Democrats shun Nancy Pelosi’s plea for cash
One by one, the pictures of House members adorning the lobby of Democratic Party headquarters have come down, turning neat rows of framed photos into a disjointed mess — “splattered,” as one aide described it.
The half-dozen or so lawmakers whose mugs have vanished in recent weeks weren’t indicted in court or slapped with an ethics violation. But their transgression is still deadly serious in the eyes of top party leaders: ignoring pleas to kick in cash for Democrats’ increasingly uphill slog to take back the House.
Prying open members’ fists is an election year ritual for leaders of both parties, but Democrats contend this time around has been particularly frustrating. Facing a team of deep-pocketed Republican outside groups poised to swamp them in TV ad spending — and with the party not benefiting from the kind of wave conditions that lifted Republicans two years ago — Democrats say the stinginess of their lawmakers has left them severely weakened as the fall campaign season approaches.
Democrats say they’ve tried just about everything to get their colleagues to open their wallets. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has told members that unless they pay their dues in full, they won’t get to partake in the committee’s Democratic National Convention package, complete with access to much sought-after hotel rooms and parties. And in early June, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to shame her members into giving, distributing notes to each of them with a request for cash and asking them if they are part of “the team.”
The push hasn’t had much success. As of June 30, 64 Democrats — around one-third of the entire caucus — hadn’t paid anything to the DCCC, according to a party document provided to POLITICO. Another 109 members had paid only a portion of what they owe in dues, which are calculated based on seniority and committee assignments.
In June, GOP members flooded the National Republican Congressional Committee with nearly $6.4 million. The DCCC secured just $1.8 million from Democratic lawmakers.
Removing a lawmaker’s picture from the national Democratic Party’s headquarters might sound like the ultimate indignity, but officials tasked with expanding the party’s House ranks contend that it’s more than fitting treatment for those they no longer regard as team players.
“In a campaign environment where Republican outside groups have billionaire funders like [Las Vegas casino mogul] Sheldon Adelson, who can write $5 million checks like it’s nothing, Democratic candidates need to be better funded than Republicans,” said Ali Lapp, who runs the Democratic group House Majority PAC. “To the extent that Republican members are giving more to Republican candidates than Democratic members are giving to Democratic candidates, it’s a problem.”
The lack of giving is a problem because members — many of whom have flush campaign accounts — typically are one of the DCCC’s largest sources of funding.
Republicans have been much more generous doling out cash to their candidates in hard-fought races, second quarter fundraising reports released last week show.
John Tavaglione, a Republican candidate in California, received more than $59,000 from GOP House members. The total for Tavaglione’s Democratic opponent, Mark Takano, from Democratic lawmakers: just more than $20,000. And while Indiana Republican Jackie Walorski took nearly $73,000 from Republican lawmakers, her Democratic opponent, Brendan Mullen, received just $22,000 from Democrats.
The disparity has only strengthened the tide against which Democrats are swimming. While only 25 seats Democrats from the majority, they likely will need to seize a total of 35 or 40 Republican-held seats to wrest the speakership from John Boehner — a daunting task in a year in which neither party appears to have strong momentum.
From a historical perspective, the odds seem just as long: The last time a party holding the White House won more than 15 seats in a presidential election year was nearly five decades ago — in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson routed Republican Barry Goldwater. Democrats picked up 36 House seats that year.
Democrats say their inability to draw member cash threatens to exacerbate what they fear will be a massive cash disadvantage. While the DCCC has demonstrated fundraising success overall, outraising the NRCC by about $10 million this election cycle, Democrats concede that well-funded outside GOP groups will give Republicans a substantial financial advantage. Two Republican groups poised to invest in House races, the Congressional Leadership Fund and YG Action Fund, have received $5 million contributions from Adelson, one of the country’s most prolific GOP donors.
Democratic officials estimate they could be outspent by as much as two to one in the post-Labor Day TV ad blitz.
Some Democrats say they haven’t ponied up because they aren’t fully confident in their own reelection prospects. Memories of 2010 — when well-funded Republican outside groups targeted them mercilessly in the final weeks of the campaign — have instilled fear they are no longer safe electorally.
“There are very few Southern Democratic members left,” Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, one of the last remaining members of the beleaguered Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats, wrote in an email. “I have no idea how strong my opposition will be, and I’m trying to do all I can to help out at the regional and local level.”
Cooper, who has more than $657,000 in his campaign account, has yet to pay any of his $150,000 in DCCC dues.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, who benefited from extensive DCCC assistance during his hard-fought 2010 reelection race but who hasn’t cut a check to the committee, said he won’t be dipping into his $146,000 treasury until after his Aug. 28 primary.
“I will do my part after I get through my primary. It’s about survival,” Grijalva said. “The DCCC did a good job of coming in and sending some exceptional staff to my race. Do I feel I owe them anything? Absolutely. But I don’t want to roll the dice.”
One of the largest groups of truant Democrats — retirees — is under no pressure to spend money on expensive campaigns. Of the 15 Democrats who are leaving Congress, 14 have not paid their dues in full. A handful of those are Blue Dog Democrats who have, at times, clashed with Pelosi.
North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler, a retiring Blue Dog who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for the top Democratic leadership position after the midterm elections, has yet to pay anything to the DCCC despite having more than $164,000 in his campaign bank account.
Brandi Lowell, Shuler’s chief of staff, wouldn’t comment on the congressman’s lack of giving other than to say, “To my knowledge, Congressman Shuler has never paid DCCC dues.”
Surprisingly, even some of Pelosi’s top lieutenants have been tight-fisted. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and George Miller of California, two close allies, had paid less than $300,000 apiece. They each owe $450,000.
Aides to DeLauro and Miller did not respond to requests for comment.