04/29/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2014

Top Democratic Governor Tells Big-Time Donors To Ante Up


WASHINGTON -- The man responsible for electing Democrats to governorships around the country urged his party's wealthy donors on Tuesday morning to start opening their wallets.

"We need more Democrats who are willing to put their resources where their mouths have been in order to ensure that we elect Democratic governors," Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who heads the Democratic Governors Association, said at a breakfast hosted by the centrist Democratic group Third Way.

Top Democrats aren't coy about the fact that they'd like more high-profile donors to help prop up their efforts. Those working to help elect senators in particular have openly stoked fears about a GOP majority to energize voters and moneymen.

But it's rare for elected officials to make cash appeals that are this direct. And at a time when party leaders in Washington have launched an extensive campaign to vilify top Republican donors, particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) criticism of the Koch brothers, the note may seem discordant.

Shumlin didn't seem to particularly care. He is a close friend of one of the party's newest big donors, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer (the two went to summer camp together when they were children). And he suggested Steyer was likely to remain involved in gubernatorial races after having propped up the big Democratic winner in the 2013 cycle, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.

"We obviously welcome Tom's participation," said Shumlin. "The Republicans have so many people who have the ability to give to elect Republicans and they do it. And the Democrats don't. So, you know, we would like to not only encourage Tom to invest in the future of America's democracy, but we would like to have a few more friends join him."

Shumlin, who was in town to discuss Vermont's efforts to combat a heroin epidemic, was bullish on his party's prospects this November, including in non-conventional states like South Carolina and Georgia.

But for all the sense of electoral opportunity that the gubernatorial races hold -- much more opportunity, perhaps, than the Senate or House races -- the party's donor class doesn’t seem convinced. In 2013, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $76 million, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $53 million and the DGA raised $28 million, according to figures compiled by the Rothenberg Political Report. The RGA raised nearly twice as much money as the DGA in the latest round of fundraising.

A Democratic campaign operative recently bemoaned the lack of giving by big money liberals to the gubernatorial committee, specifically mentioning the group known as the Democracy Alliance, which is meeting this week in Chicago.

"They pay a lot of lip service to this stuff," the operative said. "But they'd rather give to the 'Gay Latino Voter Registration Committee' because it warms their souls."

Despite pleading for more attention from donors, Shumlin argued that money won't be the sole determining factor in the 2014 races.

"We will never keep up with outside expenditures," he said, "but we have got a strong organization."

He somewhat skirted talk of how President Barack Obama's health care law would play in November, though he argued that governors who tackled the issue as part of a larger jobs-focused agenda would benefit politically. His strongest comments were saved for the issue of climate change and its role in exacerbating national disasters in states like his own.

"I do not have time to argue with the folks who pretend that these storms are not induced by climate change," he said. "My job as governor is to build resiliency for the future, understanding that the CO2 that we have already put into the environment and atmosphere are creating the kind of weather changes that are going to get worse in the next decade or two because we haven't learned our lessons. And if we don't move very quickly, we are going to have a perilous situation."

UPDATE: In an email to HuffPost, RGA spokesman Jon Thompson took issue with Shumlin's optimism about the 2014 climate:

While Democrat governors continue to raise taxes, increase spending, and waste hardworking taxpayers' money on failed ObamaCare exchanges in their states, Republican governors are cutting taxes, lowering spending, balancing budgets, reforming education and driving the American Comeback. As Chairman of the DGA, Peter Shumlin fully admitted Democrats have no chance of victory in states like Nevada and New Mexico, two states President Obama won twice, while abandoning Wendy Davis in Texas. As election day draws closer, look for Shumlin and the DGA to throw more of their candidates overboard as they realize their limited resources are unable to rescue their unelectable candidates.

Jon Ward contributed reporting.



United States Governors