Nothing Raises Cash Like A Crisis

Some lawmakers canceled fundraising events with the government shutdown this week. But for outside groups, controversy is always a good reason to ask small donors for cash.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The government shutdown upset more than the federal budget. It also disrupted members of Congress in their campaign fundraising. Across Capitol Hill, routine fundraising events are being cancelled. But political parties and advocacy groups are following an old axiom: There is no time like a crisis to raise cash. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: There had been a half-dozen or so fundraisers scheduled most weeknights this week and next. Todd Meredith, a conservative fundraising consultant, says there are some lawmakers who are going ahead with theirs. But...

TODD MEREDITH: All of them that I know of and that I work with, they've ceased all activity.

OVERBY: It's to avoid making voters angry.

MEREDITH: They're members of Congress, and they want to see them working on reopening the government, and not seeing them out doing things that would be perceived as, you know, selfish or self-centered.

OVERBY: At the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government and politics, editorial director Bill Allison says it's a strange situation for lawmakers.

BILL ALLISON: Most of their fundraising is done very discreetly. Members don't talk about their fundraisers.

OVERBY: But now would be an embarrassing time to be seen raising money. And from Allison's perspective, this is useful information.

ALLISON: It shows that these guys are, you know, uncomfortable asking for money when they're not doing their own jobs. And maybe there's more ways to make them uncomfortable, and more responsive to the public.

OVERBY: So, Allison says the lawmakers are in a bind. But the party committees?

ALLISON: What the parties are doing is beating the bushes for as much money as they can.

OVERBY: That's because a party committee has no constituents to get mad at it. Quite the opposite. A party committee wants to generate anger at the opposition. Just yesterday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted out an email titled "Enough of this Crap." It asked for $3 contributions to, quote, "call out shameful House Republicans." And the embarrassment-free zone stretches further to outside groups on both sides. Heritage Action for America, a conservative social welfare organization, spearheaded the drive to defund the new health care law. All through September, it rallied its email subscribers for political combat. Dan Holler is Heritage Action's spokesman.

DAN HOLLER: As with any issue that's sort of high-profile, people are really engaged. You know, political involvement is going to ramp up on sort of every front.

OVERBY: So, for example, on September 3rd, Heritage Action set a fundraising goal of $200,000 in two days. It wrote: We, like the founding fathers, are standing on principle. Will you stand with us? Holler says Heritage Action asks supporters to do all sorts of grassroots activities.

HOLLER: It doesn't matter, you know, whether they're engaged by calling their member of Congress or doing one of a hundred other things.

OVERBY: And one of those grassroots activities is giving money. Maybe not much, but as often as possible, when political tempers are rising. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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