped, according to several senior Democratic leadership staffers.

Those sources said party leaders are extremely disappointed and expect members of the most powerful committees to at least meet their dues, if not surpass required levels, because they are in a better position to raise money from wealthy donors and lobbyists. Exclusive committee members are expected to raise significant sums for the party to get on those committees in the first place, and continue to do so once they are there, those aides added.

“These Members know that they have greater responsibilities to the party, given their exclusive committee status, and too many aren’t stepping up to the plate,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

Several senior aides noted that while House leaders will not remove Members from exclusive committees as punishment, they will be having “one on one” conversations with them in the coming days. Those aides said leaders will make clear that future majority plums — such as committee chairmanships — could hang in the balance.

“If they want to be in the majority, they need to realize they have to participate,” said a senior Democratic staffer. “Members need to at least pay their dues.”

Democratic Members on Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means are required to pay varying levels of dues, but most are being asked to contribute $100,000 or $150,000 this cycle. So far, just four of the 12 rank-and-file Ways and Means Democrats have met that obligation, compared with 11 of 23 appropriators and seven of 22 Energy and Commerce lawmakers.

Without singling any one Member out, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used her weekly luncheon Tuesday to press all Members to give more in the final weeks before the election. While praising the Democratic Caucus for its overall giving, she noted that some Members have dropped the ball, according to party sources.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert “Matsui [Calif.] and Pelosi made the case that we need resources to get our message out there and to get our voters to come out,” explained one Democratic leadership aide. “We are going to depend on getting a really good turnout and energizing our base. We need more money to do that.”

While Pelosi did not name names, Members did learn whose dues are unpaid: The DCCC passed out to Members its confidential dues sheet noting how much each member of the Caucus has given this cycle. The dues sheet was later obtained by Roll Call.

Greg Speed, spokesman for the DCCC, declined to comment on the specifics of the dues sheet, saying the party committee does not discuss individual Member contributions or obligations. He did acknowledge, however, that the party is making an earlier and more concerted push for money this cycle.

“Like the House Republicans, we are making a strong pitch to our Members earlier than ever that allows us to plan for the independent campaigns we must run under campaign finance reform,” Speed said.

Members have contributed just over $16.1 million, about $9 million shy of the DCCC goal. Democratic leaders are seeking three avenues for money — through Member giving, other donors and direct mail. Overall, donors have directly contributed $26.7 million so far, compared with $23 million from direct-mail donations.

At the lunch, sources said Matsui praised Members for breaking records this cycle in giving, but pointed out that they still have a collective $100 million in their campaign bank accounts. They must share that wealth to reach the $25 million Member contribution target, he told the Caucus Tuesday.

“We’ve broken all records in terms of Member giving,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. “Members have been generous and we continue to raise money from Members and we are well on our way to meeting our goal.”

Sources at the lunch said upon hearing the plea, several Members volunteered to give more, including Reps. John Lewis (Ga.) and Adam Schiff (Calif.), who promised to double their dues. Lewis has already given $250,000 to the DCCC, surpassing his $150,000 obligation; while Schiff has given $100,000, surpassing his $70,000 dues.

Also Tuesday, newly elected but vulnerable Rep. Ben Chandler (Ky.), who had yet to contribute, vowed to pay $50,000 of his $70,000 dues. Rep. Jim Davis (Fla.), a Ways and Means member, also added the final $25,000 to his dues to meet his $100,000 obligation.

Overall, most Members on exclusives have contributed some portion of their dues and leadership doesn’t expect payment from threatened Members or those who are retiring or running for another office.

At the same time, however, leaders are frustrated with those sitting on sizable bank accounts and still failing to come through.

Most notably, Reps. William Jefferson (La.), a Ways and Means Democrat who sought the DCCC chairmanship for the current cycle, and Eliot Engel (N.Y.), both on Energy and Commerce, have failed to pay any of their $100,000 tab this cycle.

Gary Meltz, a spokesman for Engel, who recently won his primary, said his boss will come through for the party.

“We had an agreement with the DCCC that after his primary two weeks ago that the Congressman is happy to contribute,” said Meltz. “Everyone has been busy. He fully intends to contribute.”

And while some aides to exclusive committee members said their bosses plan to contribute more this cycle, others said big checks won’t be pouring into the DCCC anytime soon.

“Some Members don’t want to give because they don’t feel the money is being distributed in the way it should be,” said one aide to an exclusive committee member.

But one Democratic lawmaker, who has exceeded DCCC dues this cycle, said this is a critical time in an election year when all Members must act as a team and come through.

“You can’t just sit back and sleep in your room all day when everyone else is paying the bills,” said the Member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s like the guy playing sick and in his room watching TV all day when everyone else is out working on his behalf.”

According to the latest DCCC dues spread sheet, other exclusive committee members falling significantly short of their dues this cycle include three Appropriations members: Reps. Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.) with $30,000 paid, Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), $20,000; Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), $1,000.

On Energy and Commerce, the weakest contributors include Reps. Charlie Gonzalez with $25,000 donated; Bobby Rush (Ill.), $10,000; Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), $20,000; Albert Wynn (Md.), $2,500. On Ways and Means, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) has paid just $35,000 and Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.) has contributed $25,100.

“Rank-and-file members, who don’t sit on exclusives, have stepped up and are helping the party more than ever before,” said a well-placed Democratic staffer. “The most disturbing trend is the Members who have the privilege of sitting on an exclusive committee but aren’t doing there part to help the DCCC.”