Dems Bypass Scandal-Ridden Reps For Top Campaign Slot

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries nominated Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene on Tuesday to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), bypassing two California congressmen whose previous scandals drew concern from the caucus.

Reps. Ami Bera and Tony Cardenas both formally declared bids to lead the DCCC, the political action committee that fundraises for and advises Democratic candidates in the House. However, in an attempt to avoid a reprise of outgoing chairman Sean Patrick Maloney’s self-dealing, the party changed DCCC leadership nominating rules. DelBene, former head of the New Democrat Coalition, will help Democrats stay competitive in swing districts, according to Jeffries.

Suzan is a battle-tested, former Frontline member who brings to the DCCC role a sharp political instinct, proven fundraising ability as well as serious management and operational experience inside and outside government. In the last decade, Rep. DelBene won a tough seat as a Red-to-Blue candidate, held a tough seat as a Frontline candidate and then put that tough seat out of reach,” he said in a statement.

To consolidate leadership’s control over the DCCC, House Democrats passed a rule that would allow Jeffries to nominate a committee chair, who would then be confirmed by the entire caucus. DelBene is unlikely to face serious opposition from other members of the party. Although the change was cosponsored by former Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, the move still angered some left-wing members.

“The rule is bogus,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The New Republic. (RELATED: Primary Challenger Attacks DCCC Chair For Boosting Stop The Steal Republicans)

Cardenas began seriously lobbying for the post shortly after Election Day, Politico reported, citing his experience running the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC. BOLD PAC raised nearly $10 million during the midterm cycle, which it distributed in 86 races. Cardenas has been critical of Democrats’ approach in courting Hispanic voters, saying in the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle that the party needs “culturally competent people” working on its messaging.

Hispanics favored the Democratic Party in the 2022 midterms 65-33, according to a survey from the African-American Research Collective. In some areas, GOP candidates did far better. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won 58% of Hispanic voters, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott received 40%, according to CNN exit polls.

Despite his experience leading the CHC’s campaign arm, some Democrats were reportedly concerned about Cardenas’ leadership due to several sex scandals. As a Los Angeles City Council member, Cardenas was accused of drugging and molesting a 16-year-old girl. The victim later sued Cardenas, later dropping the case. The congressman has always denied wrongdoing.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) speaks during an election night party with the Los Angeles County Democratic Party at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, November 8, 2022. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

More recently, Cardenas has faced scrutiny for his relationship with Mark Handel, a notorious porn producer who has donated thousands of dollars to California Democrats. Handel helped make introductions between the congressman and Los Angeles real estate developers, The Daily Beast reported. Cardenas has not been accused of wrongdoing in his relationship with the porn producer.

Although Bera has not faced accusations of sexual misconduct, his father was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2016 for illegally donating to Bera’s campaigns. Babulal Bera funneled at least $260,000 to his son’s congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported, using straw donors to hide the source of the funds. Ami Bera denied knowing about the illegal donations. (RELATED: Indictment Accuses FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried Of Violating Campaign Finance Laws)

“This is one of the most difficult moments my family has ever experienced,” the congressman said at the time. “Of course I’m absolutely devastated and heartbroken for how today’s decision will impact our entire family. But my father’s accepted what he did was wrong, he’s taken responsibility and I love him more than words can express.”