Moderates Irritated by Stingy Chairmen

Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:05pm

Updated: 12:25 p.m.

House moderates are training their ire at a trio of liberal House Democratic chairmen from safe districts who are collectively sitting on more than $8 million in campaign cash.

The three Democrats ‘ Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.), Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (Mass.) and Subcommittee on Health Chairman Frank Pallone (N.J.) ‘ were also the main authors of the House’s cap-and-trade energy bill and health care reform package that many moderates see as the chief causes of this year’s expected Republican wave.

One senior Democratic aide even dubbed them the ‘three horsemen of the apocalypse’ for their role, calling them ‘clueless’ about the political effects of their ‘ivory tower’ energy and health care bills. Neither of the original House versions of those bills became law; Senators never took up a cap-and-trade package this cycle, and House Democrats had to make concessions to enact a more moderate health care reform measure.

Moderates ‘all got BTU’d on the public plan and cap-and-trade. … And now they are holding on to their money for some future Senate race or future redistricting fight,’ the aide said.

The frustration has some moderates talking behind the scenes about challenges to the three Members’ chairmanships ‘ assuming Democrats retain control of the chamber ‘ although some acknowledged such talk is probably wishful thinking.

While Waxman, Markey and Pallone have met or exceeded their Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dues, according to the Oct. 19 dues sheet obtained by Roll Call, aides to several vulnerable Members say the trio bear a greater responsibility for the party’s electoral predicament than any other Members. Those Democrats, moderates say, have no good reason to hold on to millions of dollars that could help preserve the majority.

Waxman has the least amount in the bank ‘ almost $1.4 million ‘ and has given $575,000 to the DCCC, $75,000 more than his dues. But he’s still only about halfway toward a separate goal of raising $1 million for the DCCC.

David Sadkin, Waxman’s finance director, defended his aid to Democrats this cycle. ‘Mr. Waxman contributed to Democratic members and candidates across the political spectrum,’ he said.

Markey has given $350,000 to the DCCC over the two-year period, $100,000 more than his dues, and separately he has raised more than $1.7 million for the DCCC. A Markey campaign aide defended his giving, saying he had raised more money for the DCCC and Democratic candidates than anybody outside of leadership, including full committee chairmen.

‘In this era where secret organizations can just come in and dump unlimited amounts of money in any district at any time, it would just be foolish to empty out his campaign account,’ the Markey aide said. ‘To say that Ed hasn’t been supportive of the DCCC and hasn’t been supportive of other candidates is just absurd.’

But Markey’s healthy campaign kitty of $3.4 million has nonetheless raised eyebrows. Markey has flirted with a run for the Senate, and Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) is up for re-election in 2012.

A Democratic leadership aide pointed to Markey, who championed the cap-and-trade measure, as a prime example of someone who isn’t taking enough of a leadership role in a difficult election year.

‘One of the signature accomplishments of the House was passing his bill, and that actually had a harmful effect on a number of Democrats, and you think he more than anyone would appreciate the situation they are in,’ the aide said.

Pallone has also eyed a run for Senate in the past, and he has more than $4.1 million in the bank ‘ more than any other House Democrat. Pallone’s office did not return a phone call by press time.

‘You aren’t even over a million dollars and the guy is sitting in leadership meetings,’ the leadership aide said. ‘It’s hard to explain why he has done so little. … If you are sitting at the leadership table and you aren’t over a million dollars for this cause, I think that raises real questions about what your commitment is to the majority.’

An aide to a moderate Democrat complained that the three chairmen have not even given to all of the moderates on their own committees and subcommittees.

‘How can you have good relationships with the people on your subcommittee or full committee if you don’t give to their re-election?’ the aide asked.

A former Democratic leadership aide said: Waxman ‘has a lot of fences to mend. If he has not been maxing out, and Markey hasn’t been doing it either, they may retain their positions out of seniority, but it is going to be a very different Caucus for them to try to navigate.’

The former aide suggested problems could arise next year, particularly if the Obama administration hopes to push legislation under Waxman’s jurisdiction. The one-time aide said Waxman may not have the leverage that he would need within the Caucus to get bills through his Energy and Commerce Committee.

Other Democrats in safe seats who are sitting atop tens of millions of dollars are also getting pushed to pony up to needy Members. A Caucus-wide conference call was held Wednesday during which Members were urged to give more.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has felt the pressure, doubling his $450,000 party committee dues with big donations in recent months. He’s already raised more than $13.6 million for the DCCC and close to $5.9 million more for Frontline and Red to Blue candidates. But he’s still sitting on nearly $2.5 million. Van Hollen also serves as Assistant to the Speaker and is widely believed to be eyeing a more powerful role in the Caucus hierarchy.

‘I think he needs to have a number under $1 million if he wants to run for leadership,’ a senior aide said. ‘I don’t know how you sit on that kind of money in a cycle like this. Anybody who gets any kind of gift from the Caucus can’t sit it out. They don’t deserve whatever it is they have if they’re not all in.’

A senior Democratic strategist went even further.

‘It’s career-ending for them,’ the strategist said. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have all but emptied their own accounts, and Democrats should step up and do the same, this strategist said.

‘I would challenge Chris Van Hollen if he really thinks there’s a momentum shift, or does he think he is throwing away that money?’ the strategist said.

Several Democratic lobbyists said it’s hard to see why Members from safe districts are taking so long to part with their cash.

‘Any House Democrat who is not giving the maximum to the DCCC has nobody to blame but themselves if things don’t turn out on Election Day,’ one Democratic lobbyist said. ‘This is the moment when every dime matters, and it’s surprising that anybody who is in the House who has been in the minority before would not do everything they can.’

Clarification

This story has been updated to reflect the numbers on the Oct. 19 Democratic dues sheet.