Midterm Races Spur Feverish Drive for Donations

June 30, 2010

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have been toiling away at a feverish pace here this week, working their way through breakfasts, lunches and dinners across Capitol Hill. The urgent task is not simply passing legislation, but raising money.

Election Day may be four months away, but a critical benchmark for the midterm election year took place Wednesday at midnight, the deadline for second-quarter fund-raising. Candidates in both parties will be judged — fairly or not — by their ability to raise money to fend off a challenger or topple an incumbent.

The fund-raising tallies have taken on greater meaning this year, with Republicans confident they are within reach of winning control of the House and Senate. Several Democrats fearful of losing their seats — and some Republicans who are taking advantage of the favorable winds — have already raised more money this year than during the entire last election cycle.

“Please make an emergency contribution of at least $39 — one dollar for every Democrat-held seat we need to win to elect a new Republican majority,” Representative John A. Boehner, the House Republican leader, told supporters in a note titled “Final Notice.”

Breakfast is not typically on the menu at Charlie Palmer Steak, a short walk from the Capitol, but exceptions are made. And on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who is among the endangered Democrats, held consecutive events for lobbyists and other supporters.

A block away at Johnny’s Half Shell, where Creole-style grillades, grits and beignets are served for breakfast, the private rooms were bustling Wednesday as three Democrats and one Republican held last-minute events before the midnight deadline. The final figures will be made public July 15.

“It’s important for score-keeping purposes,” Representative Jason Altmire, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said as he stepped out of the restaurant into the morning sunshine. “This deadline is the one where people make decisions on who is a strong candidate and who’s not.”

The burst of fund-raisers takes place as lawmakers are considering the fate of energy legislation and a sweeping financial regulatory bill. The supporters and opponents of both measures, along with a slew of other matters, made contributions and used the fund-raisers for one-on-one time with members of Congress.

From kaffeeklatsches to cocktail parties, dozens of fund-raisers filled the calendars of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Many political candidates from across the country also made visits this week to Washington, often squeezing in back-to-back-to-back events attended by different sets of lobbyists and political action committees representing various industries.

Geoffrey C. Peterson, a lobbyist on taxes and health care issues, said this week’s events reached “a frenzied pace.” Reached by cellphone Tuesday as he was going to a fund-raiser for a Democratic senator, he said, “In the last two days, I’ve gotten 50 to 60 invitations.”

Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate nominee from California, held four events in a span of 18 hours. Her schedule began with a dinner Monday at Charlie Palmer Steak. The next morning, she had a breakfast at the Monocle Restaurant, followed by coffee at a downtown public affairs firm and lunch at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Donors paid $500 to $5,000 to mingle with Ms. Fiorina, who is challenging Senator Barbara Boxer.

Representative Ken Calvert, Republican of California, held a breakfast reception on Wednesday morning. Ten hours later, he was host of a “Last Day of Quarter Dinner.”

An examination of fund-raising reports by The New York Times shows that Mr. Calvert is among the 11 Republicans who raised more money by April than during the entire election cycle in 2008. He raised $1.2 million, financial reports show, compared with $900,000 two years ago.

The analysis also found that 14 Democrats had already surpassed their 2008 fund-raising figures after the first three months of this year. The list includes vulnerable longtime members like Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who reported raising $1.5 million by April, compared with $1.1 million in the entire previous election cycle.

Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, who apologized for yelling “You lie” to President Obama on the House floor, raised more than four times as much money by April, $4 million, compared with $900,000 in the cycle two years ago. Mr. Wilson’s outburst made him a something of a celebrity in some conservative circles.

Representative Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, raised $3.1 million by April, more than six times what he had raised two years ago. His criticism of the Republican Party’s alleged view on health care, “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly,” caught fire and was celebrated by many liberal donors.

Most rank-and-file members of Congress have to work considerably harder to raise money, particularly given the economic downturn and scaled-down budgets from lobbyists and Political Action Committees. Yet the expectations have not been reduced, which was apparent in the tone of many of the solicitations.

In an invitation to a fund-raising event Tuesday for Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, his finance director wrote: “If you cannot join us on the 29th, but are considering making a contribution to the campaign in the near future, sending your check now, postmarked on or before the 30th, would be much appreciated.”

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, also noted the importance of the deadline. Mr. Schumer, who is running for re-election, urged donors to “get your contribution in before midnight on 6/30.” He added that a strong showing could discourage “a well-funded challenge from a corporate-backed candidate.”

The sales pitches, whether they were delivered in speeches by candidates or through a written solicitation, contained a breathless and dire sense of urgency. The language underscored the pressure that party leaders on both sides place on candidates to meet their fund-raising goals. A paltry financial showing could mean that party leaders will write off a district and spend money elsewhere.

“Every little bit helps,” Representative Tim Holden, Democrat of Pennsylvania, wrote supporters this week, asking for contributions as low as $10. “No amount is too small.”

As the midnight deadline approached Wednesday, with dinners and cocktail parties wrapping up, some lawmakers wasted little time with their efforts for the third quarter. Those figures will not be disclosed until Oct. 15, which could be too late to set expectations, in time to provide a late influx of cash for campaigns.

Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California, scheduled a breakfast at Johnny’s Half Shell on Thursday, the opening day of the next period. And Representative Wally Herger, Republican of California, is host of a night at the Washington Nationals ballpark, where a ticket (and a seat in a suite with the congressman) goes for $1,500.

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