Burris Already Set Up Campaign Fund

Appointees Will Have to Work Quickly to Prepare to Run in 2010

Posted January 21, 2009 at 6:09pm

On the same day that he was turned away at the doors of the Senate, appointee Roland Burris (D) created a fundraising committee for the 2010 election.

Now the duly seated junior Senator from Illinois — though one who has yet to be enthusiastically embraced by his Democratic colleagues — Burris can begin raising money to seek a full term next year, if that’s what he chooses to do. Burris filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to create the Burris for Senate fundraising committee on Jan. 6, the day Senate leaders sparked an uproar by refusing to seat him because of the scandal surrounding the man who appointed him, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

Whether Burris’ decision to create a fundraising committee nine days before he was actually seated in the Senate is another example of what critics call his characteristic hubris is debatable. But it does highlight the fact that the Senate will have four newly appointed Members in a matter of days — and that each will have to quickly adopt a fundraising strategy with the 2010 cycle already under way.

As of Wednesday, only Burris had opened a campaign account with the FEC.

In Illinois, Burris is expected to seek a full term, though he hasn’t yet announced his plans. Although no one is willing to say so publicly, national and state Democratic leaders would probably prefer someone else to be the party’s nominee next year.

In Colorado, political neophyte Michael Bennet (D) is expected to be sworn in today to replace the newly confirmed secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. Bennet, the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, is, by his own admission, trying to put together a political team on the fly.

In Delaware, new Sen. Ted Kaufman (D) reiterated on Wednesday that he has no interest in running next year to fill the remainder of now-Vice President Joseph Biden’s Senate term.

“I’m going to leave” after 2010, he told MSNBC. “I’m never going to run for office. … I think the people of Delaware should elect the next U.S. Senator.”

Even so, there at least remains the possibility that Kaufman, who served as Biden’s right-hand man for more than two decades, may try to set up a fundraising committee to facilitate whatever political traveling he may do and enable him to help various candidates. Two Kaufman spokeswomen did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

But perhaps the most intriguing fundraising questions, at least from a technical standpoint, exist in New York, where Gov. David Paterson (D) is expected to name a Senate successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday or Saturday.

Paterson has said he’s mulling over a list of about 10 candidates, most of whom are elected officials and well-established fundraisers — including a handful of House Members whose campaign accounts could be instantly morphed into Senate fundraising committees.

Democrat Caroline Kennedy, the former first daughter who has been openly seeking the Senate appointment, has no fundraising apparatus at present. There were reports Wednesday evening that she had dropped her bid for her seat. But she is personally wealthy and would have a vast network of Kennedy family, friends and supporters to tap if she is named to the seat and runs to fill out the remainder of Clinton’s term in 2010.

No one doubts Kennedy’s ability to raise vast sums of money if she is appointed to the Senate. But she has been in a curious position, at least where campaign finance law is concerned, as she criss-crosses the state meeting with local political leaders in an attempt to persuade Paterson to make her a Senator.

Kennedy has been working with a top New York-based consulting firm, Knickerbocker SKD, as she charts her political course. The firm is headed by Josh Isay, a former chief of staff to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and is affiliated with Squier Knapp Dunn, the powerhouse Washington, D.C., media and communications firm.

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Kennedy who works for Knickerbocker SKD, said questions about how Kennedy is paying for her nascent campaign are moot at the moment.

“All people working with Caroline relating to the appointment are volunteering,” he said. “As this is not a campaign, she is not required to file with the FEC.”

That situation might be different if Kennedy were paying her consultants. There is a “testing the waters” provision of federal campaign finance law that allows potential candidates to spend their own money on early fact-finding in advance of a campaign without filing any paperwork with the FEC. But these would-be candidates often walk a fine line and are encouraged to open fundraising committees as early as possible.

Election officials expect Kennedy to open a campaign committee quickly if she is named to the Senate, and a Kennedy candidacy would undoubtedly be a good payday for several leading Democratic consultants.

In Colorado, Bennet is turning to expert political help as he prepares to run for a full term in 2010. He has hired RBI Strategy & Research, a national Democratic firm based in Denver, to helm his campaign. Craig Hughes, the firm’s research director who is most intimately involved with the Bennet campaign, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on the incoming Senator’s fundraising plans.

It also isn’t clear what kind of fundraising operation Burris will put together. His FEC committee was set up by Timothy Wright III, the same Chicago attorney who appeared before the cameras on Burris’ behalf on Jan. 6 after the Senate refused to let the Democrat in the chambers.

Neither Wright nor other Burris campaign spokesmen could be reached for comment Wednesday. If he runs for a full term in 2010, Burris is almost certain to face a Democratic primary challenge — Rep. Jan Schakowsky is seen as a likely candidate — and heavyweight Republicans such as Reps. Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam may try to take him on in the general election.