Heeding the call from House Democratic leaders to help out vulnerable incumbents, more than 15 rank-and-file Members have coughed up at least $15,000 each so far this cycle to help protect their colleagues.
According to Federal Election Commission filings through March 31, House Democrats — through their re-election campaigns and political action committees — have shelled out $1.3 million in direct contributions to the 18 most-threatened minority party Members. Those vulnerable lawmakers have been deemed “Frontline” Members, and are part of a new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee program designed to help them raise money for their re-elections.
Dozens of Members have contributed to the Frontline Democrats this cycle, but a handful have been more generous than the rest.
The largest contributor list comprises House leaders, ranking members, aspiring members of the leadership, and moderate to conservative Members seeking to help out their close friends and political allies.
Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the DCCC, said Members are stepping up in even greater numbers to help their colleagues this cycle because they “understand that under the new campaign finance laws, this has become an absolute necessity.”
Matsui has given $24,000 in direct contributions to the Frontline Democrats this cycle.
Not surprisingly, the three top House leaders have given the most money so far to the Frontliners. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) has contributed $182,000, the most overall, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has given $134,000, and Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), who leads the fundraising effort for the Frontline Members for the DCCC, has given $55,000.
Others leading the pack in helping the threatened Democrats are Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), senior defense appropriator, with $38,000, moderate Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.) with $34,000, Financial Services ranking member Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) with $32,000, former DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) with $32,000, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), a Blue Dog and ranking Intelligence Committee member, with $32,000, and Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), a possible future DCCC chairman, with $31,000.
Frank said he would like to see his colleagues give more to threatened incumbents.
“I wish there was more of it,” Frank said. “I don’t hold myself as a role model for many things, but in this case I do.”
Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) and Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman (Calif.) each gave $25,000, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) gave $21,000. Education and the Workforce ranking member and key Pelosi ally Rep. George Miller (Calif.) has given $17,000.
Matsui said the veteran and senior Members consistently top the list of helping needy incumbents, noting they are often in safe seats and have a greater ability to raise money.
“They really want to take the House back and they are willing to sacrifice money out of their campaign accounts to help leadership and Nancy make sure we have a good showing in the November elections,” he said.
A handful of more junior Members, viewed as rising stars within the Caucus, are also coming up strong in Member giving this cycle. Among them are Reps. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) with $18,000, Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) with $18,000 and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) with $16,000.
Crowley acknowledged that fundraising helps a Member’s position within the Caucus, but insisted his primary objectives are helping his friends and making gains in November.
“You can’t win back the House if you don’t protect the people who are here already,” he said.
Other Members also making noteworthy contributions to Frontline members this cycle are more veteran lawmakers and appropriators: Reps. José Serrano (N.Y.) and David Price (N.C.) with $18,000 apiece, and Peter Visclosky (Ind.) with $15,000. Also, freshman Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), a Blue Dog Democrat, and second-term Rep. Mike Honda (Calif.), each gave $16,000.
Cardoza cast aside any suggestion he is angling for a better committee slot, or other perks within the Caucus.
“I’m certainly not running for Minority Leader,” Cardoza said. “I’m just hoping to help my Caucus.”
Whether they acknowledge it or not, House leaders recognize the strongest junior, mid-level contributors often have leadership hopes, or are seeking to obtain stronger Caucus positions down the road.
“They want to help and are helping the DCCC,” Matsui said. “But, at the same time it will help them.”