Dodd Well-Positioned for White House Bid
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; 7:41 AM
-- WASHINGTON _ The White House isn't the only prestigious address on Sen. Christopher Dodd's mind as he nears a decision on whether he'll plunge into a crowded field of Democratic presidential contenders.
Wall Street also looms large. The Connecticut senator will become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee in Congress, giving him oversight of the nation's banking, financial services and insurance industries. The post will create new fundraising opportunities _ a potential boost for a longshot prospect like Dodd who must prove he can raise the tens of million of dollars needed to stay competitive in the 2008 campaign.
"Any time you are chairman of a committee that oversees, arguably, the wealthiest sector of society, that's a significant opportunity to raise some real dough," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist from several presidential campaigns. "But it's potentially a double-edged sword."
The senator has accepted millions of dollars in contributions from Wall Street interests during his 25 years in the Senate, but his new chairmanship, plus his White House ambitions, have upped the ante.
"It's a tightrope walk when you're the chairman of a committee that regulates the industry that gives the most money to politics, in general," said Massie Ritsch, communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "It has to be tempting to take a lot of money from this industry, because they want to give it so much."
A surge of Wall Street money could initially boost Dodd's prospects. But it could also undercut his efforts to cast himself as a champion of average working Americans.
"One of the first places people look is where your campaign cash comes from, and if it came from an industry that you regulate, you're going to have to answer questions about potential conflicts of interest and being too cozy with Big Business," said Ritsch.
A campaign spokeswoman for Dodd, whose state is home to big insurance companies, said he would be the same independent voice on the banking panel he's always been. The senator will follow the letter of the law on fundraising, and conduct himself as "a thoughtful and independent chairman who listens to all sides of an issue and enacts public policy that is in the best interest of the American people," spokeswoman Beneva Schulte said.
Dodd, 62, is prepping for a White House bid that even he acknowledges is a longshot.
Amid the Democratic pack of potential candidates dominated by heavyweights like New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, raising enough money to compete will be one of Dodd's most pressing challenges.
Dodd refused to divulge his current fundraising totals. But at the end of September, he had about $1.8 million in his Senate campaign account. His political action committee's cash balance was $167,526 in November.
Dodd's numbers are eclipsed by potential rivals Clinton and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, who each have about $14 million in campaign funds.