In fact, of the funds raised this year by the 130 incumbents running for re-election to the House, one dollar out of every eight has gone to DeLeo.
That’s because of the perception that, for all practical purposes, the legislative chambers are their leaders. “The way the power structure is right now, everything really rises to the Speaker and Senate president,” says one lobbyist.
Says another: “The importance of the Speaker and Senate president dwarfs everyone else.”
The only other House member or candidate who has raised more than $75,000 this year was Ways and Means chair Charles Murphy, with a haul of nearly $200,000 thanks to his own powerful, and thus lucrative, position.
Even chairs of seemingly important committees, like Harriett Stanley of Health Care Financing, or William Straus of Environment — both of whom, unlike DeLeo, face challengers this November — have struggled to raise a fraction of that amount. Aside from DeLeo and Murphy, only four other House incumbents, and three candidates, have even topped the $50,000 mark.
DeLeo can do relatively little with his personal campaign account to help his fellow Democrats — he has more leeway with funds in the Committee for a Democratic House PAC, but that has raised a third as much as his own committee. And DeLeo faces no opponent, as usual, and is unlikely to ever sweat re-election. So, why does he bother raising so much?
While some is for business — such as $22,000 for a study on gaming — and some of it is for creature comforts like a car, much of it comes down to taking care of people, so they will continue to take care of him. Many of the committee’s line items, in fact, are for “meetings” at places like Fleming’s Steakhouse ($1027), 111 Chop House ($1390), Milano’s Delicatessen ($3034), and Ruth’s Chris Steak House ($3366). There are also thousands of dollars worth of flower purchases, and dozens of charitable contributions.
That, some say, is how the power structure perpetuates. DeLeo, and Murray, used their Ways and Means chairs to raise money, which they used to woo fellow members, helping them win the backing for the top position. And Murphy is now following the same playbook. Two House members tell the Phoenix that they attended restaurant “meetings” that appear as expenditures in Murphy’s latest report — at which Murphy asked for their support to succeed DeLeo as Speaker when the time comes.
To read the “Talking Politics” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.