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 II we look at the big money, the lobbyists’ influence and the effect it has on legislation.
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.
The NRCC has a longstanding policy to not meddle in primary elections, a promise affirmed to me in person by leadership. Yet the NRCC paid more than $300,000 in legal fees to fund Jones’s recount effort. After Biggs won the recount by twenty-seven votes and won again in the general election, the NRCC offered to lower his dues and write a check to his campaign for the same amount that they gave his opponent.
I felt the same sting from my own party in 2010 when the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) gave my opponent $500,000 in the primary race. She used that money to label me as anti-woman, a theme my Democratic opponent was only too happy to capitalize on in the general election.
Committee assignments, then, are less about qualifications than they are about cash—or, to put it another way, cash is the chief qualification you need. Aside from his outstanding policy credentials, House Speaker Paul Ryan is certainly well qualified for his position— he raised more than $50 million in 2016.
Serving on certain committees can also mean a lot of donations for representatives. A recent review of fundraising patterns over the last two decades revealed that members of some House committees rake in more donor cash than others. The study concluded that getting “on Ways and Means boosts your PAC fundraising levels by $208,315” and “your out-of-state itemized fundraising totals by $233,742. . . .” While joining “Financial Services produces a boost of $101,695 to PAC contributions and a boost of $140,334 to your out-of-state contributions. . . . Joining Energy and Commerce yields a statistically significant boost of $72,933 to your PAC contributions.”
It’s easy to see why the three committees mentioned above are all considered to be A committees. Corporate fortunes can be made or lost by legislation that affects their industries. Consequently, generous campaign donations often flow to members of these committees. For example, the financial, real estate, and insurance industries contributed more than $29 million to members of the Financial Services Committee, more than $16 million to members of the Ways and Means, and more than $8 million to members of Energy and Commerce, either through Political Action Committees (PACs) or to individuals.7 That’s one reason why these congressional committee assignments are so valuable to so many in the House.
Corporations use this leverage to get what they want included in legislation. For example, one biotechnology firm seemed to work the broken system well during the “fiscal cliff crisis” of 2013 according to the New York Times:
Just two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, scored a largely unnoticed coup on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.
The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.
The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.
Amgen, which has a small army of 74 lobbyists in the capital, was the only company to argue aggressively for the delay, according to several congressional aides of both parties.
I am not opposed to lobbyists. Everyone, both individuals and groups, have a right to petition Congress. But when the request is closely tied to donations and results in last-minute legislative perks, the people’s trust in government deteriorates. And because the fiscal cliff bill was forced upon Congress at the final hour, written in secret behind closed doors, most members didn’t find out about this change until it was too late, if they ever knew about it at all.
House leadership doles out these influential committee assignments to those who play the game. After Speaker Boehner announced his retirement in 2015, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan met with the Freedom Caucus to earn our support for his effort to become Speaker. Paul met with about thirty of us in the Ways and Means Committee conference room, right off the House floor, while the press waited outside.
We had a good conversation. When we told Paul that leadership was discriminating against conservatives, he asked us, “How many of you are on Ways and Means?” He was surprised that none of us were; clearly, he was not in the loop about Boehner’s war on conservatives.
The real partisanship in Washington isn’t between political parties or about political principle; it is within parties, where leaders punish members who don’t play the game. In Congress, the consensus has been, it’s better to sink the nation with debt than rock the boat with reform. If we’re going to drain the swamp, we need to change that.
Paul Ryan was the chairman of Ways and Means committee and didn’t even know if these guys were on the committee, because it’s so large and because he’s too busy. He’s too busy writing legislation, (apparently with the help of the lobbyists) that suits the wants of big corporations rather than write it for the good of the people. When even his fellow representatives in the House can’t get fair treatment, then it’s a given that we won’t get a fair deal either.
Rep. Buck isn’t the first one to talk about the pay-to-play game that’s so dominate in our government, but he did go into more detail than I’ve previously seen.
Knowing this information makes it easy to see just how little our voices matter. It’s a mammoth sized con game and we’re the suckers.
It also explains why bills are so lengthy and makes it clear that we’ll never see single item bills. And we’ll never be rid of lobbyists.