House Democrats are woefully behind on dues owed to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to an internal party document provided to The Intercept. The rank-and-file’s lagging participation in the party’s money chase is being made up for, however, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prolific buckraking. By the end of June, she had raised the DCCC more than $43,000,000.
Otherwise, only 11 party members had paid their dues in full, according to the document, a July draft of the “Member Dues Report” for the 2019-2020 election cycle. The delinquency doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t pay at some point during the cycle (though some certainly won’t), but the DCCC, naturally, would prefer to have the money as early as possible, for budgeting and planning purposes. Members, meanwhile, prefer to hold on to their campaign cash as a signal of strength, to deter potential opponents considering a bid.
Party members are doing no better in the DCCC’s points system, a complex, lesser-known ranking that rewards a variety of activities Democrats can do to hold the majority.
The “DCCC Points Program,” as it is dubbed in an internal document, rewards members for their involvement in recruitment efforts and kicks them points if they raise money for the party’s House campaign arm, vulnerable incumbents, and candidates vying to flip swing districts. Pelosi is sitting atop the leaderboard with 279 points, while most members have none or just a few.
Power is accumulated in the House by raising and dispersing money to colleagues, a dynamic pioneered by Pelosi’s quasi-mentor, the late Rep. Phil Burton, who once held Pelosi’s seat; it’s now a bipartisan practice. This has been formalized with the DCCC’s decades-old practice of asking members to pay “dues” to the party committee in charge of reelection efforts and reallocating that money to contested races. Democrats in leadership positions, or who chair so-called money committees, are required to pay higher dues than back benchers. Members are also given a target amount of money they are expected to raise directly for the DCCC, which is separate from their dues payment.
Members of Congress who pay their dues and hit their targets are rewarded with better committee assignments in the future, and more favorable treatment of legislation they author, than members who shirk their dues. Members who don’t pay, for instance, are less likely to have their bills or amendments get a floor or committee vote.
The points system the DCCC has worked out adds layers of nuance to the money chase. According to the internal document describing the points program, raising more than $15,000, or hosting an event that raises that amount for vulnerable incumbents, known as front-line members or Red-to-Blue candidates — Democrats running in swing seats — is worth five points. Traveling to a district to campaign for a candidate, having a staff member volunteer to campaign in a district, and hosting a get-out-the-vote phone bank are each worth three points. For two points, members can do press or fundraising work on behalf of a candidate, including phone or television interviews with local papers, town hall meetings, radio ads, robo calls, or finance meetings. The members are able to log their fundraising activities using an online form.
The point system was created during the 2010 cycle, at the urging of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who argued that a strict focus on money raised, without accounting for other activity that benefits the party electorally, was unfair to members who represented poorer districts. The point system, though, is still overshadowed by the dues sheet. “It’s not really something anyone pays attention to,” said one House Democrat of the points program. “It’s not nearly as important as how much you’ve directly given to them.”
Members of Congress can also earn points by meeting with a candidate-recruit on behalf of the DCCC’s political department, solicit colleagues on behalf of the DCCC, and hold individual “money meetings” to benefit the DCCC. Contributing the maximum legal amount per election to a colleague’s candidate committee or leadership PAC, or serving as a special guest at an event that benefits the candidate’s committee or leadership PAC, are each worth one point.
There are no points to be earned by registering new voters.
One source of contention early in this congressional term came around the question of using email or social media to raise money for colleagues. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., learned of the dues structure, she asked if raising money online could qualify. She was told that it would not, and so she let the committee know she would not be paying dues. At the end of the first quarter, she raised roughly $30,000 each for three front-line members online.
Last night @AOC helped raise 3 candidates in tough districts more than 30k each in a few hours. Corporate PACs can give candidates 5K - & it comes with strings. Grassroots $$ lets us stay accountable to the people. That’s the power of this movement — let’s keep building, together— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) April 1, 2019
According to the DCCC points system document, it appears that act should have qualified her for 30 DCCC points — redeemable, theoretically, for future favors from party leadership. The point system, though, is based on self-reported information, and Ocasio-Cortez appears not to have reported it to the committee.
The DCCC dues document confirms she has not paid dues and also marks her as having earned zero points total. (Oddly, it says she raised $1,000 for the party committee. It’s not clear what that’s a reference to; Ocasio-Cortez guessed that it might be a reference to the $1,000 cost for a DCCC issues conference.)
The dues for the 2020 cycle, according to the DCCC dues document, range from $150,000 at the low level to $1,000,000 for the speaker of the House.
The document lays out the price of particular committee assignments. Leadership posts for the second-, third-, and fourth-ranking Democrats — currently Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, and Ben Ray Luján — range from $900,000 down to $700,000. The next tier of leadership, which includes Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos, and others, costs just $575,000. Lower-ranking members of leadership owe between $400,000 and $500,000.
That’s less than the chairs of exclusive committees have to chip in. Those four — Richard Neal, chair of Ways and Means; Frank Pallone, chair of Energy and Commerce; Nita Lowey, chair of Appropriations; and Maxine Waters, chair of Financial Services — owe $600,000 each for their gavels. Neal has paid half of his dues, while Lowey and Pallone have paid just under $200,000. Waters hasn’t made any dues payments yet. The document also lists a goal for money-raised, which it puts at $1.2 million for each of the four. The dues report claims Waters has raised just $40,500, compared to $3.3 million for Neal, $1.4 million for Pallone, and $160,400 from Lowey. (Neal, Pallone, and Lowey are facing primary challenges.)
On those so-called money committees, like Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, even freshman members are asked to pay higher dues. That’s because those committees have jurisdiction over effectively every major industry, giving members a leg-up in demanding checks from corporations who need — or oppose — legislation before the panel. It is also valuable for industries to have committee members write letters to agencies they oversee.
Chairs of committees not lucky enough to oversee commercially prosperous industries owe just $300,000 in dues and have a listed goal of raising $300,000, compared to the money committees’ $1.2 million. Indeed, even vice chairs of money committees owe more than chairs of regular committees. Yvette Clarke, vice chair of Energy and Commerce, and Terri Sewell, vice chair of Ways and Means, owe $400,000 each. Subcommittee chairs on money panels owe as much as chairs of plebeian committees: $300,000.
An individual seat on a money committee, meanwhile, will run a member of Congress $250,000. Sad sack rank-and-filers not privileged enough to sit on a money committee owe just $150,000.
Very few Democrats have paid their dues in full, including Luján, who was DCCC chair in 2016 and 2018 but is now leaving the House to run for Senate. He has paid $0 to his former committee.
Reps. David Trone, of Maryland, and Jim Himes, of Connecticut, two of the wealthier Democrats in the chamber, have paid their dues in full, as have Bustos and Reps. Chellie Pingree, Dutch Ruppersberger, Joe Kennedy, Adam Schiff, Brad Schneider, Tom Suozzi, Bill Foster, Mike Thompson, and Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who is facing a primary challenge from the left, mounted by Jessica Cisneros.
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, is chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the panel that Pelosi created in lieu of the Green New Deal committee demanded by Ocasio-Cortez. She owes just $300,000 for that gavel. It’s a good deal, because without the chairmanship, she’d still owe $250,000 for her single seat on Energy and Commerce. Democratic leaders must not see much money to be made in the climate crisis.
Correction: September 3, 2019
This story initially reported that the DCCC did not respond to a request for comment. In fact, a spokesperson for the committee had responded. The story has been updated.