The Democratic National Committee claims it has banned contributions from special-interest groups and lobbyists under the leadership of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.), an ethical standard she demands that Republicans now follow.
“The refusal to accept donations from federal lobbyists and PACs [political action committees] is critical to limiting the influence of special interests in the political process,” Wasserman Schultz says.
But Democrats aren’t eager to follow the edict. And neither is Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz.
Under her leadership, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was recently forced to return thousands of dollars from a dozen lobbyists after the Center for Responsive Politics caught members with their fund-raising hands in the money jar. In Wasserman Schultz’s own congressional campaign, she raised $760,000 from political action committees, which represents 66% of total contribution to her this cycle.
Meanwhile, millions of dollars in contributions from mega bundlers, some with lobbyist ties, are pouring into the coffers of President Obama’s reelection war chest.
Some of those 244 bundlers, who collect a minimum $50,000 each, include Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and 40 others who received government appointments after Obama’s election, according to the Center for Public Integrity. “All that bundling muscle was instrumental in the ability of the Obama campaign and the DNC to collectively raise $86 million in the second quarter,” the Center for Public Integrity said in a July report.
Doug Heye, a political consultant and former communications director for the Republican National Committee, says Wasserman Schultz is creating artificial standards, and allowing her over-the-top rhetoric to box her in.
“It’s the classic definition of ‘Do what I say, not as I do,’ ” Heye said.
“This is what we’ve seen from the White House as well. They say they are not meeting with lobbyists, then they go to Caribou Coffee at 17th and Pennsylvania to meet with lobbyists so they can say there are no White House meetings with lobbyists,” Heye said.
Democrats hoping to regain control of the House next fall have raked in more than $15 million from PACs, according to an Associated Press (AP) analysis of campaign fund-raising published in August.
More than $1 million flowed to the reelection committees of Wasserman Schultz, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.), the AP said.
While Schultz is still struggling to find her niche as the ethical fund-raising leader of the Democratic Party, she’s proven to be quite successful when it comes to capturing the media spotlight with provocative rhetoric.
She’s been called extreme, shrill, embarrassing, and a chump.
“It’s easy to throw bombs and to be incendiary,” Schultz once said on “Face the Nation.”
She raised the ire of fellow Florida Rep. Allen West (R.-Fla.) during debate on the Cut, Cap and Balance bill when she accused him on the House floor of supporting Medicare cuts—an unpopular position for any member, but especially so for West as a representative of Floridians.
West fired back in an e-mail to Wasserman Schultz after the incident, calling her “vile,” “despicable” and “not a lady.”
When Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled his proposal to rescue Medicare, Schultz called it a “death trap for some seniors.”
Schultz even stopped proceedings on the House floor to demand a rules clarification because she found the term “ObamaCare” disparaging to the President.
She also took a swipe at the military when she opposed including members of the Armed Forces in hate crime legislation. With one of the largest gay, Jewish and African-American districts in her state, Wasserman Schultz said, “It really is belittling of the respect that we should have for these groups to suggest that members of the armed services have somehow systematically been the victims of hate crimes.”
Wasserman Schultz used Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D.-Ariz.), the victim of a recent shooting, and her own child as props in an immigration speech: “After my daughter heard that Gabby had been shot, the first thing she asked me was, ‘Mommy, are you going to get shot? Does that mean you’re going to get shot? … But Mommy, Florida’s going to pass an immigration law like Arizona, and then people are going to be mad you.’ ”
Wasserman Schultz tilts decidedly left, with a 100% rating from the Americans for Democratic Action and a zero from the American Conservative Union.
“She is left of her own party,” said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union.
“On a political level, she sometimes crosses the lines of civility, especially when it comes to attacking conservatives,” Cardenas said.
“Debbie is not a pragmatist, she is a hard-liner,” Cardenas continued. “She is unbending and does not believe in compromise.”
And then there are the gaffes.
The Republican National Committee was quick to point out that the congresswoman drives a Japanese Infiniti after she said, “If it were up to the candidates for President on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars.”
The South Florida Sun Sentinel questioned the congresswoman’s ethics last year after she jumped into a debate involving whether the banking industry should support fees for processing debit cards. Wasserman Schultz’s husband, Steve Schultz, is vice president of commercial lending at the Community Bank of Broward.
The congresswoman’s spokeswoman told the paper there was no conflict of interest, and that Wasserman Schultz would not avoid working on issues in the future that affect the banking industry.
When it comes to financing campaigns, Wasserman Schultz now considers herself the self-appointed watchdog of what Republicans should do.
“I call on you to take concrete steps towards reducing the influence of special interests over your activities, and increasing openness and transparency, as the DNC and the Obama campaign have done over the past several years,” Wasserman Schultz said in a letter to Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus in July.
She didn’t waste any time dipping into the largesse while finishing her last term on the House Appropriations Committee, and asked for more than $240 million in taxpayer dollars for the current fiscal year to fund special projects back home.
This included $60 million for the Florida Citrus Mutual cooperative association to enhance the industry’s ability to produce fruit, and $10 million for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative.
Interestingly, agribusiness is listed as a major contributor to Wasserman Schultz’s campaign this cycle, with more than $50,000 in donations—Flo-Sun Inc., which produces sugar products, was her third-largest PAC contributor, totaling $12,500, and American Crystal Sugar was the eighth-largest contributor, with $10,000 in donations.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she ranks second in the House of Representatives in contributions from the sugar industry.
Ironically, she also requested $800,000 for a Miami-Dade County youth at-risk program to prevent bullying.
[This story was originally published as the cover story in the September 19, 2011 issue of Human Events newspaper.]