Money for nothing

Nancy Pelosi is raising millions of dollars, but keeping very little for her own reelection campaign
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gwschulz@sfbg.com

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to be feeling pretty confident in her reelection prospects this November, despite an independent challenge by high-profile peace mom Cindy Sheehan.

But that hasn't stopped the San Francisco Democrat from raising big bucks from scores of interest groups who are contributing to her campaign committee and to the political action committee she controls, known as PAC to the Future.

Most of the money she's raising is going toward assuring her continued power in Washington by giving it to the campaigns of other Democratic members of Congress, particularly those facing tough election battles that could threaten the party's House majority.

Pelosi's reelection committee has raised $2.36 million over the past two years, hundreds of thousands more than the average House member, according to federal campaign disclosure records and data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Her PAC raised an additional $585,000 during the current election cycle and spent $769,000, much of which has also gone to other candidate committees in payments of $5,000 and $10,000.

Many newly elected Democrats in the House represent conservative constituencies, and with her blessing they sometimes vote with Republicans to distance themselves from the party's perceived liberal leaders like Pelosi, according to a new book published this month, Money in the House: Campaign Funds and Congressional Party Politics (Perseus, 2008). Democratic leaders in the meantime have continued a phenomenal fundraising spree to help protect those House members.

"Speaker Pelosi's extraordinary financial commitment to her party, and especially to her party's vulnerable members, illustrates the overriding emphasis congressional parties and members place on money," writes author Marian Currinder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Government Affairs Institute. "And her encouragement of selective 'opposition votes' demonstrates the complexity of governing in a highly partisan and highly competitive political environment."

Even the day-to-day reelection expenses of Washington's unrivaled leading lady are outsize, as Pelosi's spending records show. In June 2007, she celebrated her 20th year in Congress with a glitzy fundraiser held in the capital's Union Station that cost at least $92,000 and featured a performance by soul singer Patti LaBelle.

The bill included $25,393 for a slick video production; $61,105 on catering, rentals, and securing the site; $2,000 for hairstyling and wardrobe assistance insisted on by LaBelle; $2,824 on flower arrangements; and $1,396 for chocolates from a Pennsylvania-based confection maker.

Pelosi spent at least $650 from her campaign on makeup for the steady string of appearances she made after being sworn in as House speaker in January 2007. An annual fundraiser held this year at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco cost $23,454 for catering and other expenses.

As for the top contributors to Pelosi's reelection committee, they include several members of the Gallo family, proprietors of the E&J Gallo Winery, who gave a total of $23,000 through maximum individual donations of $4,600. The Modesto-based company has long made contributions to both parties, particularly enriching candidates who show a willingness to scale back or even throw out the federal estate tax, which affects the inheritances of the wealthiest American families.

The Corrections Corporation of America gave $2,300 to Pelosi and $2,700 to her PAC. CCA is part of a storied group of for-profit privatization companies in Nashville, Tenn.

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