As Washington and Wall Street scramble to avoid default, a credit downgrade and economic chaos, lawmakers and interest groups — everyone from fiscal conservatives like Rand Paul to House Democrats like Martin Heinrich and party committees — have tried to capitalize on the debt crisis to fill their campaign coffers and help their like-minded allies.
The fundraising pitches also point to the larger problem infecting Washington — the tone of the messages are sharply partisan, and campaign donors often don’t want their lawmakers to compromise, a dynamic that plays into the stalemate facing Congress as it tries to avoid an economy-shaking default next week.
“No phony deals,” wrote Paul, a tea party favorite.
“Deals are being cut or discussed nearly every day in Washington. Deals that will bring us more debt and economic destruction. Deals that abdicate congressional authority over spending and debt,” the Kentucky Republican wrote in a missive on behalf of the Campaign for Liberty.
Sen. Jim DeMint sent an email to supporters through the Senate Conservatives Fund earlier this month attacking a fallback plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At the bottom of the message, DeMint asked for support to help his group elect more conservatives to the Senate.
The South Carolina Republican told POLITICO he’s “never seen a larger coalition of outside groups involved like this.”
“It goes beyond what they call tea parties,” DeMint said. “They’ve got mainstream think tanks, conservative groups all over the country, that will look at this proposal that are very concerned. They realize that this is a high-stakes showdown.”
DeMint said he’s not “trying to raise money off the debt limit,” but is seeking to tell his supporters exactly who is holding up the enactment of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
There are some signs that the past two months have been good for business of the four congressional campaign committees — each of them raised more money in June than they did the month before, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The Senate Democrats’ campaign committee raised $4.8 million in June, compared with $4.1 million in May; Senate Republicans pulled in $3.7 million last month, $600,000 more than in May. The House Democratic campaign committee pulled in about $6.2 million in June, crushing May’s $3.8 million take — while House Republicans raked in $6.7 million last month, more than $2 million higher than May. Even DeMint’s political action committee raised $150,000 more in June than it did a month before.
Senate and House Democrats are also trying to capitalize on the pitched battle, whether it’s a candidate in New Mexico, Heinrich or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which sent out fundraising solicitations the past two days, including one that was released Wednesday calling for $70,000 by the end of the week for an “emergency media campaign.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent out four of its own solicitations in recent weeks.
“The takeaway is this: Boehner and the GOP will walk away from any plan that doesn’t cripple President [Barack] Obama,” Jason Rosenbaum, director of the DSCC’s online communications wrote in a Tuesday solicitation.
GOP candidates, like Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Adam Hasner in Florida, Sarah Steelman in Missouri and John Sanchez in New Mexico, all have cited their positions in the debt debate — or their opponents’ stances — to curry campaign donations from supporters.
Shortly after Senate Democrats killed the conservative plan to raise the debt ceiling, known as Cut, Cap and Balance, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s political director sent out a fundraising solicitation saying that Republicans needed only four seats to recapture the Senate in 2012 to get their way.
“Won’t you help?” The pitch stated. “Won’t you say YES right now to ensure that critical victory for our party, our country, our future in 2012?
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said there’s nothing unusual about the fundraising efforts.
“This is a fight about not only the future of the country but which political party represents the interests of the American people,” he said.
Still, most politicians are holding off on using the debt ceiling fight as a reason to ask for big donations at inside-the-Beltway fundraisers. Instead, Republicans and Democrats are using it as a way to draw a crowd. Senate Republicans are hosting nearly 20 fundraisers this week, according to an NRSC fundraising list. House Democrats also have a plethora of events, hosting 44 fundraisers this weeks.
“It’s a top-line issue of discussion at lunches and dinners,” one GOP corporate lobbyist said. “People want to know where certain members are and what’s going to happen.”
Special interest groups have also gotten in on the fundraising action amid the debt fight.
Conservative legend Morton Blackwell, who leads the weekly must-attend Wednesday meeting of conservatives, said “raising a ruckus in the media and fundraising on it are both essential.”
Blackwell, founder of the Leadership Institute, is affiliated with Coalitions for America which registered the Cut, Cap Balance Pledge Coalition. The coalition is soliciting supporters to contribute up to $10,000 on its online fundraising form.
FreedomWorks, the tea party organization based in Washington, is fighting the debt ceiling plan by House Speaker John Boehner, saying it’s too weak and doesn’t go far enough in cutting spending — and says it needs more cash to kill the plan.
“Because this fight is SO critical — as soon as you’ve called your congressman, I must ask for your financial support,” Matt Kibbe president and CEO of the group, wrote to his supporters this week. “If we receive an outpouring of donations … FreedomWorks will be able to sound the alarms and expand our mobilization efforts to ensure Congress doesn’t cave into the Boehner Plan.”