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Latest Source of Soft Money: Congress Itself

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Filed: Country: Philippines


WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 — To move up the ladder in Congress, you must do more than win votes. You are, quite literally, expected to pay your dues.

If you are a rank-and-file member of the House, the amount is up to $100,000. If your ambitions are to preside over a powerful committee, the duty is $300,000. For a top party leader, the tally can climb beyond $600,000.

Make those checks payable to the Republican or Democratic Congressional campaign committees.

Whether or not they are in competitive races, lawmakers are asked to mount vigorous fund-raising drives to fill their own campaign chests. Then they dole to the party, which spreads the money to the most competitive campaigns in the country.

Four years after Congress tried to reduce the influence of money in politics by rewriting the rules of how campaigns are financed, Republicans and Democrats alike have found myriad replacements for the river of financial contributions known as soft money.

The practice of paying what the parties refer to as dues is not illegal, and it is not an entirely fresh notion by either party. This year, Democrats are hoping to glean about $33 million in dues from their House members, an amount that would be about one-third of their fund-raising goal. That makes the dues an important piece in the Democrats’ strategy to overtake the Republican majority.

As members of Congress scurried to finish their business in Washington before heading home for the final stretch of the midterm election campaigns, leaders of both political parties were placing an unusually tight squeeze on colleagues who have not settled their bills.

With five weeks remaining in the race, nearly half of the House Democrats are in arrears. Even a month-by-month installment plan — let alone the prospect that they could regain control of the chamber if they can out-hustle the Republicans — has not provided an incentive for Democrats to pay what they owe.

“Some people make a lot of money for the party, others make a lot of issues,” said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, who contributed for the first time this week, but still owes $115,000. “I work on the issues side. That’s where I excel.”


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