WASHINGTON — Rep. Donna Edwards has for weeks criticized her opponent in Maryland's Senate race for a fundraiser hosted by a former Wall Street lobbyist, arguing the event underscores Rep. Chris Van Hollen's relationship with the financial sector.
The Van Hollen campaign counters that the former lobbyist, Douglas Lowenstein, and the other hosts of the fundraiser, are involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The event, the Van Hollen camp says, was intended to support the congressman's efforts on that disease.
"This event was organized by me and three friends, all of whom are linked together by one overriding issue: We or our loved ones have type 1 diabetes," Lowenstein wrote in a letter released by the Van Hollen campaign Monday.
In it, Lowenstein writes that Edwards "cravenly blasted a group of people that banded together to support someone who has battled to bring an end to [diabetes]."
Edwards appears unconvinced by the argument, which Van Hollen aides made last month in a Washington Post piece that mentioned the dispute.
"Even just last week, I think, Mr. Van Hollen had a fundraiser that was hosted by a guy who tried to undo the Dodd-Frank regulations," Edwards said during an interview on WYPR last week. "And so I know that I'm very clearly on the side of people."
An Edwards spokesman said in a statement in response to Lowenstein's letter that it is "disappointing" Van Hollen is raising campaign money off of his work on diabetes. "That money should be going to fund diabetes research," spokesman Ben Gerdes said.
Lowenstein is the former president of Private Equity Growth Capital Council, a Washington-based trade group that spent millions lobbying Congress in opposition to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. The group's members include heavy hitters in the financial world, such as the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group.
Lowenstein stepped down from the position in 2011. He currently runs a consultant firm that works with non-profits, according to his LinkedIn page.
Lowenstein, whose daughter was diagnosed with type I diabetes when she was 14 years old, is also a former board member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Another host of the Oct. 8 fundraiser, Rich Lucas, served as president of the foundation's Washington board of directors. Another, Tim Ryan, served on the group's board in North Carolina.
In other words, of the four hosts of the fundraiser only one -- Lowenstein -- had ties to Wall Street. Lowenstein and the other three have been involved with juvenile diabetes.
The money from the event went to Van Hollen's campaign for Senate, not diabetes research. Lowenstein wrote that the fundraiser was intended to "recognize Chris Van Hollen's years of leadership and support for federal funding and policies."
This dispute is largely beside the point.
Neither Edwards nor Van Hollen have taken significant sums of campaign cash from Wall Street -- at least not yet. Both voted in favor of Dodd-Frank. Edwards notes that Van Hollen has declined to swear off future Wall Street cash, but that's not the same thing as actually taking the money.
Might Van Hollen -- who describes himself as an "effective" progressive -- be a more palatable option to Edwards for some in the financial services industry? Perhaps. Van Hollen would point to a boatload of bills he's introduced that Wall Street doesn't like. Edwards would counter that those bills never stood a chance, and so they present little threat to the industry.
But it's just as possible that Wall Street mostly sits this race out. It's also likely Van Hollen, aware of these attacks, will be careful about taking any checks arriving in the mail from New York.
Given Van Hollen's large advantage in fundraising to date, that may be Edwards' ultimate goal.