Money Hasn’t Bought Boehner Love

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the media after a meeting with President Obama at the White House Wednesday on the second day of the government shutdown. 
National Journal
Scott Bland and Ben Terris
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Scott Bland and Ben Terris
Oct. 3, 2013, 8:31 a.m.

There was a little more to John Boehner’s cross-coun­try Au­gust road trip than the usu­al middle-aged sum­mer hijinks, even bey­ond the fact that one of his golf bud­dies was Don­ald Trump and his bus came with a se­cur­ity de­tail. The 15-state swing let the speak­er flex his muscles and ex­ert one of his last-re­main­ing powers to in­flu­ence his con­fer­ence: his abil­ity to raise money. Turns out, it wasn’t a com­plete suc­cess.

Boehner did raise money, pre­sum­ably gobs of it. (Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, re­portedly raked in more than $95,000 dur­ing the speak­er’s stop in Boise.) Yet it wasn’t enough to keep the team to­geth­er. Just weeks later, four of the people Boehner spent his sum­mer rais­ing money for bucked his wishes, help­ing lead to the gov­ern­ment shut­down. If Boehner’s money talks, some of its re­cip­i­ents wer­en’t listen­ing.

Eighty mem­bers of Boehner’s rest­ive GOP con­fer­ence signed a let­ter in Au­gust ask­ing the speak­er to in­clude pro­vi­sions de­fund­ing Obama­care in any bill fund­ing oth­er parts of the gov­ern­ment. That wasn’t the House lead­er­ship’s ori­gin­al plan, but the drum­beat that built dur­ing the Au­gust re­cess was im­possible to ig­nore, and some of the clam­or was com­ing from dis­tricts and rep­res­ent­at­ives Boehner had just vis­ited.

“We wer­en’t really in agree­ment with the ori­gin­al plan,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a fresh­man from Pennsylvania who had held a $500-per-per­son fun­drais­ing event with the speak­er. That plan, one in which Re­pub­lic­ans would hold off on a ma­jor fight over health care un­til the debt ceil­ing, could have avoided the cur­rent gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Kev­in Mad­den, a polit­ic­al con­sult­ant who formerly served as a Boehner spokes­man, says the rank-and-file simply isn’t as be­hold­en to party lead­ers to raise cash as be­fore. “You have net­works of con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots act­iv­ists that at the click of the mouse can or­gan­ize and sup­port a par­tic­u­lar can­did­ate,” he said.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, the reindeer farm­er-turned-con­gress­man, says he has been happy that the likes of Boehner and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor have come to his Michigan dis­trict to help him with his fun­drais­ing. (With a Re­pub­lic­an primary op­pon­ent already de­clared and pulling in more than $425,000 in seed money, Bentivolio’s go­ing to need all the cash he can get.) He says that he’s nev­er heard a peep from the speak­er about his de­cision to take a hard line on the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion.

“Angry? I have nev­er seen him angry. He is one cool guy,” Bentivolio said Wed­nes­day between votes to fund small parts of the gov­ern­ment piece­meal. “That’s what I like about him. He’s like—he’s like Eis­en­hower. He has all these dif­fer­ent groups to dis­cuss with and plan strategy. And like Eis­en­hower, he’s rais­ing the right agenda for the right reas­ons.”

Boehner’s team doesn’t see the fun­draisers as wasted ef­fort. Cory Fritz, a spokes­man for Boehner’s polit­ic­al of­fice, emailed: “The Speak­er’s Au­gust road trip was a suc­cess, bring­ing in much-needed re­sources for House Re­pub­lic­ans as we stand united in work­ing to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning and pro­tect all Amer­ic­ans from the pres­id­ent’s un­work­able health care law.” Even be­fore the trip, Boehner had re­portedly donated more than $5.5 mil­lion to the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, the arm of the party charged with win­ning House elec­tions.

Con­ser­vat­ives such as Rep. Dan Ben­ishek, R-Mich., say that doesn’t mean their votes are bought and paid for: “I don’t know what one thing has to do with the oth­er,” he said with a laugh.

That Boehner lacks power over his con­fer­ence has be­come a tru­ism: He can’t of­fer them ear­marks be­cause they are banned, he can’t pun­ish mem­bers be­cause they don’t care as much about com­mit­tee po­s­i­tions, and he can’t ex­ploit their in­sec­ur­it­ies, be­cause many of them rep­res­ent dis­tricts that hail their mar­tyr­dom for a cause.

That leaves money as a wedge, but the spig­ot flows every­where now. Boehner may have raised $93 mil­lion for him­self and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans last elec­tion, but the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, the polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee foun­ded by the Her­it­age Found­a­tion’s Jim De­Mint, man­aged to pull in $1.5 mil­lion dur­ing the “De­fund Obama­care” push in Au­gust alone. Even so, there are no signs from Boehner that he’s about to be any less gen­er­ous with his fun­drais­ing.

“I spoke with him on the floor last night,” Perry said. “I think the re­la­tion­ship is sol­id and strong. If it wasn’t, that would be petty, and I don’t think he’s that kind of in­di­vidu­al. He hasn’t shown him­self to be that kind of in­di­vidu­al.”

Maybe that’s the prob­lem.

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