Schedule Crimps Money Chase

Posted December 11, 2009 at 6:12pm

The latest casualty of the contentious health care debate appears to be the time-honored season of holiday fundraising, with numerous Senate Democrats and Republicans being forced to postpone or completely cancel events — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

With Reid forcing the chamber to remain in session on weekends and holding votes on Fridays and Mondays, a host of lawmakers, including Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), have been forced to back out of events, rearrange their fundraising schedules or completely cancel fundraisers.

Even Reid, who is facing the re-election fight of his career, has been forced to scrap events. On Thursday, he backed out of a major $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser in New Orleans scheduled for Saturday after Republicans ridiculed him for attempting to cancel this past weekend’s session. Reid has also said he had to ax a handful of events scheduled for the previous weekend because of the health care debate.

Additionally, lawmakers such as Dodd and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have had to cancel events that, while not designed to raise money, were clearly campaign-related. For instance, Dodd on Friday had to back out of an appearance with Vice President Joseph Biden at the East Hartford Fire Department, an event that was piggybacked on a fundraiser that Biden did to boost the Senator’s 2010 campaign. Dodd’s wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, attended the $500-per-person event instead.

McCain had to bag a health care town hall outside Phoenix, spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said. A GOP leadership aide also said an initial plan to have McCain hold a similar town hall in Arkansas — where Lincoln is facing a difficult re-election race next year — was also scrapped because of the weekend votes.

[IMGCAP(1)]So far, lawmakers and their staff are attempting to take the delays in stride, with most complaining more about the effect it has on their families than on their campaign schedules.

“I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree,— said DeMint, who acknowledged having to postpone several events as a result of the Senate’s seven-day work schedule of late. However, DeMint said most Members were expecting the long hours, given Reid’s insistence on finishing the health care bill before the year’s end. “Everybody knew Harry would try to hotbox us by not letting us go home,— DeMint said.

Likewise, Roberts, who had planned a $2,000-per-political-action-committee, $1,000-per-individual “NYC Weekend— fundraiser on Saturday, quipped that, “It’s right before Christmas. I’ve got 140 ‘honey do’ projects — ‘honey can you do this, honey can you do that.’ So that rates way before any fundraiser.—

“We have had some events postponed,— including several fundraisers, “because of the Senate schedule,— a Democratic campaign manager said, adding that they have been able to reschedule those events in January. “It isn’t a huge problem right now because we’re a year from the election and we have the time to reschedule.—

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said that while the schedule has been difficult, Members recognize that the debate over health care reform warrants the extra time, even if it means canceling campaign events or even personal trips. “Whether that be fundraising or personal, so be it,— Menendez said.

The Democratic campaign manager said that at least for now, hosts of fundraising events have understood that the chamber’s business takes precedent.

“The hosts of our events understand how important health care reform and the other issues are and were ready to move their events to January,— the manager said.

Lincoln campaign communications director Katie Laning Niebaum said that several of Lincoln’s December money events had to be rescheduled, “but she recognizes that the larger priority is achieving common-sense health insurance reform.—

A veteran Democratic aide whose boss has had to cancel fundraising events noted that before Reid formally decided to work weekends, he met with his Conference and explained that while he understood the schedule would hurt their fundraising abilities, he, too, would be affected. And while there has been some grousing privately, “the complaints [from Democrats] haven’t been nearly as bad as they could have been,— the aide said.

But while Republicans have largely also been accepting, they did take umbrage with Reid’s efforts to cancel this past weekend’s votes.

After Reid tried Thursday morning to cancel plans to have votes on Saturday and Sunday — which would have allowed him to attend the New Orleans fundraiser — Republicans pounced on the Democratic leader.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has become increasingly combative over the past several weeks, was particularly harsh in his criticism.

“The Majority Leader wants us to go out for the weekend, after keeping us in all last weekend. And here we have an unspecified proposal that none of us know the details of the cost. So I’m supposed to go home to Arizona this weekend and say, ‘My friends, we’ve been working on health care for a year and guess what. I can tell you nothing’? We need to stay in,— McCain said.

“I know New Orleans is very nice this time of year, but perhaps we ought to stay here and get this job done,— McCain said in a thinly veiled reference to Reid’s trip.

That, in turn, prompted an angry response from Reid, who accused Republicans of attempting to “embarrass or denigrate— him.

Meanwhile, campaign staff and lawmakers have also found some work-arounds for the schedule. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not been forced to miss any fundraising events or other activities, sources said, because he has only scheduled events in Washington, D.C., rather than Kentucky or other states.

Similarly, some campaigns have sought to use video conferencing and other Web-based technologies to bypass the problems posed by the Senate schedule.

“We do have an active house party program where grass-roots activists are hosting parties … and for some of those we hold a conference call so each house party has a speaker phone and they hear from campaign staff— and the Senator, the Democratic campaign manager said.

But while some aides have suggested that new technology has helped Senators simulate their presence at events even when they are in Washington, this campaign manager said it’s really not the same. “A webcast doesn’t really replace the Senator being at a fundraiser back home,— the campaign aide said, adding that the lawmaker makes a point to attend “virtually every fundraiser.—