Shutdown fear brings appeals for funds

Both sides try to boost political war chests

Democrats and Republicans swapped harsh words but held no high-level talks to avert a federal shutdown.
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Democrats and Republicans swapped harsh words but held no high-level talks to avert a federal shutdown.

WASHINGTON — The specter of a government shutdown — as soon as next week — threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of workers and the recovering economy. But one business is getting a huge boost: political fund-raising.

Lawmakers and political committees — from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to start-up Tea Party groups — have used this moment of potential crisis and chaos to ask for money.

The fight over whether to tie government funding to President Obama’s health care law riles the bases of both parties, particularly Republicans. Conservatives are telling donors they need contributions to pressure Republican lawmakers to demand a stake through the heart of the health law, however unlikely the prospect. Democrats say they need more cash for the next election to defeat their favorite enemy: Tea Party obstructionists.


“This is entirely about money,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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The drama of the past week has proven ripe for opportunity, with cable networks breaking in to record seminal votes, and a 21-hour speech by Republican firebrand Ted Cruz, a Texas senator who has led the charge to strip funding from Obama’s health law.

Each moment is documented with an e-mail or Internet ad intended to raise cash and broaden a lawmaker’s or political group’s fund-raising base.

“Give $3 or more right now to fight back against Republican legislative arsonists,” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi wrote after a vote in the Republican-led House on Friday that stripped money to pay for the health law as a condition of funding the government.

“Donate here, and help us succeed in the fight to stop Obamacare!” blared one conservative group, just ahead of Cruz’s marathon speech, which ended Wednesday.


Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, promised in another fund-raising missive to “stand with Ted,” even as rival conservative political committees warned that the Republican establishment was about to cave.

And how much would it take for Democrats to “make Cruz cringe?” The Democratic Senatorial Committee said that $200,000 it had raised by 2 p.m. Tuesday would do the trick. They asked for another $200,000 by Wednesday.

“If enough grass-roots supporters pitch in today, we’ll be able to increase the number of ads running against Ted Cruz and Republicans who would shut down government over Obamacare,” the committee wrote.

Obama sent a fund-raising e-mail under his own name Thursday afternoon, on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, because “this has gone too far.”

Lawmakers have until the start of business Tuesday to fund the government or face a shutdown.


The Republican-led House has already approved a bill that would fund it, but it eliminates money to pay for the health care law. The Democratic-led Senate is widely expected to approve a bill that leaves the health law intact, a position supported by Obama. Even if the government shutdown is resolved, the sides are expected to carry on the fight over the health law well into October as they face another deadline to raise the nation’s borrowing authority.

“The only rule in political fund-raising seems to be . . . just scare the hell out of your political supporters.”

Stuart Rothenberg, political analyst 

Event-driven fund-raising pitches have become so ubiquitous, they are barely noted in Washington.

It is taken for granted that every win or loss, from unrest in the Middle East to the failed farm bill, is fodder. The ability to solicit money through e-mail and online ads has intensified the practice, allowing campaigns or groups to more quickly and cheaply ask for money from a targeted audience.

“The only rule in political fund-raising seems to be there are no rules, just scare the hell out of your political supporters, turning them into contributors,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst.

It’s not just political committees. Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, sent her fund-raising e-mail on Tuesday, asking her supporters to donate to three colleagues — Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — to prevent the Senate from reaching what she called the “dangerous new extreme” that would come from Republican control of both bodies. Her fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Senator Edward J. Markey, followed up on Wednesday with an appeal for his own campaign, by noting that his opponent in this year’s special election, Gabriel Gomez, met with GOP leaders “just a week before they threaten to shut down the entire federal government.”

Cruz’s polarizing tactics have made him a popular fund-raising topic for friends and enemies.

His lengthy overnight speech this week amounted to an infomercial for his brand of anti-establishment politics, raising speculation that he might run for president. Several conservative groups used his speech in fund-raising appeals, with at least one linking to it on its website. Cruz’s own campaign site featured a page linked to the speech’s theme — “Make DC listen” — with a link to donate.

His representatives did not return messages seeking comment. He is not required to disclose his fund-raising tallies for this quarter until next month’s federal filing deadline.

But several independent groups tying their cause to Cruz have already demonstrated the power of the shutdown fight to raise money, according to monthly reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, a super PAC run by former aides to former Republican Senator Jim DeMint, has seen its fund-raising rise sharply since it began amping up the “defund Obamacare” campaign in recent months. In January, it raised just $132,000. By August, its collections ballooned to $1.5 million. Much of that money has gone toward attack advertisements against Republicans deemed too soft, or solicitations for more money.

“This is all a giant fund-raising scheme for them,” said Walsh, who has been critical of some of the insurgent Republican groups’ tactics. “It’s not about advancing conservative principles or winning elections. It’s about growing your own organization and raising money.”

The group did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment sent through its website.

Another conservative group using the showdown in pitches, the Madison Project, saw its fund-raising grow from $23,000 in January to $263,000 in August. The super PAC connected to Club for Growth raised $684,000 in August, more than double its total from any other month this year.

Its spokesman, Barney Keller, said much of that increase was related to the electoral calendar rather than the group’s strong advocacy for using the fiscal showdown to fight against the health law.

“Obviously, issues that motivate the Republican base, such as defunding Obamacare, always motivate them to give to politicians and organizations that support those issues,” Keller said.

He said the group has yet to send out fund-raising mail directly tied to the funding showdown, but expects to do so.

Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.