Fiscal policy role fuels Frank fund-raising

In nine months, he raises most in Mass. delegation

By Alan Wirzbicki
Globe Correspondent / October 23, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Representative Barney Frank’s central role in drafting new regulations for the US financial industry has dramatically boosted his power as a political fund-raiser, helping him increase campaign contributions by almost a third more than at this point in the last election cycle.

Frank raised more in the first nine months of 2009 than any other Massachusetts lawmaker, and more than all but one of his fellow House committee chairmen, according to public disclosure filings.

As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Frank was a major player in the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package last year, and is now the point person working on legislation proposed by the Obama administration to prevent another economic crisis like the one that plunged the nation into a recession.

Frank’s place in the thick of economic policy making has made him the focal point for a variety of executives, unions, advocacy groups, and individual supporters who have poured $1.2 million into his campaign account since January. That is 32 percent more than the $907,000 he raised during the same three quarters of his 2007-2008 reelection campaign.

In the same time frame of 2003, before Frank became chairman and when the Democrats were still in the minority in Congress, contributors gave Frank $243,000.

Frank raised record amounts even while observing a self-imposed restriction: He has foresworn money from the nation’s biggest banks, which once were among his top donors. But he has continued to accept money from other firms with interests before his committee, including two Massachusetts-based companies, Fidelity and Liberty Mutual, which were his top corporate donors during the first half of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks contributions.

The Newton Democrat’s newfound fund-raising prowess is especially notable because he has not faced serious opposition in his district for decades. Frank was reelected to a 15th term last November with 68 percent of the vote. Indeed, records show that, after overhead expenses, he has handed much of his war chest off to other Democrats or donated to national party coffers. “I get money because of my high profile,’’ Frank said. And, he added, because “I’m very charming.’’

Even though he ruled out accepting some donations to avoid creating a perception of conflict of interest, he dismissed the idea that taking money from other industries with business before his committee was a conflict. He said he has received contributions from all sides of the financial debate. Also, he said, “I’m casting the same votes I was casting 20 years ago.’’

Appearing as frequently in the news as Frank does, said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, “can often help drive fund-raising dollars into your account, even if you may not necessarily need them.’’

But Frank has also sought contributions in a series of fund-raisers this year, including events in Newton, New Bedford, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, where he was feted at the World Series of Poker by supporters of his legislation to legalize online gambling.

Frank’s public scrapes with opponents have also translated into campaign cash. When videos of a confrontation between Frank and a healthcare protester at a town hall meeting in August began circulating on the internet, Frank received about $15,000 in donations overnight “without asking,’’ he said.

Other members of the Massachusetts House delegation reported smaller sums in their most recent federal campaign finance disclosure forms, which were filed last week.

Representative Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Springfield, was the state’s runner-up, taking in $723,792 so far this year, followed by Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Malden, $571,498; James P. McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, $499,060; Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Lowell, $437,301; Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of South Boston, $326,272; John W. Olver, Democrat of Amherst, $231,373; John F. Tierney, Democrat of Salem, $131,239; and William D. Delahunt, Democrat of Quincy, $24,292. None of them have attracted serious competition thus far for the 2010 election.

Representative Michael E. Capuano, Democrat of Somerville, collected $335,951 for his 2010 House race, according to filings, in addition to funds raised for his Senate race. Senator John F. Kerry, who was reelected in November and will not face voters again until 2014, raised $192,298.

While donations to Frank were up sharply, the sources of his contributions have shifted dramatically over the past two years, according to an analysis based on the first two quarters of this year by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In 2007 and 2008, banks and investment firms like Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, along with their employees, ranked among Frank’s top contributors. But Frank announced after the passage of the bailout last fall that he would no longer accept donations from any of the top 10 recipients of TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, funds - to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.

Frank’s donations have also shifted away from political action committees, the entities set up by corporations, unions, and other interest groups to contribute to candidates. In the last cycle, 46 percent of his donations came from PACs, but in the first six months of this cycle that number was at 29 percent - the lowest of any committee chairman - with the rest coming from individual donors.

Under new rules requiring lawmakers to disclose contributions gathered from multiple individuals and then “bundled’’ by lobbyists, Frank reported donations of $17,600 packaged by a lobbyist for the Managed Funds Association; $51,200 from the Poker Players Alliance; $30,825 from the American Council of Life Insurers; $28,500 from AFSCME; and $33,500 from the Independent Community Bankers of America.

In addition to giving directly to other Democrats, Frank said he is expected to give $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.