Daschle to Keep Hand in Politics

Posted February 4, 2005 at 6:18pm

Tom Daschle hasn’t sent out his last fundraising pitch.

The former Senate Democratic leader plans to continue trying to raise money for his leadership political action committee and to pump donations into the campaign coffers of Congressional, state and local candidates.

In an unusual move for former lawmakers, the South Dakotan’s DASHPAC purchased the donor address and e-mail list from his re-election committee and will soon be sending fundraising pitches to his contributors.

“Tom is passionate about his politics, and he wants to remain involved,” said Steve Hildebrand, campaign manager for Daschle’s unsuccessful re-election effort.

Before he narrowly lost his race to now-Sen. John Thune (R), Daschle operated one of the most active PACs on Capitol Hill. But now Daschle and his advisers want to marry the success and efficiency of the PAC with the massive fundraising operation of his re-election effort, which, while unsuccessful at the ballot box, blew away all expectations financially.

Over the entire six-year cycle, A Lot of People Supporting Tom Daschle, his re-election committee, raised $20.3 million, $18.7 million of which was raised in the last two years of the cycle. That’s more than three times as much money as had ever been raised for a campaign in South Dakota, which, despite record turn-out levels, had just 400,000 voters in November.

Hildebrand estimated that $1.5 million came in through online donations, and another $3.5 million came from direct-mail pitches. By the end of the campaign, they had 85,000 donors and 30,000 e-mail addresses.

So on Dec. 30, according to records with the Federal Election Commission, DASHPAC paid $14,013 to the re-election committee to purchase its fundraising list, giving the PAC thousands of potential donors to keep it alive and growing.

“His plan is to have an active PAC,” Hildebrand said. “We’re going to need to raise some money if we’re going to give $5,000 checks to candidates.”

Just before leaving office, Daschle cut $5,000 checks from DASHPAC on Dec. 21 to four Democrats facing potentially difficult re-elections in 2006: Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

DASHPAC ended 2004 with $137,000 in its account.

Hildebrand said Daschle was aware that it would not be a “big PAC,” and it’s unclear how successful he can be raising money without his leadership perch. The continued success of the PAC will likely depend on how willing those small-dollar online and direct-mail donors are to support Daschle, as Democrats in the K Street community would not be likely to make donations now that he’s no longer in the Senate.

Other retired Senators have set up PACs, but none in recent years has tried to raise money from former donors to keep his or her PAC functioning. Former Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), both of whom left after 2002, took leftover campaign funds and converted them into a PAC. That enabled them to give out checks to campaigns in amounts up to $5,000, as opposed to the limit of $2,000 per donation that a candidate’s campaign committee now faces.

Gramm, a banking lobbyist for UBS Warburg who was seen roaming the Senate halls as recently as last week, gave $267,000 to federal candidates and committees from his Friends of Phil Gramm PAC in the 2004 cycle. He still had $750,000 sitting in the PAC at the end of 2004, but no longer raises money for it. Thompson, now an actor on NBC’s “Law & Order,” donated $21,000 to GOP candidates in the previous cycle and had $204,000 left in his Fred D. Thompson PAC at the end of the year but, like Gramm, raises no money for it.

Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) raises some money for his PAC, but that all comes from fellow lobbyists at his firm, the Livingston Group. The Friends of Bob Livingston PAC gave out $54,000 in the cycle and ended with $45,000 in its account.

Hildebrand said he expected DASHPAC to be far more aggressive in the fundraising world than are other former lawmakers with PACs. “We’re going to be more active than that,” he said.

And, unlike Gramm and Livingston, none of Daschle’s donations are likely to have any connections to lobbying, because the South Dakotan has no plans of becoming a lobbyist.

Daschle has had “a lot of very, very interesting discussions” about his next career move, Hildebrand said, but he has not made any final decisions.

While Daschle was focused primarily on raising money for his re-election committee in the 2004 cycle, DASHPAC still raised almost $1.2 million over the two years and made $560,000 in donations to Congressional candidates and party committees.

In the 2002 campaign cycle, during which Daschle served as majority leader for 18 months, DASHPAC took in more than $2.3 million and gave out $644,000 to Democratic candidates.

In addition to keeping the PAC open, Daschle is also sitting on more than $880,000 in leftover campaign funds from his re-election committee. That money cannot be transferred into DASHPAC, but the former Senator could use it to give large, unlimited donations to federal, state and local party committees.

It cannot be used for personal expenditures, under election laws, and he can also give some of the money to charity.

Daschle advisers said the leftover money is the result of a flood of cash that came in during the final weeks of the campaign, when Democrats across the country finally realized how close Daschle was to losing to Thune.

According to FEC reports, in the final three weeks of the race, Daschle’s campaign took in more than $1.8 million — almost 10 percent of the two-year total from the 2003-2004 cycle.

Even that total, however, couldn’t keep up with amount of cash that poured into Thune’s campaign, which took in $1.9 million in the final three weeks of the race.

Having not decided to enter the race against Daschle until last January, Thune raised $15.2 million in 10 months for his campaign. He won by 4,000 votes.