Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party is prompting his campaign donors large and small to demand their money back, including several Republican senators whose political action committees gave tens of thousands of dollars to the Pennsylvania lawmaker.
Sen. Johnny Isakson didn’t waste any time putting himself at the front of the refund line. The Georgia Republican asked Mr. Specter for a return of his leadership political action committee’s $5,000 contribution Tuesday on the Senate floor - just hours after Mr. Specter announced he was changing his political stripes.
“Senator Specter readily agreed to return the contribution,” said Isakson spokeswoman Sheridan Watson, adding that the exchange was cordial.
While not legally bound to refund any legitimate campaign donation, Mr. Specter has pledged to honor requests for refunds - and the requests are pouring in.
“That’s the right thing for him to do and we will request a refund,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. His fundraising committee, the Tenn PAC, had given $5,000.
Corrected paragraph: Other Republicans who are clawing back contributions include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who gave $10,000 through his Bluegrass Committee; Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), who gave $5,000 through his Alamo PAC; and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who gave $5,000 through his Rock City PAC.
“They gave that money to elect a Republican. They did not give that money to strengthen [Democratic Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid’s majority,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “I expect a lot of people will be looking to have their money returned.”
Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Robert A. Gleason Jr. isn’t satisfied with Mr. Specter returning campaign contributions on request. He wants the senator to return all of his campaign loot voluntarily.
Mr. Gleason told CNN that the new Democrat should “do the right thing and proactively return any and all campaign contributions he has received in recent months to run as a Republican in the upcoming election.”
He also wants Mr. Specter to apologize to the state’s Republicans for misleading them.
Mr. Specter, long considered among the more liberal Republicans in Congress, said he switched parities in part to avoid a formidable challenge from staunch fiscal conservative Pat Toomey in the Republican primary for the 2010 election.
Mr. Specter’s political rebranding gives the Senate Democratic caucus 59 seats, including two independents, which is one vote shy of the 60 needed to break filibusters and ram President Obama’s agenda through the chamber.
Mr. Obama, who was joined by Mr. Specter at a White House appearance Wednesday, lauded the new Democrat for his independence and “courage” in changing sides.
“I don’t expect Arlen to be a rubber stamp,” Mr. Obama said. “…I’m eager to receive his counsel and advice, especially when he disagrees.”
Mr. Specter has vowed to remain fiercely independent and continue to oppose several of Mr. Obama’s priorities, including the “card check” bill that would make it easier to unionize workplaces. He was one of four Democrats who voted against the Obama 2010 budget Wednesday afternoon in the Senate, which passed on a 53-43 vote.
Mr. Specter’s party switch is not only costing him existing campaign cash, it could impede future fundraising as Republican contributors turn away and Mr. Specter’s established stable of fundraisers could abandon the candidate, said a Republican campaign adviser.
“A lot of [the campaign staff] are probably as Republican as they are career Specter men,” said the adviser, who did not want to be identified discussing his colleague’s predicament. “Are they going to go work for Toomey or are they going to stay with him?”
Before the party switch, Mr. Specter had raised nearly $1.3 million since January and has $6.7 million in the bank for the 2010 race, according to first quarter campaign finance reports filed this month.
Mr. Specter retains a large pool of donors who are lobbyists and lawyers, groups that have been the financial backbone of his campaigns for decades. He also enjoys broad support among Pennsylvania Democrats.
Richard Ehst, Sovereign Bank’s regional president for southeastern Pennsylvania, said he will not ask for a return of his $250 contribution to Mr. Specter.
“The man has behaved more like a Democrat than a Republican for years,” Mr. Ehst said. “I think moving across the aisle might better define where his allegiances are.”
• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.