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Blue Cash: AZ Dems take money from colleagues

Facing the prospect of difficult elections ahead, three Arizona Democrats are stocking up on campaign cash – with help from their colleagues and leaders in Washington.

As Republicans promise to aggressively target Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords in the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats in Washington have made a special point of contributing to the three Democrats, both through personal campaign funds and political action committees.

Republicans, though, say the contributions can help them tie Democrats to unpopular leaders in Washington, as new polls show Congress reaching record-low approval ratings.

Kirkpatrick, a freshman who replaced ex-Rep. Rick Renzi when he retired after the 2008 election, has received $61,500 from fellow members of Congress, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Second-term Mitchell, the Tempe lawmaker, has pulled in $52,500. And Giffords, the Tucson Democrat also serving her second term, has raised $50,500 from fellow lawmakers.

The money has largely come from prominent House members, many of whom are national names. Because they are well-established and hold safe Democratic seats, they are able to raise significant amounts of money and disburse it among their colleagues, whose support they need to claim committee chairmanships and leadership posts.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, for example, has handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars to her junior and vulnerable colleagues. Pelosi has given $23,000 to the three Arizona
Democrats, handing out $10,000 from her campaign account and $13,000 from PAC to the Future, the political action committee she controls. Kirkpatrick has been the recipient of most of the speaker’s largess, receiving $13,000 in checks.

The money not only gives Democrats the opportunity to spend more in their bids for another term, but it will give Republicans an opportunity to tie the new members to Washington.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has attempted to use Pelosi as a foil in both of the last two elections, but with President Bush in office, those efforts fell short. Now, with Congress sporting
record-low approval ratings, according to the Pew Research Center, the GOP will try again.

“Contributions demonstrate a level of agreement on issues,” said Sean Noble, the Republican consultant working for businessman Jim Ward, a Republican, who is running against Mitchell. “Mitchell, et al, will claim independence with their voting record, but they all cast, as their first vote this year, an affirmative vote for Pelosi as speaker – and, by default, a vote for her far-left agenda.”

“While (Pelosi) will carefully watch and allow them to ‘vote with the district’ on occasion, the time will come that payment will be due,” Noble added. “All three are very vulnerable on the health care issue, and what happens this fall could very well determine whether they return to Congress next fall.”

But, argues Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Andrew Stone, the contributions reflect the fact that members around the country respect their Arizona colleagues.

“Just like their constituents all across Arizona, their colleagues recognize the independent leadership Reps. Giffords, Kirkpatrick and Mitchell are providing,” Stone said.

Spokespeople for the three members of Congress echoed the line, arguing that the contributions do not make them beholden to any party leaders.

“Rep. Kirkpatrick is pleased with the support of her colleagues, and she appreciates their understanding that her first obligation is to represent her constituents,” said Michael Frias, Kirkpatrick’s chief of staff. “Folks in the district know they can count on her to stand up for them.”

“Congress is debating major issues that can and will impact Americans for generations to come. Rather than focusing on divisive and partisan politics, (Rep.) Mitchell is focused on the debate over health insurance reform, jump-starting our economy and getting people back to work,” said Adam Bozzi, Mitchell’s spokesman. “If others were serious about moving our country and state forward, they would be doing the same.”

“Giffords is proud of all the support she receives, particularly from southern Arizonans and her colleagues in the House of Representatives. They, better than anyone else, know how hard she works and how seriously she takes her job,” said C.J. Karamargin, Giffords’ spokesman.

Pelosi is hardly the only Democrat to help her colleagues, though she is the most polarizing. Her lesser-known number two, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, has given Kirkpatrick, Mitchell and Giffords $10,000 each through his political action committee.

Other Democrats also have contributed thousands of dollars, including: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, from South Carolina; Democratic Caucus chairman John Larson, from Connecticut; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, from Maryland; and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, from California.

Other close allies of Pelosi who have contributed include Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra, from California; Joe Crowley, from New York; and Rosa DeLauro, from Connecticut.

The new members’ positions in Congress can largely determine who writes checks to their campaign fund. Mitchell and Giffords are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, and both have won $10,000 in checks from the coalition’s PAC. Rep. Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat who is the Blue Dog’s top negotiator on pending health care legislation, has written a check to both members through his PAC, as has prominent Blue Dog member Allen Boyd, a Democrat from Florida. Mitchell has also gotten contributions from Reps. Bart Gordon and John Tanner, both of whom are Blue Dog Democrats from Tennessee.

Giffords also is a member of the New Democratic Coalition, a group that has emphasized its ties to businesses. The New Democratic PAC has given her $2,000. Though Mitchell is a member, the group had not yet contributed to his campaign.

Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, accepted a $5,000 contribution from Secure PAC, the committee controlled by House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi. Kirkpatrick is a member of Thompson’s panel.

And simply because one leaves office does not mean they have to stop writing checks. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who until taking the post was a Democratic member of Congress from Illinois, wrote $2,000 checks to Kirkpatrick and Mitchell and gave $1,000 to Giffords.

Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who serves as President Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, gave $10,000 to both Giffords and Mitchell through the PAC she controls on Jan. 31, after she was sworn in as the nation’s top security official.

Though Republicans have begun recruiting candidates – former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert and businessman Ward, both Republicans, are in the race against Mitchell – the GOP has yet to contribute heavily to their campaigns. Federal Election Commission filings made through the end of June do not show any contributions to their campaigns from Republican members of Congress.

- Reid Wilson is a staff writer for The Hill in Washington D.C. and he is a regular contributor to the Arizona Capitol Times.

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