In May, Childers stunned observers by defeating a Republican in a special election held when a representative vacated his House seat to take over for conservative icon Sen. Trent Lott.
"She has had prodigious success raising funds for individual Democratic candidates, for the DCCC, and for her own campaign and PAC," Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institute, told us. "Most party leaders represent safe seats but nonetheless try to set a high standard for raising money to advance their party's broader objectives."
Pelosi's Capitol Hill and San Francisco offices directed our questions to her fundraising operations at the DCCC. Her political director there, Brian Wolff, called the war chest "another vehicle for her to communicate with constituents in California." But he conceded that the pressure is on, "especially now that we have so many candidates and incumbents that need help. It definitely falls on her to be able to have a very aggressive fundraising campaign."
Wolff insists, too, that the Democrats revolutionized fundraising by seeking out smaller donations from large numbers of people instead of returning to the same short list of affluent contributors they had in the past.
In general, top donations to Pelosi still have come from lobbyists and lawyers, the real estate industry, insurance companies, banking and securities firms, and Amgen, a major biotech researcher based in Thousand Oaks. Officials from the labor movement's biggest new power broker, the Service Employees International Union, also gave substantial sums, as did other major unions. But they fell far behind the contributions of large business interests.
Art Torres, chair of the California Democratic Party, told us that health care reform failed in 1990s at least partly because of political spending by drug companies. But he said that Democrats winning the White House and expanding their majorities in Congress would create a greater mandate to overhaul the health care system.
"It's always been about issues" rather than fundraising, Torres said. "When I've talked to her, it's always been about 'How can we get this or that legislation through?'<0x2009>"
It's worth pointing out, however, that the nation's largest drug wholesaler, McKesson Corp., is based in San Francisco, and donors from pharmaceutical companies gave Pelosi more than $85,000 this cycle. Drug companies have given freely to Democrats in the past, but Democratic officeholders "still voted against their interests every time," Torres said.
Pelosi's campaign spending on everything but her own reelection shows she doesn't regard Sheehan as much of a threat. But the antiwar candidate did make it onto the ballot Aug. 8 and the Sheehan campaign has raised approximately $350,000 since December in small contributions after refusing to accept money from PACs and corporations.
"We didn't have the party infrastructure going into this," said Sheehan campaign manager Tiffany Burns, adding that Pelosi's campaign expenditures are "just another example of how Pelosi believes she is entitled to this seat."