It's long been an axiom of congressional politics that the longer a member remains on Capitol Hill — and the more he or she interacts with lobbyists and special interests — the more significant the fund-raising advantage the incumbent will have over potential challengers.
Case in point: Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who has been in office a decade, and also sits on one of the committees that attracts cash — Senate Finance.
Despite being from a small state, Lincoln raised more than $6.5 million for her 2004 re-election against Northwest Arkansas Republican challenger Jim Holt, who raised just $151,628. It was also far more than the average senator up for re-election raised that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization in Washington. The differential with Holt's fundraising was also one of the reasons observers were surprised by Lincoln not winning more convincingly than 55.8 percent to 44.2 percent.
She is off to another strong start for her 2010 re-election, raising $1.7 million in the first quarter of this year and already having cash on hand of $2.278 million.
Lincoln's $1.7 million first-quarter total ranked only behind New York's Kirsten Gillibrand's $2.3 million and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid's $2.2 million among senators facing re-election in 2010. Both are also Democrats.
What are some of the keys to Lincoln's fundraising prowess?
Being on the Finance Committee, which considers numerous tax and financial regulatory issues, greatly aids her search for cash, the Center for Responsive Politics says.
“Winning a seat on the senate tax-writing committee guarantees members that they will attract generous donations from banks, insurance companies, real estate agents, accountants, and securities and investment firms. Decisions by Senate Finance Committee members affect a lot of companies' bottom lines and when lawmakers are crafting major tax legislation, the corridors of Capitol Hill are packed with interest groups and lobbyists. Senate Finance also has jurisdiction over Medicare, Social Security, health care, and international trade,” the organization says on its website, opensecrets.org.
Members of Congress, of course, deny that contributions influence their actions or votes, although advocates of campaign finance reform have long found that claim dubious.
Lincoln's other committee assignments, especially Senate Agriculture, don't hurt either.
“The Senate Agriculture Committee wields power over many of the interests that benefit from depression-era federal agricultural subsidies. This includes the tobacco industry, sugar, peanut, and cotton growers, and dairy farmers. The committee also oversees ranchers, poultry and food processors. Given these oversight powers, it is clear why committee members attract large donations from the agriculture sector. Senate Agriculture Committee members also have jurisdiction over commodities markets, helping them draw contributions from the financial industry,” the Center for Responsive Politics says.
The top geographic source of her 2003-2008 fundraising was Washington with $361,079, followed by Little Rock-North Little Rock at $203,250, the center said.
New York, home to Wall-Street types, was fifth with $49,550.
In all, 60 percent of her 2003-2008 money, $1.73 million, came from out of state.
Among professions, health professionals were the top 2003-2008 source for her campaign committee and leadership PAC combined, giving $506,500. From drug manufacturers and insurers to hospitals and radiologists, they are players in the coming health care reform debate, which Senate Finance will play a pivotal role in shaping.
Ranking right behind were lawyers and law firms at $487,145 and securities and investment interests at $381,616. In fourth place were lobbyists at $310,738, followed by hospitals and nursing homes at $308,394.
Steve Patterson, her campaign manager, said the focus now is continuing to make sure she has the “resources” she needs for 2010.