Safe California lawmakers still beating the bushes for cash

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 2, 2012 


Sen. Dianne Feinstein in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC


— Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California enjoys the safest of safe seats. Still, the last-minute money keeps rolling in.

The same is true with Reps. Devin Nunes and Reps. Kevin McCarthy, both California Republicans. Realistically, the three lawmakers are all-but guaranteed victory next Tuesday. Politically, though, each has strong incentive to keep fundraising right through Election Day.

So that’s what they’re doing. In recent days, Federal Election Commission records show, many tens of thousands of dollars have come into the campaign coffers of California lawmakers who are coasting to reelection. On Oct. 23, for instance, the Planned Parenthood Political Action Committee poured $5,000 into Feinstein’s campaign treasury, which already enjoyed a 26-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Republican challenger Elizabeth Emken.

In turn, the secure incumbents can deploy these abundant last-minute contributions to help their colleagues, build their influence, repay loans and fortify themselves against future challenges. The beneficiaries of this surplus money that’s sloshing around include those in truly competitive campaigns, like the Northern San Joaquin Valley race pitting Democrat Jose Hernandez against Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.

“If the incumbent is safe, their respective party committees (and candidates) are probably pounding on them for money,” said Michael Fraioli, a Democratic political consultant, and Modesto native.

Running in the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District, spanning Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County, Hernandez and Denham have both drawn steady last-minute donations from lawmakers who can afford to be generous.

Between Oct. 26 and Oct. 29, 11 apparently secure House Republicans, including former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, gave Denham’s campaign a total of $19,500.

During the same period, nine apparently secure House Democrats gave Hernandez a total of $9,000.

Incumbents may give money directly from their own campaign treasuries, or from so-called “leadership PACs” whose names only sometimes give a clue as to their patron. The Bachman committee that gave $2,500 to the Denham campaign on Oct. 29, for instance, bears the name, Many Individual Conservatives Helping Elect Leaders Everywhere.

Far less obvious were the political action committees with names like Eureka, New Pioneers and the Southern California Fund, which in recent days have put money into the Valley race

Unlike Denham, whose race against the former astronaut Hernandez has drawn considerable national attention, Nunes, McCarthy and other California incumbents are attracting eleventh hour funds without having to break a campaign sweat.

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, whose newly redrawn district includes Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties, has collected more than $20,000 since Oct. 24, even with a 25-1 cash advantage over Democrat Jack Uppal. Nunes raised $24,500 between Oct. 26 and Oct. 29, though he already had a 40-1 edge in cash over Democrat Otto Lee.

McCarthy, the House majority whip whose new district stretches north into Tulare County, collected $8,750 during the same period, even as he enjoyed a 400-1 cash advantage over Terry Phillips, his sole challenger and a self-described independent.

“It’s part of the job,” Nunes Chief of Staff Johnny Amaral said of the last-minute fundraising. “We never stop campaigning. It’s kind of 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Echoing a bipartisan view of the motivation behind safe incumbent fundraising, Amaral explained that “we do everything in our power to help like-minded politicians get elected to Congress.” Earlier this month, McCarthy wrote a $200,000 check to the National Republican Congressional Committee from his surplus funds

Lawmakers sometimes don’t even have to lift a finger to collect these last-minute dollars. Instead, other political professionals and pragmatists intent on cultivating and sustaining Capitol Hill relationships will simply write a check without being asked.

“Safe incumbents probably aren’t sitting on the phone dialing for dollars right now,” Fraioli said. “Typically, you’ll be getting (PAC) people saying, ‘We have this much money left. Where are we going to spend it?’”

Email:; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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