GOP Freshmen From Safe Districts Party On Despite Leadership Anxieties

A lavish fundraiser being thrown Tuesday night by a group of freshman Republican lawmakers may undermine the message of austerity Republicans are trying to convey but the hosts don't seem worried since they won in safe districts or by wide margins in November.

Republican leaders have distanced themselves from the $2,500-a-plate fundraiser while Democrats are salivating at the chance to note the "hypocrisy" of the Tea Party set holding a party at the posh W Hotel featuring country music star LeAnn Rimes.

But the shindig planned by incoming Rep. Jeff Denham, a former state lawmaker known for his fundraising prowess, and others is unlikely to derail their re-election prospects.

The invitation says that the party is being paid for by America's New Majority, a joint political action committee formed by Denham that includes freshman lawmakers Jon Runyan of New Jersey, Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Steve Southerland of Florida.

Denham won big to replace retiring Republican Rep. George Radanovich in a safe Republican district. Stutzman won by a wide margin, taking 63 percent of the vote. Southerland beat Democratic incumbent Allen Boyd 53 percent to 41 percent.

More On This...

Runyan was in a more competitive race, beating John Adler by only 3 percentage points: 50-47 percent.

The other freshman lawmakers on the committee are Robert Dold of Illinois, Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, David Rivera of Florida, Tom Reed of New York, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Renee Elmers of North Carolina, most of whom won their elections by landslides.

Even though incoming House Speaker John Boehner is listed as an honoree on the invitation, his office told that he won't be attending. Other Republican leaders featured on the invite are unlikely to attend either.

But Dave Gilliard, a consultant for Denham, told that he expects Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, to be there.

It's not clear how many of the 87 new Republican lawmakers will attend the party. Organizers of the event as well as an aide for Hammond & Associates, which is sponsoring the party, declined to comment. Tom Hammonds, president of the group, did not return a message.

But Democrats didn't waste a chance to point out the irony of an event in which a VIP package costs $50,000 for members of a freshman class of Republican lawmakers who coasted to a historic victory in November by pledging to tackle jaw-dropping deficits and rein in runaway federal spending.

"It's business as usual in Washington," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in an e-mail to "The newest members of Congress are turning the House of Representatives into the Hypocrisy Hall of Fame. Despite running an anti-Washington Tea Party campaign, freshman Republicans are embracing the corporate special interest agenda even before they are sworn in."

The party comes one day before Republicans assume control of the House and increase their ranks in the Senate. House Republican leaders have vowed to slash $100 billion from the domestic budget this year. They are also considering a resolution to cut the cost of Congress in a move that they say would save taxpayers $35 million.

Political analysts say the party "contradicts" the message Republicans have been trying to send to voters.

"In the short term, it doesn't look good," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University professor and expert on Congress. "It will raise questions for voters about how serious and committed the party is to these principles. ... The new Republicans are going to learn in Washington that small events can turn into big problems."

The Public Campaign Action Fund, which seeks public financing of political campaigns, sent an e-mail blast entitled "House Freshman Grab Campaign Cash with the Left Hand -- Take Oath with Right," with a headline reading "New Majority Shows Signs of Business as Usual in Washington D.C."

"The same hands that new Republican House members raise tomorrow to take their oath of office will be the ones sullied by the collection of PAC, lobbyist, and special interest cash tonight," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund. "Every member- new or incumbent -- must distance themselves from this blatant play for special interest cash and get to work to change the way Washington works, not celebrate it."

Another liberal group, Common Cause, also slammed the event and called for campaign finance reform.

"This is exactly what Americans are furious about, and should be. These new members of Congress should remember that they were elected to serve the public interest – not the interest of lobbyists who buy $50,000 tickets -- and the public will be watching," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

But Denham reportedly told KMJN radio in California that his "job is to keep this class together."

"We've got this new majority with 87 new members and the biggest question that you have is how many are going to come back next term," Denham said, likening himself to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is starting his third term and is the incoming House whip.

Denham, a former California state assemblyman and almond ranch owner, is known for his ability to raise cash. Having earned $1.2 million for his campaign, he received more than $68,000 from casinos; $100,000 from the financial services sector; and $267,000 from agribusiness, a major industry in his central valley district.

Zelizer said he's not surprised Republican leaders are staying away from the party -- after steering far afield from the pledges they made the last time they took control of Congress in 1995.

"The Republican majority in the House is on a short leash," he said. They're "hypersensitive to any potential pitfalls."