Political Party Time

Chiefs of Staff a Top Draw to House Democrats Fundraiser

The presence of five chiefs of staff to House Democratic leaders is a main attraction for an “after party” fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tomorrow night, according to an invitation obtained by Party Time.

Headlining the event are the chiefs of staff to Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., Jim Himes, D-Conn., Richard Neal, D-Mass., John Carney, D-Del., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y., all leaders of the DCCC.

The participation of top aides in fundraisers has raised questions about the boundary between members’ campaigns and official staff, in light of the House Committee on Ethics decision in January to clear Crowley and two other lawmakers of any ethical violation around financial reform legislation. Crowley’s chief of staff, Kate Winkler -- who is listed as a host tomorrow -- was featured repeatedly in the report, sometimes receiving emails from lobbyists responding to fundraiser invitations.

Neither Winkler nor three of the other chiefs of staff — Jason Cole, Elizabeth Hart and Jack Pratt — were immediately available for comment. Ann Jablon, the top aide to Neal, wrote in an email that she would not attend because she will be busy taking care of her four children.

One lobbyist, who did not want his name published, said he was not bothered that the chiefs of staff are the main draw to the event.

“You don’t see them often on flyers, but they are such a central presence in fundraising phone calls and emails that it does not surprise or even bother me much. In many cases the [chief of staff] is at least as important a connect as the member herself or himself," he wrote in an email.

He also wrote that the event, which asks donors for a mere $100 and features “The Peach Pit DJ Dance Party” at a Capitol Hill bar, is attempting to "inculcate [young Democrats] into the giving routine with the $100 price tag."

“With staff instead of Member names on the invitation, it sounds more like a party that a rich kid would throw at home when his parents are in the Bahamas,” he wrote.

The after party follows a high roller “Spring PAC Reception” at Union Station, where, for $15,000, PACs can send four representatives to the event. Headlining the invitation are Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and four of the top aides’ bosses, except for Israel. The after party RSVP form on the DCCC website asks donors to "please join the DCCC and House Democratic Staff for an after party event at Lounge 201."

A press spokesman for the DCCC did not respond to a phone message.

In the January Ethics Committee report, the lawmakers were cleared in part because “none of the Members’ legislative staff had any role in planning any aspect for such events, other than the schedulers or chiefs of staff coordinating administrative scheduling issues regarding the Members’ availability.” [See the full report marked with notes here.]

The event comes at a particularly busy time of year for congressional fundraising. Members have planned at least 156 events this week, and no less than 57 today, according to Party Time’s files, which do not grab all of Washington’s invitations.

“I sense a volume of voice mails and emails more typical of last September than I would expect to see in spring of an odd-numbered year,” the lobbyist wrote.

He cited two immediate reasons for the uptick. First, campaigns are pressuring donors to send in checks before the end of the month, which marks the end of the first quarter. In addition, Congress is on recess all of next week, which means this week includes some of the final days for inside-the-beltway events. He expects a high volume of events again on the final three days of the month.

He also cited the “uncertainty-driven nervousness” associated with states’ redrawing congressional districts this year. Many states will lose at least one House seat in the next Congress.

“Everybody wants to get as much in the bank before they potentially get themselves redrawn into a district that will give them political fits, or that may pit one incumbent against another,” he wrote.