WASHINGTON – Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, has one of the most active leadership PACs among House Democrats, a sure sign to political observers that he is looking to move up in party ranks.
Hoyer, who is now in the top 10 Democratic leaders in the House, acknowledged he will likely make a bid for the No. 2 position should Democrats win control of the House in 2000.
“I think I’m going to run for whip,” Hoyer said.
But Hoyer said the immediate goal of his leadership political action committee, AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America, is to help get more Democrats elected to Congress. It is all part of his current job as chairman of the Democratic Steering Committee, he said.
Leadership PACs are typically used by powerful politicians to raise money for other candidates who need a helping hand. But it is also a good way for the leadership PAC’s organizer to build support among the rank and file.
James Gimpel, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park, said providing funds to candidates in close elections can make those candidates feel obligated to return the favor.
“That may well be handy in a Democratic caucus or a leadership convention,” he said. “Having a leadership PAC which attracts funds does extend your influence.”
Hoyer agreed that his leadership PAC could be useful, should he attempt to move up. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you help a candidate, they will help you,” he said.
While Hoyer has raised more than $5.4 million since 1990 for his own campaigns, his leadership PAC has raised almost $300,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
AmeriPAC was the third-most active among House Democrats in the 1998 elections, distributing $111,000 to 53 candidates, including $9,000 to Rep. Lois Capp of California and $6,000 Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado.
House freshmen are especially indebted for help from a leadership PAC, said Douglas Hodgkin, a political science professor at Bates College in Maine. “If they’ve helped a new member, of course that new member is going to be very grateful,” Hodgkin said.
AmeriPAC has raised just over $51,000 for the 2000 elections so far and has handed out $13,000, third highest again, behind House Speaker Richard Gephardt of Missouri and House Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan.
Hoyer said he has already targeted a number of Democratic incumbents and challengers for 2000, including two in Maryland: former Capitol Hill staffer Terry Lierman, who will challenge Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, and Delegate K. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, who plans to challenge Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
Hoyer is the only Maryland congressman, Democrat or Republican, with a leadership PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He could not say how much impact the PAC, which is limited to giving $10,000 to any one campaign in an election cycle, has had on the final outcome of House races. “It would be difficult to say that your contribution was critical,” he said.
But he said any run for whip would be irrelevant if his party does not win a majority next fall.
“The fact is that unless we’re successful in winning a majority, it won’t matter,” he said. “So I think it’s in all our best interests.”