In the campaign finance game, much hay is made over how much money a candidate can raise; in the race to be the next ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, however, it's just as important how much money a candidate can spend on friends.
Rivals Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., showed in recent filings with the Federal Election Commission that they have raked in significant contributions from downtown donors in K Street lobby shops, in industries like technology and health care. But in their bids to succeed retiring California Rep. Henry A. Waxman as the powerful panel's top Democrat, showing their clout and increasing their viability among their peers depends largely on how generous they can be with their checkbooks.
After all, when the time comes to chose the next ranking member of Energy and Commerce after the midterm elections, it won’t be outside interests, but the other 190 members of the House Democratic Caucus who will ultimately vote for either Pallone or Eshoo.
In the year's first quarter, Pallone and Eshoo both raised money through two sources: Their standard re-election committees and their leadership PACs.
Pallone raised $200,458 in the first quarter through Pallone for Congress. From the same war chest, he cut checks totaling $65,000 for the re-election campaigns of 43 fellow House Democrats. He files reports with the FEC monthly for his leadership PAC — Shore PAC — and in his March 20 filing, the first since declaring his ranking member candidacy, he contributed $28,000 to 25 members' re-election bids with checks that ranged from $1,000 to $2,000. According to Pallone's April 20 Shore PAC filings, he raised $116,000 and contributed $33,000 to 24 members, again in $1,000 and $2,000 increments.
Eshoo, the party's fifth most senior member on the panel, filed an FEC report showing she raised $159,265 in the first quarter through Anna Eshoo for Congress, and wrote checks to four colleagues at $2,000 apiece. She also debuted the first quarterly filing of the first leadership PAC of her 22-year congressional career, established to boost her ranking member bid.
Peninsula PAC, formerly known as Anna PAC before the FEC said she couldn't raise money with an entity bearing her name, took in $203,000 in the first quarter and disbursed $66,000 to 33 colleagues in $2,000 increments.
Unlike Pallone, Eshoo filed her leadership PAC for the quarter rather than by the month.
The roster of members to whom the two lawmakers gave in the most recent filings have some overlap. Both Pallone and Eshoo drew up their list of recipients from among the most vulnerable House Democrats, according to Roll Call's race ratings . Each, for instance, gave money to freshmen Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Dan Maffei of New York, Patrick Murphy and Joe Garcia of Florida, Julia Brownley, Raul Ruiz, Ami Bera and Scott Peters of California, and Anne McLane Kuster of New Hampshire. They also gave to longtime Reps. Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, John F. Tierney of Massachusetts and Timothy H. Bishop of New York.
Checks to these members — particularly freshmen going through their first re-election as incumbents, like Suzan DelBene of Washington, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Bill Foster of Illinois, Marc Veasey of Texas, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, Stephen Horsford of Nevada and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico — indicates a desire by both Pallone and Eshoo to appear helpful to their colleagues in a business that's all about doing people favors.
Other contributions signaled an attempt to woo undecided peers. Eshoo and Pallone both, for instance, wrote checks to Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia.
Eshoo gave funds to members of some influence and stature, like Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee National Finance Chairman Jim Himes of Connecticut and New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind of Wisconsin. Pallone doled out cash to Rep. Jim Costa of California, one of the last remaining members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, plus two prominent New Yorkers: José M. Serrano, the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, and Nydia M. Velazquez, who serves as ranking member on Small Business.
Pallone contributed to every member of the DCCC "frontline" program of incumbents in tough races seeking re-election in 2014; Eshoo excluded a few, like Arizona's Ron Barber, Georgia's John Barrow, New Hampshire's Carol Shea-Porter and Texas's Pete Gallego, along with Cheri Bustos, Brad Schneider and Bill Enyart, all of Illinois.
Both lawmakers have paid their annual dues to the DCCC.
Though the FEC filings offer a snapshot of the status of the ranking member race, it's only one factor of a closely watched contest.
Pallone, as the current No. 3 Democrat on Energy and Commerce, enjoys an edge by virtue of his seniority in a caucus that places enormous weight on length of service when doling out plum committee assignments and leadership spots. The seniority precedent is especially important to the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, many of whose members have come out in support of Pallone. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., is also a Pallone ally , arguing at a recent briefing with reporters that seniority should also be considered first when the qualifications of two candidates are otherwise identical.
But Eshoo, the No. 5 panel Democrat, and her advocates argue that seniority isn't everything and never has been, pointing to other ranking member fights that have gone the way of the candidate with a somewhat shorter tenure. Eshoo's supporters say she also happens to be the most qualified, and she boasts an endorsement from perhaps her party's most influential player: Her close friend and fellow Californian Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader.
The endorsement stunned colleagues no matter which camp they aligned themselves with, causing veteran lawmaker and CBC member Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., to declare that Pelosi had, in one fell swoop, "officially buried the concept of seniority."
Incidentally, Pallone recently cut Rangel, also facing a tenuous re-election bid, a $2,000 check.
Eshoo, meanwhile, was the only one of the two candidates to get a contribution from a fellow House Democrat as reflected in the most recent FEC filings: She got $2,000 from California Democrat Jackie Speier through her own leadership PAC, Vision for America.
Correction 12:48 p.m. An earlier version of this post listed an incorrect state affiliation for Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.