Daniel L. Feldman

Fund-raising for Congress

In National Politics on May 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Raising money, as always, tormented me. To this day I feel bad about old friends I hadn’t spoken with in years who responded generously when I called to beg for money, and with whom I quickly lost touch again thereafter. For example, Nathan Abramowitz played chess with me on our high school chess team, went to Fordham, served as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War, and became a partner at the Mudge, Rose law firm. Some of my fellow members of Columbia’s heavyweight freshman crew team are in that category too. Another is Ira McCown, a couple of years ahead of me in college and my squash partner at Harvard Law School. Holly Hendrix, a fellow member of Columbia’s Van Am service society who became president of Union Theological Seminary, similarly responded with his characteristic warmth and generosity. These very good people, and others like them, probably feel that like a typical politician, I only reached out to use them. I suppose I did, but without personal wealth or substantial vested interests committed to my success, I had no choice but to beg everyone I ever knew. Now, having reverted to being a normal person, i.e. not a politician, I cannot keep in touch with the hundreds of wonderful people who contributed.

Federal law limits contributions to congressional campaigns to one thousand dollars per person. Someone could contribute a thousand dollars each for a candidate’s primary and general election campaigns, but in my case, since I had lost the primary and had no general election, I had to return the money contributed for the latter campaign. Since I had to raise several hundred thousand dollars, and most contribute less than a thousand, this would require a lot of telephone calls even if everyone said yes, and most people say no.

Joe McLean, from the McLain Clark political group, somehow found me. His organization would take a percentage of the money they helped me raise. Joe seemed like an honest guy, and I think he is. He placed a young woman named Tammy Shake in my campaign. She did, essentially, what Louis Bochette did in the District Attorney race, but with computer-assisted lists. After exhausting my personal lists, Tammy made me call unending lists of donors identified as sympathetic to Democratic candidates. I don’t remember the real percentage, but distant memory tells me something like one out of a hundred would actually contribute. That seems wrong, because out of a hundred calls, which might take an hour, I would only reach ten or fifteen people – most of whom, again, would decline. Yet, under Tammy’s direction I raised perhaps three hundred thousand dollars. Combined with the contributions from my personal lists, about $75,000 from my “bundlers” (see below) and about the same from unions, I raised a total of about $600,000 – the same as Katz and Weiner. Dear raised as much as the three of us put together.

I had compiled a strong pro-labor record in Albany, and a number of unions each contributed at the five thousand dollar maximum they were permitted by federal law. I assume they were counting on me to continue to support the labor movement, and indeed I would have. However, I lost an important range of support from labor because at the urging of certain respectable clergy members, I had publicly asked the FBI to investigate allegations of correction officer misbehavior at a prison in western New York. Council 82, the union then representing New York State correction officers, which had strongly supported me in the past, regarded this as a betrayal. They told the leadership of AFSCME District Council 37, the powerful umbrella group for New York public employee union locals, that if DC 37 supported me, Council 82 would leave DC 37. This made it impossible AFSCME’s national to support me, which in turn prevented me from presenting myself as the “labor” candidate. (Ironically, a year later, in 1999, Council 82 lost the right to represent New York State’s correction officers.)

Other than from labor, I did not raise much money from Washington-based “PACs” – political action committees, created for the purpose of collecting donations from people or entities with common political interests and then contributing to candidates.  I had been the New York State Legislature’s leading proponent of gun control, earning an F-minus from the National Rifle Association for my efforts. Anthony Weiner had actually opposed the major gun control effort to come before the New York City Council, and Katz and Dear played no significant role on the issue. But the gun control PACs refused to support me.  I suspected, and later confirmed, that Schumer had actively discouraged individuals and organizations from supporting me. Since he played a leading role in gun control efforts in Congress (although the NRA gave him a slightly higher grade – a plain F – than the F-minus it gave me) the gun control PACs, I suppose, must have been especially responsive to his influence. Still, this experience helped me share the general skepticism of politicians toward “holier-than-thou” civic groups.

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