Incumbents Pouring Funds to DSCC

Posted February 5, 2010 at 4:07pm

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee continues to collect big money from its Members, despite a right turn in the political environment that has chased some incumbents into retirement and put others in jeopardy of losing re-election this year.

The DSCC received $3.2 million in Member transfers last year, including a Democratic Conference-leading $315,000 from Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.). The new year opened similarly, as Democratic Senators in January transferred $445,000 in campaign and leadership political action committee funds. Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), who announced early last month that this would be his last term, was responsible for $100,000 of that; Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) chipped in another $100,000.

Brightening prospects for GOP gains in November might strangle the spigot as the midterms approach — particularly in light of Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) Jan. 19 special election victory to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D). But DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) expressed confidence that Democratic Senators would not abandon the committee, regardless of how tough the political terrain becomes.

“We have kept up pace, and our Members have been very generous — and they get more generous when it’s the election year of the two-year cycle,” Menendez said Thursday.

Among the most generous was Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who contributed $265,000 to the DSCC, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who donated $200,000. Member-transfer totals include any funds donated from campaign accounts, personal bank accounts and leadership political action committee accounts.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which GOP Senators have historically ignored when it came time to pass the hat, received only $931,800 in Member transfers in 2009. The NRSC received another $83,818 from GOP Senators during the first month of 2010.

The NRSC’s top Member transfers through the end of January were delivered by GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who gave $121,630; Intelligence ranking member Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who contributed $115,000; and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who transferred $91,200.

NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who determined early on that there was little he could do to change the giving habits of GOP Senators, decided to avoid asking for money. Rather, he chose to ask his Senators to give in other ways — with their time by attending fundraisers and by soliciting cash from individual donors and PACs on behalf of the committee.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who is serving as NRSC vice chairman for the second consecutive cycle, said Members are still hesitant to aid the committee. However, Hatch said things have improved since 2006 and 2008, when the GOP lost a combined 14 Senate seats. “We think they could do better,” Hatch said late last week when asked to rate Member-giving. “It’s certainly better than last time.”

As evidence that Cornyn’s strategy has netted some results, a Republican campaign operative noted every GOP Senator except Jim Bunning (Ky.) has attended at least one NRSC fundraiser, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who is famous for hoarding his campaign cash and not participating in committee events.

Shelby, the ranking member on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, recently appeared as a special guest at an NRSC fundraiser in New York that earned the committee $400,000. Shelby is sitting on $16.3 million, but he has not given a dime to the NRSC, nor have 10 other GOP Senators.

“Sen. Cornyn’s goal has been to develop a true team effort within the Conference and encourage participation from fellow Senators beyond simply transferring money,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said.

By contrast, nearly every Democratic Senator has contributed to the DSCC, a trend that began in earnest in 2005 when the then-45-seat Senate minority was hungry to regain power. And although committee chairmen are among the most generous, rank-and-file Democratic Senators were equally forthcoming in 2009.

Sen. Tom Carper (Del.) gave $130,000, Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) contributed $125,000, and Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) each transferred $115,000. Other notable donations included $15,000 from President Barack Obama’s HOPE Fund Senate leadership PAC, $5,000 from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ Congressional campaign account and $5,000 from former Sen. Bob Torricelli’s (N.J.) campaign account.

In addition, Sen. Herb Kohl (Wis.), who completely self-funds his campaigns, contributed $30,400 in personal money. Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) also donated $30,400 in personal funds, as did his wife, Sharon, in a separate contribution. Meanwhile, Rockefeller gave $190,000 from his campaign account and $30,400 from his leadership PAC.

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), who contributed $50,000 to the DSCC last month, was one of 15 Democratic Senators to give to the committee in the new year.

Menendez said he focuses his collection efforts on Senators who are not up for re-election, expecting that those in cycle might need their money to defend their seats. That likely explains why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), considered highly vulnerable this fall, has donated only $15,000.

Other Democrats facing tough races who have also given the bare minimum include Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.). All four contributed $15,000 apiece. Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (Conn.), who appeared highly endangered before choosing to forgo re-election, also donated $15,000.

“We don’t look to those in cycle to be givers. We look to the two-thirds of our caucus out of cycle to be givers,” Menendez said. “To the extent that there have been some Members who have a pretty clear path moving forward, even though they’re in cycle they’ve been pretty generous.”