Donors’ Influence on Committee Leaders

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) came out with an astounding report on November 16, 2011: “Funds for Favors: Exposing Donors’ Influence on Committee Leaders.”  CREW found that

… as members grow in power and seniority, the industries they are responsible for regulating steer more and more money into their campaign coffers. Those members typically receive especially big jumps in industry donations during the election cycle immediately before assuming the chairmanship or ranking member position.

CREW examined campaign contributions to the current chairmen and ranking members of 10 committees, analyzing them from the 1998 election cycle through the 2010 election cycle. Industry contributions to those members have skyrocketed during that period, increasing by nearly 600%, far more than the 230% increase in overall contributions to those members during the same period.

The report refers to three Texans:

  • Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary. Over the past seven election cycles, as his seniority on the committee rose, contributions from judiciary industries to Rep. Smith increased at a rate far outpacing his total contributions (p. 34).
  • Ralph Hall, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Over the past seven election cycles, Rep. Hall’s contributions from committee related industries have decreased, though at a slower pace than his overall total contributions (p. 44).
  • Eddie Bernice Johnson, ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  Over the past seven elections cycles, as her seniority on the committee rose, contributions from science, space and technology industries to Rep. Johnson increased, though at a slower rate than her total contributions (p. 46).

In Republic, Lost Lawrence Lessig postulates that even if political scientists are correct – that there is no conclusive evidence that campaign contributions are changing political results – “there are three undeniable effects of this economy of influence, each of them a reason for concern, and all three together are a demonstration of the urgency there should be in solving it.”   These effects are

  • distraction: The fund-raising Congress is distracted by spending 30%-70% of its time fundraising instead of reading bills and deliberating their merits or lack thereof.
  • distortion: A disconnect between what the lobbyist community and the public think is the most important problem facing the country today.  The public thinks that law, crime and family policy, and macroeconomics and taxation are the most important problems, while the lobbying community thinks that health and the environment are the most important problems.
  • trust:  The vast majority of Americans believe that it is money that is buying results.  Whether or not that’s true, that is what we believe, and our trust in our government is eroded.
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