As chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz follows President Barack Obama’s fundraising rules, so she doesn’t accept federal lobbyist and political action committee campaign contributions.
But her old leadership PAC, Democrats Win Seats, isn’t turning K Street away.
The PAC, a major generator of campaign cash for House Democrats, is holding an inside-the-Beltway fundraiser later this month co-hosted by nearly a half-dozen lobbyists — the kind of event the White House rule is meant to curb.
And though Wasserman Schultz stepped down as chairwoman of the PAC earlier this year, some ties remain. Stephen Bittel, a longtime Democratic supporter, who spoke on behalf of Wasserman Schultz’s candidacy to lead the DNC, has taken over as chairman. Her father, Lawrence Wasserman, is still listed as the group’s treasurer on Federal Election Commission reports. And the political action committee continues to use her initials — DWS — to raise money.
Wasserman Schultz’s spokesman, Jonathan Beeton, wrote in an email that the Florida lawmaker has not had “any involvement with the PAC since becoming DNC chair.” Beeton also wrote that DWS PAC is looking for a new treasurer to replace Lawrence Wasserman.
Wasserman Schultz’s arrangement is perfectly legal but reveals a division in Democratic circles: Obama and the DNC might turn down K Street cash, but their fellow Democrats in Congress go right ahead and take it.
And there’s good reason. Reelection committees and leadership PACs are largely funded by corporate and lobbyist contributions.
For example, Wasserman Schultz has received about $3.8 million in donations from political action committees since entering the House in 2005 — just over half of all the money her campaign has taken in. And lobbyists have contributed about $223,000 to her campaigns, according to OpenSecrets.org. Her DWS PAC has received about $870,000 from PACs since 2006, FEC records show.
In May, DWS PAC raised $102,000 from corporate PACs and lobbying groups like the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America, Pfizer, National Venture Capital Association and the New Democrat Coalition PAC. Nearly $80,000 of those contributions came on or before May 4, when Wasserman Schultz officially terminated her involvement with the PAC.
Since then, DWS PAC has been largely dormant — raising just $2,000 in August, from Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America.
But rather than shutter the PAC completely, Miami-based developer Bittel, who has long supported Wasserman Schultz, is now acting as chairman of the committee, according to Beeton.
In addition to serving as chairman and founder of real estate firm Terranova Corp. and president of Petroleum Realty Investment Partners, a venture firm investing in gas stations and convenience stores, he has been an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee since 2009.
Bittel did not respond to several requests for comment. However, he has long been a big Democratic donor and a booster organizing fundraising. Bittel has contributed nearly $165,000 to Democratic candidates, lawmakers and party committees, according to FEC records.
He contributed $3,100 to Wasserman Schultz’s reelection committee.
He has also put his political weight behind her. In his role as DNC at-large member and National Jewish Democratic Council vice chairman of development, Bittel delivered one of the nominating speeches on behalf of Wasserman Schultz, saying “I have seen her passion, her commitment, her tireless work. I have gotten her phone calls, her texts and her emails at all hours of the day and night.”
According to Beeton, Bittel is “a supporter of the congresswoman and knew that the PAC would be dissolved when she became chair and offered to take it over.”
The website, which listed Wasserman Schultz as honorary chairwoman and featured a photo of the Florida lawmaker, now opens to a contribution link.
Now, under Bittel’s direction, several Wasserman Schultz allies are stepping up to keep DWS PAC on the fundraising map.
“We love Debbie, and we understand why she had to walk away from this PAC,” Democratic lobbyist John Michael Gonzalez said. “People forget that a lot of us are former Democratic staffers, and we know how important it is that our members and candidates get the resources they need.”
Gonzalez is one of several lobbyists listed as co-hosts of an Oct. 25 fundraiser