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DNC’s new chairwoman takes last dip in money pool

PAC, lobbyist funds now placed off limits

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Wasserman Schultz

As the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz refuses to take money for her campaign from lobbyists or political action committees - the same rules Barack Obama insisted upon for the DNC as a presidential candidate in 2008.

But two days before Mrs. Wasserman Schultz took over the DNC this week, the Florida Democrat had one last fling. Monday night, she attended a Capitol Hill fundraising party arranged in her honor soliciting political action committee donations. The attendees included Tony Podesta, a powerful Washington lobbyist whose firm represents the oil giant BP America, Bank of America, General Motors and dozens of other clients seeking to influence Congress.

It won’t be clear until the contributions are reported to the Federal Election Commission just how much money the PACs and lobbyists gave Mrs. Wasserman Schultz’s campaign, but they weren’t turned away at the door.

An invitation to the Wasserman Schultz fundraiser obtained by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation includes a breakdown for prospective contributors that lists $10,000 donations for a “PAC Host,” $5,000 for a “PAC Sponsor,” $1,000 for a “PAC Friend” and $500 for an individual.

The fundraising notice also states, “PAC contributions must be received by May 3, 2011.” That’s because the next day was when Mrs. Wasserman Schultz became chairwoman of the DNC.

Asked how the Monday night fundraiser squared with the spirit of the DNC rules barring lobbyist and PAC contributions, Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for the congresswoman, emailed a short statement to The Washington Times on Wednesday evening.

“As of 3 p.m. [Wednesday], the Congresswoman’s campaign stopped accepting donations from both PACs and lobbyists,” Mr. Beeton wrote.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Podesta’s firm, the Podesta Group, confirmed that Mr. Podesta and another lobbyist for the firm, Paul A. Brathwaite, attended the fundraiser.

“Both Tony and Paul are long-standing strong supporters of Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, and they both were indeed at the event Monday,” Podesta Group spokeswoman Missi Tessier said.

In addition to BP America, Bank of America and General Motors, the Podesta Group also represents Lockheed Martin, Wal-Mart, the American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council. The firm also is registered as a foreign agent to represent foreign governments in their dealings with Congress and federal agencies.

Mary Boyle, vice president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Mrs. Wasserman Schultz, like other lawmakers, has to raise lots of campaign cash to stay in office. She said Mrs. Wasserman Schultz appears to have taken “one last dive” with her fundraiser on Monday by soliciting PAC money.

“I think this speaks to the tremendous pressure that every single member of Congress is under every single moment of the day to raise as much money as they possibly can, even if you’re trying to get out from under it,” she said.

“Politicians by their nature are competitive people who understandably want to hold on to their seats and jobs and will do whatever they need to do within the legal boundaries to do that, and right now our legal boundaries are pretty wide open.”

The fundraiser was hosted at a home owned by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which did not respond to an inquiry Thursday about the fundraiser.

Mrs. Wasserman Schultz relied on PAC contributions during the 2010 election cycle for more than half of her campaign cash, receiving nearly $1.2 million overall in PAC donations. By contrast, her campaign took in just more than $740,000 from individual campaign donors during the same election cycle.

The Sunlight Foundation, which reported on Mrs. Wasserman Schultz’s refusal to take PAC money this week, also noted that during the first quarter of this year, only about one-fourth of the money Mrs. Wasserman Schultz raised came from PACs.

She took over the DNC when former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine stepped down to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb, a fellow Democrat. Mrs. Wasserman Schultz has said she plans to lead the DNC while retaining her seat in Congress.

In remarks after assuming the DNC job, she urged members of her party to “trumpet President Obama’s agenda from the rooftops.” She said the DNC would “invest in the strongest campaign and the best organizing ever to give President Obama a second term.”

She also predicted that the 2012 campaign would be “the toughest campaign in the history of America” and that “Republicans are going to throw everything they have at us.”

About the Author

Jim McElhatton

Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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