With an Eye on a Gavel, Fattah Pumps Up His Fundraising

Posted October 7, 2010 at 5:00am

Democrats may or may not control the House next year, but Rep. Chaka Fattah has supercharged his fundraising for the endangered majority as he presses an unlikely bid for one of Congress’ most coveted gavels.

The Pennsylvania Democrat, ranked 21st in seniority on the House Appropriations Committee, is raising and distributing sizable sums for the first time through his leadership political action committee, Leadership for American Opportunity.

Fattah wants to challenge Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.) for the Appropriations chairmanship, which Rep. David Obey (Wis.) will vacate when he retires at the end of the 111th Congress.

Dicks is the committee’s powerful No. 2 Democrat and a prohibitive favorite to win the chairmanship if his party can keep its majority.

Fattah created the leadership PAC in 2008, but it was largely dormant until the third quarter of this year.

Over the past three months, Fattah has contributed $95,000 to Democratic incumbents and challengers and another $100,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Fattah aide Maisha Leek said. He raised $70,000 of those contributions through his leadership PAC.

Fattah acknowledged last month that he is an active candidate for the Appropriations chairmanship.

“Without a doubt,” he said. Fattah is also talking to colleagues as he tries to garner support.

“Obviously, the pursuit right now is win the election, stay in the majority,” he said.

Still, his decision to engage in the money race so aggressively points to how serious Fattah is about the gavel race.

Fattah is spreading the wealth to vulnerable Democrats. He contributed $3,000 each through his leadership PAC to Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), and John Boccieri (Ohio). He also is promoting his fellow appropriators, doling out $1,000 each to Reps. Ciro Rodriguez (Texas), Allen Boyd (Fla.) and John Salazar (Colo.).

That’s a marked increase from the first half of this year. During the second quarter, Fattah contributed $25,000 to the DCCC and $20,000 over that same three-month period to Democratic incumbents and challengers. During the first quarter, Fattah gave $10,000 to the DCCC and contributed to just one Member, $1,000 to Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who is running for Senate.

Dicks is also a prolific fundraiser — and he has also amped up his efforts.

Dicks’ chief of staff, George Behan, estimated that Dicks has contributed about $130,000 this year to members of the Democratic Caucus through his PAC.

“In addition, he has sponsored fundraising events for 19 individual Members and has attended joint events for others in the caucus at their request,” Behan said in an e-mail. “He is obviously intensely focused on helping the Democrats retain the majority in the House.”

Dicks rapidly increased his fundraising activity since Obey’s retirement announcement in May. In June, Dicks contributed $20,000 through his leadership PAC to Democratic incumbents and challengers, including $2,000 to fellow Appropriations members such as Boyd.

Behan said Dicks’ decision to increase his fundraising was in part because of the death of Rep. John Murtha (Pa.).

“I think he was called upon to do some of the things that Mr. Murtha had previously done,” Behan said.

Dicks has also made his intention of running for the Appropriations gavel known to fellow appropriators and members of the Steering Committee.

“He has talked to many of the members of the Caucus just to advise them this is what he’s intending to do,” Behan said. “Any of those issues get put off until the 3rd of November.”

Fattah is also rounding up support.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.) said he thinks Fattah would bring a “perspective to the appropriations process that would be valuable.”

“I would support Mr. Dicks to be Chairman of the Appropriations Committee if he would commit that he would not seek the Defense subcommittee chairmanship,” Butterfield said. “What I don’t support is one Member holding two positions.”

Dicks took over the Defense subcommittee following Murtha’s death.

Meanwhile, several K Streeters were skeptical of Fattah’s chances at leapfrogging so many Members to assume the gavel.

“If you are going to shoot at the king, you better kill the king,” one veteran appropriations lobbyist said. “There’s no reason to suspect Norm’s not going to have the full support of the Steering Committee.”

The lobbyist said Fattah is running for the position at his own risk.

“All he’s doing is creating an enemy in the guise of a future chairman,” the lobbyist said.

Another Democratic appropriations lobbyist said a victory by Fattah in the chairmanship race would be “the coup of the century.”

“Everything will have to be totally in his favor,” the lobbyist said. “It’s dipping very low [in the seniority list] and a lot of other people would have to be slighted that have really done a good job chairing subcommittees, especially Mr. Dicks.”

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.