Washington –U.S. Rep. John Larson has raised $1.5 million for his reelection, but he’s given much of that money to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates.
According to his filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Larson has donated $430,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose task is to get Democrats elected to the House, where the party is now in the minority.
Larson, D-1st District, has also donated nearly $180,000 to a number of House Democrats facing tough races and to Democratic challengers who have a good chance of wresting a seat from a Republican lawmaker.
Larson can be generous with this campaign fund because he does not have a tough race this year. And, as a member of the Democratic House leadership, he is expected to do everything he can to keep the party strong.
That’s one reason he has a leadership PAC, called the Synergy PAC. Since Jan. 1, 2011, Larson has given Democratic candidates nearly $80,000 from that PAC, including a $5,000 donation to Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, who is running for Senate.
Besides shoring up his party, Larson may be distributing political cash to keep himself in the Democratic House leadership. Holding the position of House Democratic Caucus Chairman, Larson is now the 4th-ranking Democrat in that chamber.
But he’s term-limited and will have to step down in the new Congress, which gavels in in January.
“I do want to continue to serve in leadership but that depends on the will of the caucus,” Larson said.
Snaring a top leadership role depends on winning a party caucus election that’s usually held in a lame-duck session of Congress after November’s general election.
David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said Larson has never hidden his ambitions.
“He very much wants to keep his options open and stay in the mix,” Wasserman said.
Larson said a leadership post helps a small state like Connecticut, which has a small congressional delegation, “tremendously.”
“It never hurts to be inside the room when decisions are being made,” he said.
When Larson ran for caucus chairman in 2008, and again in 2010, he had the strong support among his Democratic colleagues. He wants to keep that support, said Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report, so he helps fund the DCCC and Democratic campaigns.
“One of the best ways to endear yourself to your caucus is to help them get re-elected,” Gonzales said.
If Democrats win the majority, they will be entitled to an additional leadership post, giving Larson more opportunity to stay at the top.
But Democrats need to win 25 House seats to claim the majority, and that’s an unlikely political scenario. And if the GOP remains in control of the House next year, Democratic leaders will likely catch heat.
“If Democrats remain in the minority, the natural question is ‘will Democrats look for new leadership?’” Gonzales asked.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given no indication of voluntarily leaving her leadership role. The same goes for Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. James Clyburn, D-N.C., who as assistant minority leader is No. 3 in the Democratic House leadership.
But a post-election shakeup could help Larson because he’s not likely to be tied to the Democrats’ failure to win the majority and would open leadership posts for him to chase.
A National Journal biography of Larson says “he’s well positioned to move up.”
Larson, however, would have a lot of competition from young, ambitious members of his party. Those include Reps. Xavier Becerra of California; Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland; Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York.
If Larson loses a leadership fight, he’ll still have a seat on the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee. He said he’s “definitely moving up” on the panel and in line for a subcommittee chairmanship.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who is now vice chairman of the House Democratic Policy and Steering Committee (a leadership position that is appointed, not won in an election and is a few rungs lower than Larson’s), may also want to move up. Like Larson, DeLauro has been generous to the DCCC and Democratic candidates, donating nearly $270,000 from her campaign fund since Jan. 1, 2011.
But spokeswoman Sara Lonardo said DeLauro hasn’t thought about leadership ambitions.
“Congresswoman DeLauro is solely focused on serving her constituents in the 3rd Congressional District, dealing with the critical issues before Congress…and trying to ease the financial pressures facing middle-class families,” Lonardo said.