Democratic challenger Rich Cowan is attempting to take U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to task for her work trying to elect or re-elect other Republicans to Congress.
His latest ads, and a separate “where is Cathy” website, poke fun at the four-term congresswoman for visits across the country, from New York and Florida to California and Nevada, in support of other GOP candidates. He calls contributions she makes from the CMR Political Action Committee, her separate leadership PAC, efforts to “re-elect a broken Congress.”
“It’s baseless,” McMorris Rodgers said in response Saturday. “He really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
With a huge lead in campaign contributions and more votes than Cowan and all other challengers in the August primary, McMorris Rodgers has ignored her opponent in her ads thus far. Her most recent commercial talks about working with members of both parties to “give military families a voice.”
McMorris Rodgers is the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, which makes her the highest-ranking GOP woman in that chamber, and is often the caucus’s point person on issues like equal pay and women’s health.
Like most members of leadership in both parties, she has a separate political action committee that receives contributions from individuals and other PACs, and gives money to other members of Congress or candidates seeking to defeat incumbents of the other party. CMR PAC has raised about $260,000 in this two-year election cycle, and made contributions to other candidates of about $167,500. That’s separate from McMorris Rodgers’ re-election fund, which has raised more than $1.4 million and spent about $900,000, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission reports available.
The practice of doling out money from a separate leadership PAC and visiting the districts of junior members isn’t new. When Democrat Tom Foley of Spokane was House majority leader and speaker in the 1980s and ’90s, he had a substantial leadership PAC and made stops in other congressional districts throughout the country.
Candace Mumm, a spokeswoman for Cowan, said the Spokane Democrat probably would welcome such visits, if he were to get elected to the next Congress. But he believes McMorris Rodgers and other representatives have spent too much time campaigning in other districts and not enough time passing legislation or talking to people at home.
“He feels very strongly they should’ve stayed at work and finish the work in front of them,” Mumm said. “He doesn’t think that’s what you’re hired to do, to get other people elected.”
McMorris Rodgers said she comes back to Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District regularly, at a minimum of once a month when the House holds “district work periods.” About 40 percent of her time in the last year was spent in the district, she said.
“It is one of my goals to help other conservative women get elected to Congress,” she said of her stops in other states.
Cowan criticized her for missing a recent candidate forum in Spokane sponsored by the League of Women Voters because she was in New York. That trip wasn’t strictly for campaigning, she said; she also visited some research facilities and it was scheduled before the forum. “I’m not able to make every campaign forum,” she said.
She said one of the trips she made – which isn’t mentioned in Cowan’s ad or on the website – was to Georgia, not to help a Republican candidate but to attend a summit at Fort Benning sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, who serves with her as co-chairman of the Military Families Caucus. “And I went to Afghanistan last year over Mother’s Day, with three Democratic congresswomen and three Republican congresswomen, to support women serving in Afghanistan.”
As for Cowan’s criticism that Congress left Washington, D.C., with work undone, McMorris Rodgers argues House Republicans passed many bills that got stalled in the Senate; other legislation, like the new farm bill, “got caught up in the politics of this Congress … and we could not reach an agreement.”
While she concedes coming back after the election isn’t the best way to handle those issues, she said she’s hopeful Congress can pass important legislation on spending, taxes and the debt ceiling in the lame duck session.