Before new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle dines at the White House tonight with President Bush, the South Dakotan plans to swing by another significant event on Pennsylvania Avenue--a fund-raiser for a committee he uses to channel money to Democratic congressional candidates.
The reception for the Dedicated Americans for the Senate and the House Political Action Committee (DASHPAC, get it?) at the 701 Club here is expected to draw a healthy crowd of lobbyists as Washington's influence industry--always pursuing those who control the policy agenda--adjusts to the new alignment of the Senate.
Although Democratic fund-raisers insist that they were doing well even before Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont quit the Republican Party to become an independent, few doubt that controlling committee chairmanships and the Senate floor will boost the party's fund drive for the 2002 elections.
As Daschle himself surmised wryly: "Instinctively, you'd think that there's probably more interest in working with Democrats on K Street and around town after this." (K Street, a downtown thoroughfare, is shorthand for the Washington lobbying district.)
Daschle advisor Anita Dunn said the DASHPAC reception, expected to raise about $800,000, was planned well before Jeffords' defection. She said donors were already primed to give to Daschle when the Senate was split 50-50 between the parties.
Now, though, even Republicans acknowledge that Senate Democrats are poised to reap the rewards of their bare majority.
"Of course they're going to get more money," said GOP lobbyist Tom Korologos. He drew a comparison to how Washington insiders scrambled to react in 1994, when Republicans grabbed control of the House and Senate.
This year's surprise tilt to the Democrats in the Senate, several lobbyists predicted, is likely to produce a less pronounced but still noticeable financial effect.
Some interest groups, Korologos said, will look for "any excuse for a fund-raiser to 'honor the new chairman' " of a given committee.
That would be especially good news for Democrats such as Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Max Baucus of Montana. Both are vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2002. Both now chair influential Senate panels--Harkin, as head of the Agriculture Committee, will be in charge of producing a major farm bill; Baucus, leading the Finance Committee, will oversee taxes, trade, Medicare and Social Security.
Anthony Corrado, a political finance expert at Colby College in Maine, said pragmatism will lead some corporate political committees and trade groups that might otherwise lean toward the GOP to hedge their bets with donations to Democrats if they have business pending before a particular committee.
Consider the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocers and usually sides with Republicans. In March, for instance, it circulated 16-pound frozen turkeys on Capitol Hill to protest an ergonomics regulation drafted by the Clinton administration that grocers claimed was an attempt to limit the weight of a typical bag of groceries to 15 pounds. Republican-led majorities in the House and Senate voted to repeal the regulation.
Nearly nine out of every 10 dollars in political donations from the institute go to Republicans, said John Motley, its senior vice president of government affairs. In 1997 and 1998, the institute gave $10,000 to help reelect Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), then-chairman of the Agriculture Committee. It also gave $3,000 to former Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), then-chairman of the Finance Committee, for his failed 2000 reelection bid.
Will the institute now give similar amounts to Harkin and Baucus? Motley said the decision on whether to support, oppose or remain neutral in a political contest is difficult. "At the heart of the giving," he said, "is philosophy and support. Every member has a record. We consider records first. Of course, we always try to build new relationships."
Motley said the institute has generally not supported Harkin's recent positions, though it did give him $1,000 in 1997. Harkin voted, for instance, against the ergonomics repeal. Such votes could make it difficult for Harkin to raise more money from the group. But Baucus is another matter. He voted for the repeal and has supported repealing the estate tax, another institute priority.
Baucus, Motley said, is "the kind of guy this organization would take a long, hard look at and may very well support, much to the chagrin of Republicans."
While it will take some time to gauge the new fund-raising power of the Democratic chairmen, the Senate shift has already jolted the two major partisan fund-raising machines. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic campaign committee are hard at work seeking contributions.
The response to their fund-raising pleas, Republican and Democratic aides said, has been enthusiastic.
Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this story.
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Making Room for Jeffords
Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont moved as an independent to the Democratic side of the Senate chamber. Here's a look at the new Senate seating: