The following is an exclusive excerpt from Congressman Ken Buck’s upcoming book, Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think.
In Part I we’ll look at how the game works and who the players are.
Representatives want committee seats for a variety of reasons, some of them honorable, some of them not. For some members, committee assignments aren’t so much about public service as they are about raising one’s public profile—and attracting special interest donations to one’s campaign fund. Because congressional leadership understands that self-interest motivates many members to serve on committees, they leverage that desire by unofficially ranking the committees.
Numerous high-level members of the Republican House leadership have confirmed to me that committees are ranked. The ranking system is understood by members, though seldom spoken of. Committees are assigned letters—A, B, or C—based on how important they are deemed to be by leadership.
There are five A committees in the House:
- Ways and Means
- Energy and Commerce
- Financial Services
Both parties use committee appointments to raise money. If you want to serve on a committee in Congress, you have to pay for the privilege.
Here’s how it works for Republicans. If you want to serve on a committee, you have to raise money for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). The amount varies depending on the committee and role. For example, to serve on a B or C level committee, a GOP House freshman member must raise $220,000 every two years. I paid that amount to the NRCC in my first term in Congress, but now must pay more than double that amount. Veteran members on A committees must raise more than twice that amount—$450,000. That’s right, almost half a million dollars to do what the people elected them to do.
Republican representatives from districts deemed to be at risk by the NRCC get their dues discounted by at least 30 percent. Twelve Republican members were designated in 2015 to be part of this “Patriot” program, but other members whose districts were equally at risk, like Rod Blum, were not included in the program, because they did not play the leadership’s game.
As it is, some members of Congress spend at least half their time fundraising to keep their dues paid and campaign coffers full. If you become the chair of a B committee—congratulations—you’re now expected to raise $875,000 a year for the NRCC. Chairing an A committee means you must raise $1.2 million. The higher your role in the House leadership, the higher the price tag:
|Deputy Whip||$2.5 million|
|Conference Chair||$5 million|
|Majority Leader||$10 million|
When representatives don’t pay their “dues” or fall behind, they are pressured to pay up—or else. It’s happened to me, and I’ve heard similar stories from countless others.
Candidates’ ability to raise cash is largely influenced by how well they play the game with leadership, and if you don’t pay your dues, you can’t use the NRCC call suites (or other benefits like the NRCC recording studios) to raise money.
To make matters worse, the NRCC got caught using those pay-to-play funds to support a recount effort against a conservative candidate in a Republican primary in 2016. When Andy Biggs ran to replace the retiring Matt Salmon in Arizona’s Fifth District, he narrowly defeated the moderate opponent in the primary, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones.
When you consider the multiple departments that each committee oversees, it makes you keenly aware of the tremendous number of lobbyists (and their money) who are jockeying for position.
Here’s how the committees break down and who the players are:
The House Committee on Appropriations is responsible for setting specific expenditures of money by the government of the United States. As such, it is one of the most powerful of the committees, and its members are seen as influential. The bills passed by the committee are called appropriations bills.
The Committee on Ways and Means is the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives. The Committee derives a large share of its jurisdiction from Article I, Section VII of the U.S. Constitution which declares, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”
The Committee on Energy and Commerce is vested with the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee. It has responsibility for the nation’s telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health research, environmental quality, energy policy, and interstate and foreign commerce. It oversees multiple cabinet-level Departments and independent agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission.
The Rules Committee has two broad categories of jurisdiction: special orders for the consideration of legislation (known as “special rules” or “rules”) and original jurisdiction matters. A special rule provides the terms and conditions of debate on a measure or matter, consideration of which constitutes the bulk of the work of the Rules Committee. The Committee also considers original jurisdiction measures, which commonly represent changes to the standing rules of the House, or measures that contain special rules, such as the expedited procedures in trade legislation.
The House Financial Services Committee has jurisdiction over issues pertaining to the economy, the banking system, housing, insurance, and securities and exchanges. Additionally, the Committee also has jurisdiction over monetary policy, international finance, international monetary organizations, and efforts to combat terrorist financing.
Some of the committees have more extensive rosters and if each member is raking in donations in various degrees, it sheds light on why campaigns are so expensive.
Considering how little of the calendar year they actually spend on work, so to know that time is cut in half by the constant fund-raising is truly disheartening. I think it also explains why we constantly hear that Project X has to be delayed or that Such-and-Such Bill will take much longer than expected.
Are you starting to understand why our phone calls, letter and emails go unanswered? It’s not about us, except to foot the bill.
Part II tomorrow.