The Democrats’ House campaign arm is raking in money from corporate political groups and registered lobbyists, even as the party’s left flank increasingly tries to distance itself from those traditional sources of financial muscle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised about $1.93 million from 143 corporate political action committees in the first quarter of 2019, according to a Daily Beast review of campaign finance records. That’s up substantially from the past two election cycles. In the first quarter of 2017, for example, 103 such PACs donated $1.32 million to the DCCC. Two years earlier, 101 of them gave $1.15 million to the committee.
Lobbyist fundraisers are also ponying up for the DCCC. In the first three months of the year, eight registered federal lobbyists “bundled” more than $1.2 million in contributions for the committee. That’s nearly double the total during the same period last cycle, and nearly 40 times the DCCC’s lobbyist bundling haul during the entire first half of 2015.
The huge influx of corporate and lobbying donations cash underscores a truism about Washington D.C.: money follows power. Democrats hadn’t held the House majority since 2010. And now that they have control of that chamber, donors are showering them with support.
But plugged-in Democrats attribute the money boom to another factor: the increasing wariness among prominent progressives of political contributions by corporations and their K Street representatives. With a number of Democrats, both in Congress and among the party’s large field of presidential candidates, swearing off such contributions, donors have sought other outlets for their sizable political donation budgets. Party committees such as the DCCC are one logical alternative.
“That money is going to go somewhere,” said a former Democratic staffer familiar with the process. “It’s not evaporating, the committees are a natural place.”
A DCCC spokesperson noted that, while corporate and lobbyist fundraising was certainly up in the first quarter of the year, so too were small-dollar grassroots contributions, and that the former made up only about ten percent of its total income in that quarter.
“In 2018 we elected the most diverse caucus in American history, and the DCCC is already breaking fundraising records across the board, including small-dollar contributions, as we work to fortify this newly won House Majority, while we expand the battlefield further into districts that haven’t had the opportunity to elect a Democrat in decades,” wrote the spokesman, Cole Leiter, in an emailed statement.
Many corporate PACs have parity rules, meaning that a certain portion of money must be allocated on a bipartisan basis. The relatively new anti-corporate PAC ethos among some in the Democratic Party has left some Democratic lobbyists frustrated that they are limited as to where their donations can go.
Still, even the most stridently anti-big-money groups said they weren’t opposed to the campaign committees taking corporate PAC donations.
"Corporate PACs give money to members of Congress to try to buy access and influence policy to benefit the corporation's bottom line,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, who formerly worked for the DCCC but is now the communications director for End Citizens United, a political action committee which has pushed campaign finance reform. “Democratic party committees exist to protect and expand Democratic majorities. Corporate PACs don’t decide on which races party committees spend, and the party committees make their decisions based on their determination of which races are the best to win elections."
One senior Democratic lobbyist said Democratic members who choose not to take corporate PAC money “are just hurting themselves” since the cash would find its way into the political process anyways.
“I talk to a lot of members all the time; they are afraid of the left,” the lobbyist said, adding that the policy of forgoing such donations makes even less sense, “when you look at how the money is being spent, the $2,500 check that I write, versus the million some billionaire can put into a [super PAC].”