Toomey Helming the Club for Growth: ‘I’m a Rebel With a Cause’

Posted October 7, 2005 at 6:12pm

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) does not mind being a thorn in the side of Republican leaders.

After coming close to knocking off Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) in last year’s Republican primary, the 43-year-old Toomey assumed the presidency of the Club for Growth in January.

The club supports anti-tax, free-trade Republicans, often in GOP primaries, and has been known to ruffle the feathers of party poohbahs from time to time.

The club strongly backed former investment banker Toomey last year, much to the White House’s chagrin. And under Toomey’s tutelage the group is not inclined to just help the National Republican Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee protect incumbents.

Toomey is unconcerned with his occasional renegade status.

“I don’t know if I’m a rebel, but if I am, I’m a rebel with a cause,” he said.

Toomey said the transition from Member of Congress to private citizen came easily: He planned to serve only three terms in the House anyway.

“I always knew I was coming back to the private sector, and I find it gratifying that I’ve had an opportunity to advance the causes I fought for while I was serving in Congress,” he said.

Certainly the club in this election cycle is building on some of the tactics it displayed in 2004.

In Rhode Island, the club may endorse Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in his effort to knock off Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in next year’s Republican primary.

That would not make national Republican leaders happy, as Chafee is one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans of the cycle.

Toomey said the club is still evaluating the race.

The club does not hide its disdain for the Congressional majority. Its Web site reads: “Too many Congressional Republicans have veered away from the limited government agenda that got them elected to the majority in Congress. They have approved pork-barrel highway bills worse than the Democrats used to give us. They have dropped the ball on making tax cuts permanent, tax reform, and personal investment of Social Security.”

While that has been the club’s hallmark since its creation in 1999, Toomey wants to expand the group’s influence and do more to ensure that the Members it helped elect stay the course.

“I want to grow the organization; we only have a fraction of the market share that we ought to have,” Toomey said. “There are lots of free enterprisers out there who haven’t heard of us. I want to reach them.”

Currently the group has about 32,000 members. Toomey believes he can up that to 100,000 in a relatively short time period.

Using direct mail, radio and the Internet more and more effectively should help achieve that goal, Toomey said.

Noting former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s (D) success at using the Internet to drive his presidential bid and the money-raising prowess of MoveOn.org, Toomey said: “Liberals don’t have a monopoly on use of the Internet.”

And of course playing an active, visible role in Congressional races will elevate the club’s profile, too, he said.

To that end Toomey is involving the club in races sooner and more aggressively. Already this year the club has endorsed five House candidates ahead of next year’s elections.

One, California state Sen. John Campbell, won 46 percent of the vote in the all-party primary last Tuesday in the special election to replace Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who stepped down in the summer to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

About two-thirds of the money Campbell raised was routed to him from the club and the group independently ran television ads on his behalf, Toomey said.

It was not quite enough for Campbell to win the seat outright but he is favored heading into the Dec. 6 runoff.

“We made a conscious decision to get in early” this cycle, Toomey said. “We used to wait until much later, which allowed the frontrunner to get too far ahead.”

With the group taking sides sooner, an underdog has a better chance of winning, “and we’re usually supporting an underdog,” Toomey explained.

The club is supporting state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle in Nevada’s open 2nd district race, state Rep. Phil Krinkie in Minnesota’s open 6th district, state Rep. Bill Sali in Idaho’s open 1st district and Colorado Higher Education Commission Chairman Rick O’Donnell in that state’s open 7th district race.

Candidates are due to report their third quarter fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission Oct. 15 so Toomey did not know exactly how much his candidates have raised, but he pointed to Angle’s success as proof that the strategy of getting in early is working.

The club has raised at least $200,000 for her so far, he said. Krinkie put out a news release saying that his campaign raised $275,000 in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30.

Toomey also wanted the club to toughen its selection process. Since he took over the staff began subjecting would-be club candidates to a more “extensive and systematic” background research phase, he said.

And he has instituted a way to hold the 39 Members the club has backed over the years accountable for their votes.

Toomey kicked off a scorecard earlier this year. So far the club has tracked eight votes including the one passing the Central America Free Trade Agreement and the Republican Study Committee’s unsuccessful effort to pass an alternative budget.

“Publishing a bad record or the threat of publishing a bad record [on our issues] might help discourage” Members from straying from the club’s principles, Toomey said.

At the end of the year, the club will weigh and tabulate the votes and rank all Members of Congress.

Toomey also plans to “celebrate” those who rate the highest.

The scorecard is about the only retribution the club can take as the group lavishes its support on challengers and open seat candidates, not incumbents. However, just because the club typically does not bundle contributions for incumbents, individual donors often contribute to their campaigns and they might seek to cut off Members who have gone astray, Toomey said.

“Some Members are still capable of being shamed,” he said.