WASHINGTON -- The 17 House Democrats who voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt last week have received more than $1.3 million in financial aid from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee since the start of 2009, a review of campaign finance records shows. That total constitutes roughly one out of every nine dollars that the committee either spent or earmarked for candidates during that time period.
The aid isn't atypical for the campaign committee, whose priority is numerical majorities rather than ideological purity.
“The DCCC is a member participation organization that supports Democrats for Congress with the goal of electing a Democratic majority," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesperson for the DCCC.
But with anger mounting among the Democrats over the GOP's treatment of Holder, the money breakdown threatens to re-ignite a long-simmering debate over what type of lawmakers are best suited to fill the party's ranks. The 17 Democrats who voted to hold Holder in contempt for the invoking of executive privilege in the Operation Fast and Furious investigation did so under pressure from the National Rifle Association. Their votes demonstrate the gun lobby's continued power within the halls of Congress, while raising the question of why the DCCC lacks that same institutional clout.
In addition, seven of those 17 Democrats have said they either are skipping the party's convention this summer or remain unsure of their intentions. One member has declined to endorse President Barack Obama's reelection campaign.
"[DCCC Chairman Steve Israel] is spending gargantuan amounts of money and energy on hopeless Blue Dogs ... [rather] than working on winnable campaigns for independent-minded, progressive Democrats," said Howie Klein, the co-founder of Blue America PAC, an organization devoted to promoting progressive candidates. "Those 17 Democrats didn't just suddenly join [Rep. Darrell] Issa's witch hunt and stray from the Democratic fold. All 17 -- no exceptions -- are among the Democrats who vote with [Speaker John] Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor most frequently for the far right's anti-family agenda."
The vast majority of the support the DCCC offered these members (approximately 95 percent) came in the form of earmarked donations -- money that came from other groups and donors but was solicited by the campaign committee.
"What the DCCC is doing for those candidates is what Act Blue does for other Democrats," explained a prominent campaign finance lawyer who advises congressional candidates. "They are sending out an email saying, 'Here are our top 10 target races. Will you give money to those races?'"
Because the DCCC is thereby prioritizing those races, the lawyer continued, it is fair to categorize an earmarked donation as a form of support from the committee. It's "a conscious decision" to help that candidate.
The extent of that support is disproportionate to the help the DCCC is offering House members and candidates at large. During the same period that the committee funneled $1.3 million to those 17 anti-Holder lawmakers, it sent just over $9.1 million to all House Democratic candidates.
That breakdown may seem counterproductive -- why reward the party's least orthodox members? -- but for party strategists, it reflects a political reality. Those 17 members hail from some of the most closely contested districts in the country, meaning that they, more than their colleagues, need the support.
"The only way you're going to have Congress not bringing up Eric Holder contempt resolutions, [and] instead bringing up middle-class jobs bills, is to have the majority in Democratic control," said a Democratic Hill aide.
Not all of the 17 members received the same level of support:
- Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), who lost his primary bid for reelection, received $17,000-plus in contributions and earmarked donations.
- Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), who is not attending the convention, received $13,000-plus.
- Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), who is not seeking reelection in 2012, received just $1,000.
- Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) received $90,200-plus.
- Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) received $60,000-plus.
- Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), who defeated Altmire in the primary and has said he will not be attending the convention, received more than $300,000, much of it coming during his special election campaign to replace former Rep. John Murtha in 2010.
- Rep. Joseph Donnelly (D-Ind.), who is running for the Senate in Indiana, received $57,000-plus.
- Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) received $54,000-plus, much of which came during her special election campaign to replace Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned.
- Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) received $26,200-plus. He is not attending the convention.
- Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) received more than $110,000. He voted against health care reform, has continued to advocate its repeal and recently said he was unsure about going to the convention.
- Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who is not attending the convention, received $44,000.
- Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), who has declined to endorse Obama's reelection, received just shy of $60,000.
- Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), who won a special election in 2009 and will not be attending the Democratic convention, received more than $375,000.
- Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who is also not attending the convention, received more than $10,000.
- Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) received $6,000.
- Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) received more than $65,000.
- The only member for whom there were no records of DCCC financial aid since 2009 is Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
Aaron Bycoffe contributed to this report.