Washington — When he walks the halls of Congress, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes is likely welcomed by many fellow Democrats and avoided by others.
That’s because of his new job as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s finance team.
Named to that post in February, Himes’ job requires him to raise millions from Democratic donors to help House Democrats keep their seats –- and hopefully someday regain the majority.
He must also be the DCCC’s enforcer, making sure all House Democrats pay their annual dues.
“Notice that there are not a lot of members surrounding me,” Himes joked during a recent interview in the crowded Speakers Gallery off the House floor.
Yet Himes said he uses a carrot, not a stick, when asking for money.
“I come from the school of making a case instead of beating up people,” he said.
About $4.3 million of what the DCCC raised so far this year came directly from dues, which are steeper for senior members and those in the Democratic leadership.
Often paid in installments, Federal Elections Commission records show Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, has paid the most in dues of any member of the Connecticut delegation, $82,500. Himes has paid $48,000 and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, the delegation’s most junior member, has paid only $1,000.
But most of the millions of dollars collected by the DCCC during every two-year campaign cycle comes from donors and political action committees representing special interests.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the head of the DCCC, said one reason Himes was chosen for the key role of DCCC banker was because his moderate stance appeals to business leaders.
“Jim speaks with credibility on economic issue to his colleagues and to our supporters,” Israel said. “Whether it’s his interaction with business leaders or his outreach to our grassroots, Jim’s leadership has helped us break all fundraising records.”
This year, the DCCC has raised more than its GOP counterpart and more than it has in the first quarter of any other recent year.
It raised nearly $23 million and ended the three-month period with $8.9 million in the bank and $4.5 million in debt.
At the same point in the last campaign cycle –- the end of the first quarter of 2011-– the DCCC had $4.7 million in the bank and an $80 million debt.
“We have the wind at our backs,” Himes said.
Helping the cause
He believes what he calls the extreme views of “the Tea Party Republican Party” drives political donations to Democrats.
He also said the Democrats are going to work hard at raising money to take back the House.
“After two years in the minority, we’re getting hungry not to be in the minority,” Himes said.
As this campaign cycle heats up, Himes will have to travel across the country to raise money for the DCCC so it can help Democratic candidates.
For now, he’s mainly staying put and making a lot of calls requesting donations, Himes said.
He said he’s also “trying to attract interest” in DCCC fundraisers in Chicago and New York this month that will feature President Obama.
Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said it’s a little surprising the DCCC would put Himes, a 46-year-old, third-term congressman in charge of something that’s so important to the future of the Democratic Party.
“We can only speculate,” McLean said. “He does have a background in finance and business.”
Himes serves on the House Financial Services Committee, and as such has the attention of the deep-pocketed financial world. He’s also well-known on Wall Street because he is a former employee of Goldman Sachs.
It may also help that the district he represents, Connecticut’s 4th, is one of the wealthiest communities in the country.
But Himes said he does not want to go to that well too many times.
“I have to be a little bit cautious [about raising money] from the people I know because I don’t think my seat is safe,” Himes said.
Even as he collects money for the DCCC, he’d like wealthy 4th District donors to continue to give to his re-election campaign. Himes raised more than $150,000 in the first quarter of this year and had about $523,000 in cash-on-hand as of March 31.
The McMahon effect
He raised that money with the help of fundraising letters that said Linda McMahon, last year’s failed Republican Senate candidate, has eyes on his seat. McMahon has not indicated she’s interested in representing the 4th District, but has visited with GOP leaders in Washington.
Himes is not new to DCCC fundraising. In 2012, he served as chairman of the committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable Democrats.
But his DCCC duties will increase along with his responsibilities this year.
Himes said he can juggle them and his job as a congressman. “It’s just a question of being efficient.”
Doing well at the DCCC will help Himes climb the House Democratic Party ladder, McLean said.
“When you are in the minority, this is how you can move up,” he said. “When you don’t have the chairmanship of a committee, this is how you can get noticed.”