U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas’ rise in House leadership requires more fundraising for Republicans

WASHINGTON — Rep. Frank Lucas, the low-key veteran lawmaker and rancher who has had little need for campaign money for his own races, has quietly become a leading fundraiser for House Republican candidates.

In the last election cycle, Lucas, R-Cheyenne, donated more than half a million dollars to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, putting him near the top of donors to the committee. He gave thousands more to individual candidates.

And though he has typically eschewed flashy fundraising events, preferring small breakfast groups of donors, Lucas’ campaign is hosting a weekend in the Napa Valley in California starting Friday, with minimum donations of $5,000 for political action committees and $2,500 for individuals.

Lucas also has established his own political action committee to supplement the candidate donations he makes from his congressional account.

Lucas’ increased role as a Republican fundraiser tracks with his rise in status in the House. For the 2009-10 Congress, Lucas served as the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee. In that same time frame, Lucas raised more than $1 million for his congressional campaign — almost twice what he had raised for the 2007-08 campaign cycle, before he became a committee leader.

Of that $1 million, nearly $700,000 came from special interest political action committees, including agriculture-related groups, bankers and investors, oil and gas interests, telecommunications companies, accountants, Realtors, insurers and defense contractors.

Lucas then redirected about $600,000 in campaign funds to Republican organizations and candidates.

‘The common good’

When Republicans took control of the House this year, Lucas became chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

“I’ve stepped up to the next level, and I have to compete at the next level,” Lucas said in an interview.

“I have a lot of obligations to the team and the common good.”

As chairman of the committee, Lucas has responsibilities beyond his sprawling western Oklahoma district to agricultural interests across the country, he said. Now, he said, there are more people offering input, and “there are a lot of people interested in helping me.”

Lucas said he also has begun traveling to the districts of GOP colleagues to help them raise money.

First elected to Congress in 1994, Lucas hasn’t had a tough race in a decade; the 2000 election was the last time he got less than 60 percent of the vote — he got 59 percent that year.

Last year, he got 78 percent of the vote against a challenger who spent $2,006. Still, in the 2009-10 election cycle, Lucas raised and spent more money than he ever had, slightly more than $1 million, with $684,000 coming from political action committees (PACs).

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lucas’ PAC receipts in the last two years came primarily from three sources: agribusiness, which gave $317,500; finance, insurance and real estate interests, which gave $180,531; and energy, which chipped in $60,000.

Perpetual campaign machine

Like many long-term incumbents, Lucas has a perpetual campaign machine that spends money on payroll, travel, fundraising, consultants, advertisements and campaign materials.

To keep it running, Lucas typically has raised about $500,000 in the last several election cycles.

Even in the last cycle, when he spent about $1 million, Lucas’ total was well below average; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the average U.S. House race winner in 2010 spent $1.4 million.

Members from both parties are expected to contribute to their respective campaign committees to help embattled incumbents and challengers. Not all kick in cash equally.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, didn’t give any money to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the last cycle, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, gave only $2,500, though Cole donated more than $300,000 in the previous cycle.

Though declining to say whether he has been given a set amount of money to raise, Lucas said, “There are (fundraising) goals for all committee chairmen.”

For the first time in his career, Lucas also has established a so-called leadership PAC, used by many members of Congress to raise money for other candidates.

So far, Lucas’ PAC, Funding Developing Leadership, has not been especially active, and had less than $43,000 at the end of June.

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