House GOP leaders, fearful of the staggering amount of cash fueling Democratic candidates this cycle, are leaning on safe and retiring members to pony up to save the House.
At the outset of a private call with members last week, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) implored lawmakers to donate to the National Republican Congressional Committee or vulnerable colleagues. And NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) has been working the phones in one-on-one conversations to persuade members to give.
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The drive, according to four senior Republican lawmakers and aides, is focused on members with easy reelection campaigns or who are retiring from Congress next year — people sitting on piles of cash that could be used to save vulnerable incumbents. Leaders are targeting some powerful outgoing chairmen, typically the most prolific fundraisers, who haven’t met their annual required “dues” to the NRCC, according to multiple sources.
Those in the doghouse include:
- Retiring Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), whose campaign committee account exceeds $676,000, has transferred $15,000 to the NRCC this cycle from his leadership PAC, according to FEC filings. Last cycle, Shuster gave more than $210,000 from his reelection committee to the House campaign arm.
- Retiring Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who has $637,000 in his campaign account, has transferred $25,000 from that account and another $30,000 from his leadership PAC, much less than what’s expected of chairmen. Last cycle he transferred more than $300,000 from both accounts.
- Retiring Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has given the NRCC $237,000. But that pales in comparison to the $425,000 he gave last cycle; Frelinghuysen currently has $488,000 in his campaign account.
“Our colleagues need money,” said one source who participated in the call but declined to be named, not wanting to publicly antagonize Republican lawmakers. “We’re getting out-raised by Democrats and we have members sitting on money.”
GOP leaders are also eyeing the war chests of some rank-and-file lawmakers in safer seats, including Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan’s $1.5 million campaign account. Jordan, who is beloved by conservatives but stopped giving to the NRCC in recent years, said he’s raised at least $5 million for his leadership PAC, dubbed the House Freedom Fund.
FEC filings show $2.8 million of that has been funneled to candidate committees; another $1.3 million has been spent on direct mail or other efforts benefiting candidates. Jordan says he’s also given thousands to Freedom Caucus members in swing districts, including Reps. Dave Brat (Va.) and Rod Blum (Iowa), as well as to candidates likely to join the group’s ranks and other Republicans not affiliated with the group, like Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).
GOP leaders want high-profile lawmakers like Jordan to give to the NRCC so they can invest the money where the party needs it most. In a phone interview Saturday, however, Jordan, who is running for speaker or minority leader next year, said giving directly to candidates is his preferred method of doling out money.
“Almost every single dollar we raise goes directly to candidates to help them win their election,” the Ohio Republican said. “There is none of this humongous overhead like you see in some of the other funds… We do it that way because we know [the funds] are going to get there.”
The push for Republicans to open their war chests comes with just two weeks until Election Day and after 92 Democrat candidates outraised GOP incumbents in the past three months. Thirty-three Democratic challengers had more cash on hand then the sitting representatives.
The NRCC’s $163 million fundraising haul as of Septembers also lagged behind the DCCC’s $228 million.
Every election cycle, party leaders haggle lawmakers who scrimp on their NRCC dues. This time, though, with Democrats favored to win the House and boasting an enormous cash advantage, the problem for the GOP is acute.
“How big of an issue is it that you probably have hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, sitting in retiring member bank accounts instead of going to help the team?” said Brian Walsh, a former NRCC official. “Big.”
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that eight sitting GOP chairmen — who are often responsible for generating $250,000 or more each in NRCC dues — are retiring. As a point of reference, this year Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee has one of the most plum fundraising perches in the House, transferred $1.2 million to the NRCC.
The committee declined to provide POLITICO with a list of delinquent members or how much they owe in dues.
In a statement for this story, Shuster’s chief of staff, Eric Burgeson, said the Pennsylvania Republican has “helped raise nearly $1 million for candidates this cycle and regularly contributes to candidates at the federal, state and local levels and will continue to do so.” Burgeson said Shuster has raised money for the committee in other ways: FEC filings show he’s also given more than $150,000 to candidates from his leadership PAC.
Goodlatte and Frelinghuysen did not respond to requests for comment. But Frelinghuysen’s leadership PAC, Liberty & Prosperity, had donated more than $120,000 to several dozen members in vulnerable districts. Of that total, $50,000 went to the NRCC. Goodlatte has also given $108,000 to other candidates.
Other outgoing chairmen have been more generous. Retiring House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has given $415,000 this cycle; outgoing Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has given more than $130,000 and another $88,000 to members through his leadership PAC, though he’s sitting on $2.6 million; Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) has transferred more than $100,000 from his reelection account and $20,000 from his leadership PAC, as well as giving $300,000 directly to candidates from his leadership PAC, according to FEC filings.
GOP leaders have had mixed results with their dues collection push. In the past few days, Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Jodey Arrington of Texas, Mike Rogers and Gary Palmer of Alabama, Susan Brooks of Indiana, Ken Calvert of California and Adrian Smith of Nebraska have given between $100,000 and $200,000 each, according to a senior Republican source familiar with the transfers.
Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, another member with an easy reelection race, recently gave $550,000 to the NRCC and Protect the House, McCarthy’s joint committee with Vice President Mike Pence; Brady donated another $300,000; and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes forked over $250,000 to Protect the House, though he’s currently still sitting on more than $5 million in his war chest.
But other members are keeping a tight grip on their purse strings. Retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) has come up several times in leadership discussions. After announcing her retirement in January 2017, Jenkins used some of her campaign money — her account currently has $877,500 — to pay for cell phone bills and pricey dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and Acqua Al 2, an Italian restaurant on the Hill. She also spent $15,000 for a membership to the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, an association of ex-lawmakers.
Jenkins, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, gave more than $30,000 to incumbents from her leadership PAC but none to the NRCC.