Democrats Offer Up Chairmen For Donors

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 24, 2007

Eager to shore up their fragile House and Senate majorities, congressional Democrats have enlisted their committee chairmen in an early blitz to bring millions of dollars into the party's coffers, culminating in a late-March event featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 10 of the powerful panel chairs.

In the next 10 days alone, Democratic fundraisers will feature the chairmen of the House's financial services panel and the House and Senate tax-writing committees. Senate Democrats also plan a fundraising reception during a major gathering of Native Americans in the capital Tuesday evening, an event hosted by lobbyists and the political action committee for tribal casinos, including those Jack Abramoff was paid to represent.

Critics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November -- particularly the practice of giving interest groups access to committee chairmen in exchange for sizable donations -- but Democrats are unapologetic.

"Financial services companies are inclined to give to me because I'm chairman of the committee important to their interests," said Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, who will headline a breakfast Wednesday at a D.C. hotel, for which donations range from $1,000 to $15,000 for the Democratic National Committee. "I'm fundraising to give to others so I can help stay in the majority and do the public policy things I want."

Asked whether banking interests feel obligated to give to Democrats when he asks them for contributions, Frank answered: "Obligated? No. Incentivized? Yes." Frank said, however, that those donating "understand, and others do, too, that there are no guarantees of my doing what they want, or even my being pleasant."

"I'm getting a lot of fundraising invitations," said Robert E. Juliano, a Democratic lobbyist. "It's no different than any other year."

The invitation to Frank's DNC event, which notes in bold letters that the Massachusetts Democrat is chairman of the financial services panel, was sent to financial-industry lobbyists and financial companies, among others.

Earlier this month, Frank traveled to Charlotte, home to two of America's largest bank companies, for a similar fundraising breakfast, for a fellow Financial Services Committee member, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.). Donors got to hear firsthand about Frank's plans for upcoming banking legislation. He assured attendees that more federal regulation of banking is on the way and that it will help banks to prosper.

Financial interests will have several opportunities in the coming weeks to make contributions and attend events that will put them close to lawmakers important to their industries.

The leaders of the two tax-writing committees -- House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) -- are planning a rare and expensive joint fundraising reception in New York on March 4. The event, which costs between $1,500 and $9,200 a person, is to be held at the Upper East Side home of public relations executive Howard J. Rubenstein.

The Democrats' push will culminate late next month when Pelosi and 10 of her chairmen huddle with donors at the Northern Virginia home of shopping-center developer Albert J. Dwoskin for an event to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The asking price for the March 21 dinner is $28,500 per couple, making it one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's highest-dollar fundraisers since new campaign finance limits were enacted in 2002.

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