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Party requirements for fund-raising increase the power of lobbyists [ClearOnMoney]
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Party requirements for fund-raising increase the power of lobbyists

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Commentary

Party requirements for fund-raising increase the power of lobbyists

12 Apr 2011 by Jim Fickett.

Party discipline in Congress requires increasing success in fund-raising in order to hold positions of higher influence. This goes a long ways toward explaining the influence of the banks.

Today Naked Capitalism points to an interesting recent paper from Thomas Ferguson at University of Massachusetts, entitled Legislators Never Bowl Alone: Big Money, Mass Media, and the Polarization of Congress. A key thesis of the paper is that Newt Gingrich started a paradigm shift in how the parties manage themselves in Congress, with a very clear first priority given to fund-raising.

A particularly clear example of the new order is given in the rising scale of funds that must be raised in order to hold positions of power, such as committee chairmanships. Ferguson here quotes Money in the House, a book by Marian Currinder at Georgetown University:

Under the new rules for the 2008 election cycle, the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] asked rank and file members to contribute $125,000 in dues and to raise an additional $75,000 for the party. Subcommittee chairpersons must contribute $150,000 in dues and raise an additional $100,000. Members who sit on the most powerful committees….must contribute $200,000 and raise an additional $250,000. Subcommittee chairs on power committees and committee chairs of non-power committees must contribute $250, 000 and raise $250,000. The five chairs of the power committees must contribute $500,000 and raise an additional $1 million. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emmanuel must contribute $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. The four Democrats who serve as part of the extended leadership must contribute $450,000 and raise $500,000, and the nine Chief Deputy Whips must contribute $300,000 and raise $500,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must contribute a staggering $800,000 and raise an additional $25 million.

Currinder's book was published in 2008; I am surprised this is not more widely known. The facts put forward are recognized, at least, in academic political science departments. Currinder's account is cited, for example, in a 2010 paper by Eleanor Powell at Yale, who fleshes out how things work in practice:

Recent reports suggest that so far only half of the chairs have met that goal (Grieve and Allen, 2008; Dennis and Whittington, 2008). Those that fail to meet or exceed those benchmarks risk losing their positions to less senior members who have shown considerable fund-raising prowess. This is not to say leaders have designed a system that only rewards fund-raising, but rather it is now a factor in achieving or retaining leadership positions.

This goes a long ways towards explaining the power of the banks, which are the largest contributors, in Washington. And unfortunately, it is difficult to see a realistic way to break the pattern.