Congressional committee assignments are for sale

Big-money influence on Congress is nothing new.  It does back to the Gilded Age of the 19th century and before.  House Speaker New Gingrich took it a step further in the 1990s with his “pay to play” system.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually has taken the process a step further.  Each Democratic congressional representative is expected to pay “dues” to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by raising money from donors.  Each committee assignment has a specific posted price.

The political scientist Thomas Ferguson wrote about this eight years ago, and I posted about it then.  Recently Ryan Grim and Aïda Chavez of The Intercept obtained the latest posted prices.

The dues for the 2020 cycle, according to the DCCC dues document, range from $150,000 at the low level to $1,000,000 for the Speaker of the House.  The document lays out the price of particular committee assignments.

Leadership posts for the second-, third-, and fourth-ranking Democrats — currently Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, and Ben Ray Luján — range from $900,000 down to $700,000.

The next tier of leadership, which includes Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos, and others, costs just $575,000. Lower-ranking members of leadership owe between $400,000 and $500,000.

That’s less than the chairs of exclusive committees have to chip in. Those four — Richard Neal, chair of Ways and Means; Frank Pallone, chair of Energy and Commerce; Nita Lowey, chair of Appropriations; and Maxine Waters, chair of Financial Services — owe $600,000 each for their gavels. Neal has paid half of his dues, while Lowey and Pallone have paid just under $200,000. Waters hasn’t made any dues payments yet.

The document also lists a goal for money-raised, which it puts at $1.2 million for each of the four. The dues report claims Waters has raised just $40,500, compared to $3.3 million for Neal, $1.4 million for Pallone, and $160,400 from Lowey. (Neal, Pallone, and Lowey are facing primary challenges.)

On those so-called money committees, like Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, even freshman members are asked to pay higher dues. That’s because those committees have jurisdiction over effectively every major industry, giving members a leg-up in demanding checks from corporations who need — or oppose — legislation before the panel. It is also valuable for industries to have committee members write letters to agencies they oversee.

Chairs of committees not lucky enough to oversee commercially prosperous industries owe just $300,000 in dues and have a listed goal of raising $300,000, compared to the money committees’ $1.2 million. Indeed, even vice chairs of money committees owe more than chairs of regular committees. Yvette Clarke, vice chair of Energy and Commerce, and Terri Sewell, vice chair of Ways and Means, owe $400,000 each. Subcommittee chairs on money panels owe as much as chairs of plebeian committees: $300,000.

An individual seat on a money committee, meanwhile, will run a member of Congress $250,000.  Sad sack rank-and-filers not privileged enough to sit on a money committee owe just $150,000.

Source: The Intercept

Democratic congressional representatives are expected do spend several hours a day on the phone, soliciting donations.  There also is a “points” system by which representatives can earn credit by supporting the party through action rather than money.

Candidates that are helped by the DCCC are expected to hire consultants, pollsters and campaign managers from a list.  So it’s a tight system, and one that is guaranteed to keep things as they are.

Not all big donors think alike and some may align with the public interest on particular issues, such as climate change.  But none of them would tolerate an actual threat to their wealth and power.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others like them are such a threat.  They have figured out how to campaign and get elected without the need to appeal to the donor class.

To Pelosi and the DCCC, it is more vital to stop the near enemy, Sanders and AOC, who threaten their careers and livelihoods, that it is to stop the far enemy, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

This conflict is not a friendly disagreement among like-minded people who share the same goals.  Careers and livelihoods are at stake, and the fight is a fight to the (political) death.

LINKS

Here’s How Much the Democratic Party Charges to Be on Each House Committee by Ryan Grim and Aida Chavez for The Intercept.

Pay to Play: This Would Be a Scandal, Were Any Major News Agency to Cover It by Mike the Mad Biologist.

Why We Need to Abolish the Democratic National Committee Even If It Means Breaking Up the Democratic Party by Michael Hudson.

The Majority of Americans Hate BOTH Parties by Washington’s Blog.

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