Chuck’s dough no chump change; With low risk, NY Sen. Schumer can keep his job, win friends

By Michael Hill, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

NY Sen. Schumer: Enough cash to win seat, friends

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Sen. Charles Schumer has a mountain of campaign cash for a re-election race expected to present little more than a speed bump, allowing him share some of his wealth with imperiled Democrats.

The prolifically ambitious senator’s $23.2 million on hand at last filing made him more flush than some of his Democratic colleagues facing much tougher re-election challenges, able to spend $2,100 for every dollar spent by his Republican opponent.

What does a politician awash in so much money do?

Schumer has dipped into the account for recent campaign TV ads. He also sent a portion of his millions to help fellow Democratic senators and, to a lesser extent, New York House members who could be in tight races during what is expected to be a punishing election for President Barack Obama’s party.

The money could help Schumer, too.

Schumer’s recent campaign spending — and how much money he’s hanging on to — will be a little more clear when the next federal filings are released in two weeks. But it looks so far like Schumer has been able to take advantage of his role as a master fundraiser without an apparent threat to enjoy the best of two worlds: He can help allies while maintaining a big financial cushion for re-election.

“Senator Schumer takes nothing for granted and will work to earn every vote,” said Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon. “He’s running a full-fledged campaign, just like he did in 2004.”

Schumer is largely credited as the architect of Democratic wins in 2006 and 2008 when he was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He has kept a characteristically brisk fundraising pace this cycle, in which he faced no primary challenge and is heavily favored in the general election against Jay Townsend, a political consultant and first-time candidate who trails Schumer by double digits in the polls. Schumer’s $23.2 million on hand reported in his latest campaign filing last month compares to Townsend’s $11,000.

How much Schumer will open the spigots on his campaign account in the next five weeks is still unclear, though he has begun airing four TV ads in the pricey New York City market and elsewhere in the state touting what he’s done for New Yorkers in his two Senate terms. Schumer’s campaign would not divulge the cost, though a political ad buyer said the initial buy for the first ad was more than $500,000 for the first week.

He’s also spreading at least some of his dollars around.

Campaign filings through the end of August show Schumer transferred $1 million to the DSCC that month. Committee spokesman Eric Schultz confirmed that Schumer transferred another $1 million after the latest filing deadline, a transaction first reported by the website Politico. Schumer’s transfers are the largest from any senator’s campaign account to the committee this year, according to the latest federal filings.

Schumer also gave $25,000 to New York Democrats in July, money that presumably could be used to mobilize voters in that state.

“When you have a whole lot of money and can afford to give some of it away, that type of political charity will win you friends, help you build influence with your colleagues,” said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks money in politics.

This is on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to fellow Democrats through Schumer’s separate leadership political action committee, Impact. Campaign filings show he made maximum donations of $10,000 to Senate candidates nationwide, including Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut and Delaware’s Chris Coons.

The PAC also transferred money in the past two years to seven Democratic House incumbents from New York whose seats have been considered in play this year:

—Michael Arcuri, $10,000

—Timothy Bishop, $10,000

—Dan Maffei, $5,000

—Eric Massa, $5,000 (before he resigned in March amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers)

—Michael McMahon, $10,000

—Scott Murphy, $20,000

—Bill Owens, $15,000 (contribution limits are higher for Murphy and Owens because of their special elections).

“Just like he’s done in the past, Senator Schumer is doing everything he can to help the Democratic Party and our candidates across the state,” said Jay Jacobs, chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Schumer’s largesse comes amid speculation that he could be jockeying to become the next Senate majority leader if the man who currently holds the job, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, loses in November. Reid is in a tight race against Republican Sharron Angle. Schumer is a close ally of Reid and has steadfastly declined to address such speculation.

Fallon said Schumer is supporting his colleagues just as he always has, like in 2004.

Six years ago, Schumer was heavily favored to win his second term over little-known Howard Mills. Schumer had almost $22 million in his campaign account by late August and transferred more than $2 million over the next two months to the DSCC. (Schumer went on to beat Mills with 71 percent of the vote.)

Back then, there was speculation that Schumer was eyeing a potential run for governor, especially after he created a state political action committee with more than $11.5 million. The outlook for Senate Democrats was grim in 2004 — they ended up losing four seats — and political observers thought Albany’s executive mansion could spare Schumer from serving in a diminished Senate minority.

Instead, Schumer stayed in the Senate, took charge of the DSCC and burnished his reputation as a fundraiser.

(This version CORRECTS that Schumer set up state PAC, not a campaign committee, in 2004.)

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