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House Democratic leaders want a going-away present from the members who are leaving Congress next year — their committee dues.
A dozen retiring House Democrats have racked up almost $2 million in outstanding balances with the party’s campaign committee while, in some cases, maintaining flush war chests.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), for instance, has only paid the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) $100,000 of the $500,000 he owes in dues, according to documents obtained by The Hill.
Obey, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, announced his retirement last month after serving 20 terms in the House. He had more than $1.3 million in his campaign account as of his last Federal Election Commission (FEC) report.
A spokeswoman for Obey did not respond to a request for comment.
The DCCC said it welcomes contributions from its retiring members.
“The DCCC is a member-participation organization, and we appreciate everything our members do for us in ensuring we have a strong Democratic majority,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the DCCC.
Even in a good year, collecting member dues is hard for committee staffers from both parties. Dues are set on a scale, taking into account factors like time in Congress, whether a member is in leadership and the lawmaker’s campaign needs.
Many members want to hold on to their hard-earned cash until they know they’re in the clear. And this cycle is going to be tough for incumbents. Many are viewing it as every-man-for-himself and could try to avoid paying for as long as they can.
But retiring Democrats are leaving the political arena, and strategists want them to help their party before they go.
“Dues are an investment in keeping a strong Democratic majority. If the DCCC doesn’t have the resources to fight back, every member pays the price,” a senior Democratic strategist told The Hill.
That price could be heavy this year. An NPR survey released Tuesday showed Republican candidates leading in 60 Democratic-held seats. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg’s firm called the results a “wake-up call for Democrats, whose losses in the House could well exceed 30 seats.”
A loss of 40 seats would shift control back to the Republicans and result in the loss of plum committee positions for Democrats. Still, some committee chairmen, such as retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), are also behind on their payments.
Gordon owes slightly less than $100,000 despite having $1,103,554 in the bank as of his last report.
A spokeswoman for Gordon said the money will be forthcoming.
“The campaign sends the DCCC a check every month. Much of its money is tied up in C.D.s that won’t mature until this summer and fall,” Emily Phelps, a spokeswoman for Gordon, said in an e-mail. “Congressman Gordon anticipates paying his dues in full and on time. The FEC places strict limitations [on] how leftover campaign funds can and can’t be used and requires reports to be filed as long as funds remain.”
Other Democrats in leadership positions have also fallen behind.
Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a deputy whip, has paid $165,000 of the $300,000 he owes, despite retiring and having some $1.2 million cash on hand. Additionally, he’s raised only $65,000 toward his goal of $500,000 for the DCCC.
“Congressman Tanner is dedicated to supporting like-minded candidates and plans to meet his commitments,” Randy Ford, a spokesman for Tanner, said in an e-mail.
Other members have burgeoning campaign accounts but have contributed zero dollars to the committee.
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), for instance, had $540,491 cash on hand as of his spring FEC filing. He announced his retirement in December last year. He hasn’t paid any of the $150,000 he owes the DCCC for the 2009-10 cycle. Moreover, of his $100,000 fundraising goal for the committee, he’s chipped in just $1,000.