Dems' finance report shows lagging donations

June 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — House Democratic lawmakers are holding onto their campaign cash despite pleas from the campaign committee for money to help the party, a reflection of the nervousness among incumbents.

Only 16 of the 254 members of the Democratic caucus have paid their full obligation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. Of those, dozens have outstanding balances of at least $125,000. Lawmakers in unexpectedly tight re-election campaigns and those who could face serious challenges are keeping their dollars in their accounts.

The situation is hardly unique to Democrats; all political campaign committees establish such benchmarks and then struggle to collect millions that fund Washington-approved ads and polling. But the House Democrats’ report shows several retiring lawmakers who are sitting on cash that could help defend incumbents in this political environment.

Retiring Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey has a $400,000 balance on his dues report despite almost $1.4 million in his campaign account. Similarly, retiring Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee has about $100,000 left on his tab to the committee; he has $1.1 million in his campaign account. And four other retiring lawmakers have given zero cash despite almost $1.4 million in their combined campaign accounts.

Incumbents have until Election Day to make good on their obligations.

A spokesman for the group played down the debts.

“The DCCC is a member participation organization, and we appreciate everything our members do for us,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the group.

Democratic leaders assess dues on members of their caucus, ranging from $800,000 each for top lawmakers to $150,000 annually for less powerful members. Separately, Democrats establish additional fundraising goals for members; only 42 lawmakers have met those goals.

Incumbents designated as top targets aren’t expected to pony up their cash, but some of those who have contributed zero to their dues include Rep. Maxine Waters, a chief deputy whip, and Rep. Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who has $1.2 million in the bank yet could be vulnerable.

Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, the chair of an appropriations subcommittee, has paid neither his $250,000 dues bill nor met his additional $250,000 fundraising goal for the DCCC, according to the May 26 report. Edwards’ most recent federal financial report said he had more than $1.7 million in his account as he seeks an eleventh term in what could be a tight campaign.

It’s a familiar scenario in other races that could hinge on the national mood.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won re-election with 52 percent of the vote, has not paid his $250,000 DCCC dues despite almost $1.2 million in the bank. And Rep. Tim Bishop won his Long Island district with 58 percent of the vote in 2008; the four-term New York lawmaker has $1.2 million banked yet has paid none of his dues.

Mitt Romney to the rescue?

The former Massachusetts governor is backing Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose one-time front-runner campaign has lagged as self-funded millionaire Rick Scott has blanketed the state with ads. Scott is a former hospital executive who settled a massive Medicare fraud case that occurred while he was the chief executive officer at Columbia/HCA. Last week, Scott had a 13-point lead over McCollum in a Quinnipiac University poll.

Romney, mentioned as a potential 2012 candidate, has had mixed success with his endorsements this year. He made a last-minute appeal for Sen. Bob Bennett, who lost his shot at the nomination at the GOP state convention in Utah. Romney backed South Carolina state lawmaker Nikki Haley, who is in a June 22 runoff for the gubernatorial nomination.

McCollum, national Republicans’ favored candidate, and Scott are vying to face Democratic state financial chief Alex Sink.

The National Rifle Association endorsed Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday in his race against Republican John Kasich.

Strickland received the NRA’s endorsement in the 2006 Democratic primary campaign but the group remained neutral that fall, when Strickland faced another gun rights supporter, Republican Ken Blackwell.

The announcement is the first of the 2010 general election campaign in any of the 37 governor’s races nationwide. It could provide an important boost for Strickland, a Democrat, from a group whose agenda more often meshes with Republican candidates. Ohio is among the nation’s most closely divided states politically.

Polls have shown Strickland locked in a close race with Kasich, a conservative former congressman and Fox News commentator, in a campaign focussed on the economy and jobs.

Quick hits:

– Vice President Joe Biden is campaigning for Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias next week in Chicago. Giannoulias is running for the president’s former Senate seat and is in a tough race with Republican Rep. Mark Kirk.

– Five. That’s the number of times “jobs” is said or shown in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s first general election ad. The Democrat’s ad touts his role in helping create solar energy jobs in Nevada, where April unemployment was 13.7 percent.

– A poll finds Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general, retains high favorability ratings although his numbers dropped 8 points since he announced his candidacy last month. The Siena College poll says 59 percent of registered voters still have a favorable opinion of Cuomo and he retains a 2-to-1 lead over Republican Rick Lazio or Carl Paladino, who’s trying to petition his way into the Sept. 14 GOP primary.

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