DCCC Dues Pass Extends Beyond ‘Frontline’

Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:14pm

As House leaders pour money into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a number of rank-and-file lawmakers appear to be hoarding campaign cash to protect themselves in districts once thought to be safely in Democratic hands.

Incumbents from southeastern Pennsylvania to northeastern Texas have largely ignored calls to pay DCCC dues and participate in other efforts intended to help more vulnerable Members stave off defeat, according to a recent party fundraising tally obtained by Roll Call.

In all, 88 House Democrats haven’t paid a dime of their dues this cycle to meet goals that range from $125,000 to $800,000. And many more have paid just a fraction of their goal.

They include Rep. Patrick Murphy, a sophomore who represents the southeastern Pennsylvania 8th district, where he won re-election with 57 percent of the vote in 2008.

Murphy reported nearly $1.8 million in the bank at the end of June but has paid just $10,000 of a dues goal that exceeds $145,000, according to the fundraising figures.

Murphy, who was given a seat on the Appropriations Committee in May, is not part of the DCCC’s “Frontline” program for vulnerable incumbents. Those 42 Members are generally excused from meeting dues obligations. But Murphy faces a potentially competitive race in November against former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R), whom he ousted in 2006.

Murphy enjoys a huge financial advantage over his challenger, who reported about $664,000 in the bank at the end of the last quarter. It remains to be seen how far that will go in the expensive Philadelphia media market.

Elsewhere, Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, who has occupied Texas’ 17th district seat for the last two decades and is also an Appropriations cardinal, hasn’t paid any dues this cycle and has raised just $5,000 of his $250,000 target for the DCCC.

That is because he faces a highly competitive race against businessman Bill Flores (R) this fall in one of the most heavily Republican districts in the nation represented by a Democrat.

Flores, who won an April runoff, reported more than $415,000 in his campaign account compared with Edwards’ $2.1 million at the end of June.

Officials within the DCCC declined to publicly criticize those Members who have fallen behind on dues and other fundraising goals, although there was a push in late June to encourage lawmakers to pony up.

“The DCCC is a member participation organization, and we appreciate our members’ commitment to the DCCC and retaining a strong Democratic majority,” spokesman Ryan Rudominer said, declining to elaborate.

He also said the committee has no plans to expand the Frontline program beyond its current membership.

But privately, Democratic operatives acknowledged some flexibility on fundraising for and contributions to the party committee is warranted.

“It’s a really tough cycle,” one Democratic strategist said. “A lot of folks are not in a position to pay their dues. Obviously there’s another category of folks that could be doing more.”

Indeed, several Members whose races are rated as only marginally competitive at this point appear to be hoarding their cash as well.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D), who hasn’t had much trouble holding his Democratic-leaning southwestern Georgia district since 1992, has paid just $27,000 of his $200,000 dues goal this cycle. He has also brought in just $2,000 for the committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which was created to target potential takeover opportunities.

Bishop’s stinginess might stem from the fact that he could end up in one of the late-breaking races this cycle. The closest Republicans have come to winning the 2nd district, where the African-American population is about 48 percent, was in 2000 when Bishop defeated Republican Dylan Glenn, who is also black, by 7 points.

But this year Republicans believe they’ve found a viable challenger in state Rep. Mike Keown. Keown raised eyebrows last month by coming just $29 shy of outraising the Congressman during the second quarter. He also was close in the cash-on-hand race considering the fact that he’s running against a nine-term incumbent. Keown had $238,000 in the bank at the end of June compared with $405,000 for Bishop.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans will devote the resources to target Bishop this fall, but it seems the Congressman is stockpiling what cash he has.

Another race flying somewhat under the radar is Tennessee’s 4th district, where Rep. Lincoln Davis (D) is looking to win a fifth term.

Republicans made some noise about targeting Davis earlier this cycle, but as better opportunities have cropped up in the state, the 4th district has fallen off the national radar. But that doesn’t mean Davis is taking any chances. He’s paid none of his $200,000 dues allotment to the DCCC this cycle and has contributed just $1,000 to the Red to Blue program.

The latest fundraising figures offered some positive news for the DCCC: A number of Members have met or exceeded fundraising goals.

The House’s top Democratic leaders have each paid more than $1 million in dues, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $1.2 million. The Californian has also raised more than $27.7 million for the DCCC, dwarfing the next closest fundraiser, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who has generated $9.4 million.

Retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy has paid his dues and then some.

Overall, the Rhode Island Democrat has raised $583,000 for the campaign committee, shattering his $250,000 goal. That includes a personal check of $30,000. The Congressman, a former DCCC chairman, also directed $155,000 from his late father’s Senate campaign account to the DCCC.