Lodi News-Sentinel

Gavels for top House committees don’t come cheap in party dues

- Kate Ackley CQ-ROLL CALL

Winning control of the most sought-after committees in the House can come with a hefty price tag — in party dues.

The eight lawmakers atop the four panels dubbed “A” committees transferre­d more than $5.2 million from their own political accounts to their respective parties’ campaign arms in the 2022 cycle, according to a new report shared first with CQ Roll Call by Issue One, which advocates for overhaulin­g campaign finance laws.

Although gavel races and committee assignment­s don’t merely come down to who raised the most political cash for the party, it can help members move up the hierarchie­s of the House if they spread campaign money generously, including to the party committees. Other factors in battles to chair top committees include seniority, especially for Democrats; policy expertise; and influence with leadership and the party rank and file.

Republican Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the new chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means panel, topped the list of top 2022 party donors among “A” committee chairs and ranking members. He moved more than $1.1 million from his campaign account and leadership PAC to the National Republican Congressio­nal Committee, Issue One found in its analysis of Federal Election Commission reports through Dec. 31.

Other lawmakers at the helm of the Energy and Commerce, Appropriat­ions and Financial Services committees disclosed hefty sums to the NRCC. Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington also transferre­d more than $1.1 million to the NRCC — just $3,500 less than Smith. The top Democrat on that panel, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., transferre­d about $700,000 to the Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee, while Connecticu­t Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriat­ions Committee, sent $600,000 to the DCCC.

“Party dues sounds kind of innocuous,” said Issue One’s Michael Beckel, an author of the report. “But being asked to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not seven figures, puts a lot of pressure on lawmakers. Time is a zero-sum game. Any time spent fundraisin­g is time not spent doing other business, like oversight and drafting legislatio­n.”

A number of current and former lawmakers acknowledg­e the pressure to raise campaign cash, and some have publicly decried the system, including in books and high-profile interviews.

In his 2017 book, Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck wrote that House committee chairs for the most sought-after gavels were expected to raise $1.2 million over an election cycle. Former Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp, who chairs Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus and served on the House Appropriat­ions Committee while in Congress, has been critical of the fundraisin­g expectatio­ns.

“The current ‘party dues’ system is a recipe for corruption that disconnect­s members of Congress from their constituen­ts,” he said in the report. “The current ‘dues’ system puts legislator­s under immense pressure to make appeals to special interests to gain and maintain their committee assignment­s.”

Former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, the New York lawmaker who once chaired the DCCC, called dialing for dollars an “unnecessar­y evil.”

A spokespers­on for the NRCC declined comment. A DCCC official said the campaign arm “strongly encourages all members to pay their dues, but it is not a factor in deciding committee posts.”

Some ex-members say that portraying big-money transfers to the party committees as a requiremen­t to ascend the best committees is not in line with reality.

“No. 1, it’s not a requiremen­t for anyone to become a committee chair to fulfill any responsibi­lity to the NRCC,” said former Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, previously the top Republican on the House Administra­tion Committee.

Many committee chairs hail from safe seats and don’t need to use their political cash for their own races, Davis noted.

 ?? DREAMSTIME ?? The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
DREAMSTIME The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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