WASHINGTON – With no campaign debts and the 2000 election over a year away, Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., has amassed a war chest of $2.6 million for his next campaign, the largest bankroll in the House.
And if history repeats itself, he won’t need it.
“It’s not that he’s a good fund-raiser, he just gets more than he spends,” said Charlie Abbott, a legislative analyst on Dreier’s staff in Washington.
Except during his very early years in Congress, Dreier’s campaign receipts have never been noteworthy. Since 1991, he has raised an average of $708,051 each election period, but ended up spending only about half of it and banking the rest.
“It’s a large sum of money that carries over year after year,” said Jack Pitney, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, Dreier’s alma mater.
“It puts him in an enviable position in that he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time fund raising.”
Pitney said Dreier’s war chest brings him several advantages in California’s 28th District: It deters opponents, can be used for emergencies and can be saved for a run at a higher office. “It increases his flexibility,” he said.
Chris Meyers, California Democratic Party research director, said having so much money on hand gives Dreier a sharp edge over potential opponents who would have to outspend him to be a considered a threat.
“That’s why he put that $2 million there in the first place,” Meyers said. “That kind of money scares off serious challengers. If he was threatened, he could dump it into his campaign.”
Even though he generally wins re-election with a comforttable 60 percent of the vote,Dreier may need deep pockets after the next election. Current voter registration in the district slightly favors the GOP, but Democratic registration is growing and the district could become Democratic after redistricting from the 2000 census.
“He will most likely have no trouble in 2000,” Pitney said. “But right now, it’s a very smart thing for [Democratic challenger Janice Nelson] to put in an investment. In a few years she could be in a good position to win.”
Nelson, who won 39 percent of the vote from Dreier in 1998, has declared her candidacy for a rematch in 2000. She raised $18,196 in the first six months of this year and has $16,112 on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Dreier, by contrast, has collected $112,410 so far this year and has $2.6 million in the bank. Almost a third of his the funds he has raised this year came from interest on his bankroll.
Nelson said Dreier’s cash does not deter her.
“It didn’t in 1998 and it doesn’t now,” said Nelson, a pathologist with University of Southern California and Los Angeles County Medical Center. “I’m determined, there’s an opportunity and I’m not going to be without resources.”
But she said that money is the main reason Dreier has been able to hold onto his seat so far. “Its not that he’s doing a great job, it’s the money thing,” she said.
Abbott said Dreier raises money, and gets re-elected, because he’s doing the job. “What scares people away is that he’s a good member of Coongress who is popular,” said Abbott.
As a former member of the House Banking Committee, much of Dreier’s funding came from bank’s political action committees. He also has received sizable donations from Republican PACs such as GOPAC, a conservative Republican training center founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In this year’s fund raising, $68,780 of Dreier’s money came from PACs and $8,270 came from individuals.
“I’m running against PAC-man,” said Nelson. She receives her funds largely from private individuals and unlike Dreier, she uses her own money for her campaigns.
Abbott said that Dreier’s donor list is only a reflection that his views are popular among Republican circles.
Dreier has since been appointed chairman of the House Rules Committee, which must review every piece of legislation presented to the House. Pitney said there is no question that such a position could benefit Dreier monetarily. But if Democrats take over the House in 2000, Dreier would be forced from the chairmanship.