Former Sen. Barbara Boxer is lending her name and liberal bona fides to Rep. Adam Schiff to help him fundraise for his re-election and a possible Senate campaign if fellow California Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, retires.
Boxer and Schiff created a joint-fundraising committee in May that will raise cash for both Schiff's re-election committee and Boxer's super political action committee, PAC for a Change, which she dubbed "the fight-back PAC," according to the PAC's website.
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So far this summer, the joint fundraising effort has raised $70,600, doling out $12,000 to Schiff’s re-election committee and $12,000 to PAC for a Change.
Sitting members of Congress team up on a regular basis to form joint-fundraising efforts. However, forming a joint committee with a former member of Congress is rare, according to campaign finance experts.
Many former federal lawmakers have doled out the money left over in their leadership PACs collected during their time in office to help their colleagues’ reelection campaigns. However, it is unusual for a former member to collect so much cash after leaving their lawmaking jobs behind.
"That is unusual for former office-holders to be so actively engaged in fundraising … largely because former office-holders find it difficult to raise money when they aren't squarely in the political game themselves," said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein in the election and government ethics group.
"That is the traditional M.O., but this is a different political time—the political dynamic has shifted, and it may be changing the way former members can engage in the political process," Burns added.
"The fundraising relationship between Boxer and Schiff is not a common occurrence—they are codifying it in a way that I don't think is something you see very often," added Nathan Gonzales, an election analyst and the editor and publisher of Inside Elections.
"This shows that Boxer retired from the Senate but has not retired from politics, and she still wants to be involved," he added.
The fledgling fundraising partnership holds several benefits for Schiff, who has gained national attention since January for his role as the leading Democrat investigating President Trump and his campaign's ties to Russia. It allows Schiff to tap into Boxer's extensive network of liberal donors in California and nationwide who are motivated to write checks to fight Trump's agenda even in an off year in the election cycle.
It also demonstrates that Schiff, who before this year was never viewed as a partisan brawler, is willing to align himself with the liberal wing of the party, which has dominated California politics in recent years and is especially energized against Trump.
Since Boxer has been out of office, PAC for a Change raised $1.3 million in the first half of this year and has $942,000 in cash on hand.
Schiff's and Boxer's decision to team up is also fueling more speculation about Schiff's Senate ambitions because he already has plenty of money stocked up in his personal campaign committee to coast to re-election. As of the end of June, his campaign committee had $2.57 million in cash on hand, federal election records show.
Schiff considered running for Boxer's seat when she announced plans to retire but bowed out of the 2016 primary when polls showed then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris with a clear advantage against multiple Democratic primary rivals.
Several Democratic office-holders and activists are now watching Feinstein's movements closely. Feinstein will be 84 next year, prompting widespread speculation that she could retire.
So far, Feinstein has signaled that she plans to run for a fifth term. However, if she should change her mind, Schiff would be much better-positioned to run for the open Democratic seat than he was in 2016.
A rare open Senate seat in California would undoubtedly set off a crowded scramble, with several Democrats currently positioning themselves for a gubernatorial run in 2018 shifting their sights instead to Feinstein's seat.
Right now, there are at least six major candidates already running or eyeing a run to replace Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento, including Schiff; former California's lieutenant governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom; Current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; environmental activist Tom Steyer; and State Treasurer John Chiang.
Schiff will need the biggest campaign war chest he can muster to demonstrate he can run state-wide and warn off would-be rivals. But he has already made strides in raising his profile through his role as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the Trump campaign's Russia connections.
His sharp exchanges with Trump on Twitter and frequent appearances on MSNBC and other cable outlets criticizing Republicans for not pressing the administration harder in the probe have earned him liberal plaudits. MoveOn.org, a grass-roots group funded by George Soros, has applauded his arguments in favor of the Russia investigation, and in May he delivered remarks at the liberal Center for American Progress's 2017 Ideas Conference, along with Harris, Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.).
It's not the first time MoveOn.org has supported his political ambitions. The group previously donated $100,000 to help him win his seat against former GOP Rep. James Rogan in 2000.
Back then, Schiff promised to govern as a moderate and joined the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats upon entering Congress. Since then, redistricting has reshaped his district to include the much more liberal West Hollywood, Los Feliz, and Echo Park, and he left the Blue Dog group several years ago.
Teaming up with Boxer caps Schiff's evolution from a self-avowed centrist to become the favored son of staunch liberals.
When she left office, Boxer converted her leadership PAC to a super PAC that can collect unlimited amounts of money from individual donors, unlike when she was in office and had to abide by strict $5,000 limits per cycle from individuals.
Deep-pocketed, liberal campaign donors are now ponying up five-figure and even six-figure contributions to Boxer's PAC—all money she can use to help support candidates and issues she cares about.
Peg Yorkin, chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which was founded by Gloria Steinem, donated $145,000 to PAC for a Change in January. That same month Jo Ann Kaplan, wife of California sculptor Charlie Kaplan, wrote a check for $120,000. Ahmad Khawaja, the president of California-based Allied Wallet, donated another $95,000, and Eli Broad, the billionaire founder of the mammoth KB Home construction company and SunAmerica life insurance company, gave another $50,000.
Boxer has never been shy about supporting liberal causes, and her main target right now is fighting Trump.
"PAC for a Change is stepping up—it's stepping up big time, and what we're going to do is hold Donald Trump accountable, hold the Republicans accountable," she says in a video on the PAC's website.
"This isn't theoretical now—this is a call to action," she states, against a backdrop of anti-Trump protesters holding a sign with the word "Resist" above a caricature of Trump.