Congress for sale: Posted prices

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson says that committee assignments and chairmanships in the House of Representatives are not only for sale, they have posted prices, just like in Target or Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

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.

           ==Marian Currinder, Money in the House (2008)

The sequel, according to political scientist Eleanor Powell of Yale, was that half the committee chairs failed to meet their fund-raising goals.  While committee chairmanships and assignments were not solely based on fund-raising benchmarks, those who failed were in jeopardy of losing their seats to more junior House members with more fund-raising prowess.

The Democrats of course did not invent these practices.  As Thomas Ferguson wrote in the current issue of The Washington Spectator:

The Democrats’ 2008 price schedules … are just variations on themes introduced by the Republicans in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich brought in the earliest versions of “pay to play” and Tom DeLay consulted computer printouts of members’ contributions at meetings to decide on committee chairs.  Everybody in D.C. is in on the game.  Only the public is still in the dark.

Posting prices in this fashion does more than energize Congress to hunt up new sources of cash in hope of advancing their careers and winning reelection.  The practice makes cash flow the basic determinant of the very structure of lawmaking.  Instead of buffering at least some outside forces, Congressional committees and party leadership posts reflect the shape of political money—and in our New Gilded Age, it is obvious where most of that comes from.

The whole adds up to something far more sinister than the parts.  Big interest groups (think finance or oil or utilities or health care) can control the membership of the committees that write the legislation that regulates them.  Outside investors and interest groups also become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within parties in Congress.  You want your man or woman in the leadership?  Just send money.  Lots of it.

Click on Posted Prices and the Capitol Hill Stalemate Machine to read the entire Washington Spectator article. [Added 10/18/11]

Click on The Washington Spectator for the newsletter’s home page.  However, Tom Ferguson’s article is available only to subscribers.

Click on Our Polarized and Money-Driven Congress for comment by Yves Smith on her Naked Capitalism web log.

Click on Party Requirements for Fund-Raising for comment by Jim Fickett on the Clear on Money web site.

Click on Legislators Never Bowl Alone: Big Money, Mass Media and the Polarization of Congress PDF  for an academic paper by Thomas Ferguson.

Click on Where Money Matters in Congress PDF for an academic paper by Eleanor Powell.

Click on Congress for sale: The new money game for a later post on political fund-raising and allocation of House committee posts. [Added 10/14/11]

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2 Responses to “Congress for sale: Posted prices”

  1. amudho Says:

    amudho reblogged this on masmudho74 and commented: yep I agree and that is not good.


  2. Emily Gordon Says:

    Thanks for posting this! We’ve now opened up the article to non-subscribers, and you can read the full story here:

    Emily Gordon, Online Editor
    The Washington Spectator


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