Peterson — now the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee — said caucuses in general don’t do very much, and the Frozen Food Caucus is no exception.
“People set these things up so they can say they are doing something even if they are not really doing anything,” Peterson said. “It’s just kind of a trend. ... They have a caucus for everything you can think of.”
Paul Miller, former president of the American League of Lobbyists, said that when Members of Congress sign up for a caucus, they self-identify as targets for lobbying efforts on that topic. This provides an enormous time savings for a lobbyist. “It saves me from having to print up 435 copies of something,” Miller said. “I can just target those Members,” and ask them to carry the message to others in Congress.
David Miller, executive director of the New York State chapter of the Audubon Society, said the Long Island Sound Caucus co-chaired by Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) has become a lobbying vehicle for groups trying to preserve and protect the sound. “When we go to them we can get them to take the message to other Members in a much more official capacity than we can as Audubon alone,” David Miller said. “There is no real legal or committee status to this but it provides that networking opportunity that you don’t have as an outside party.” Even without legislative authority or dedicated funding, the Long Island Sound Caucus has held field hearings in the region to discuss issues important to the sound.
The House Administration Committee handbook for Members states that “Neither [caucuses] nor individual Members may accept goods, funds, or services from private organizations or individuals to support the” caucus, but caucuses offer a variety of benefits for Members of Congress. For starters, if there are 400 caucuses, “it allows 400 Members to be called ‘Mr. Chairman,’” said Peter Farnham, public affairs director for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
In 2003, Farnham wrote an article on caucuses for a trade publication for association executives, suggesting that “if no currently existing caucuses exactly match your association’s legislative and policy interests, consider approaching a Congressional ally about establishing one that does.”
Brian Berry, a senior vice president at Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates who has worked with several Congressional caucuses, said they are particularly appealing “for younger Members who still might have tight districts and might have won by six [percent] or eight percent.” For these Members, “the more I can get involved in and the more legislation I can get involved in, the more I can say I am doing for my constituents back home.”
Andrew House, Nunes’ communications director, said a group like the Frozen Food Caucus “benefits the industries that are represented by the issues and it benefits Members of Congress who are working to advance the interests of their communities — and who need support of industry to get the word out.”
A caucus is “a way for Members of Congress to identify themselves with issues that are of interest to their constituents,” House said, pointing out that Nunes also is active in the Dairy Farmers Caucus, which is a key industry in his district. But being involved in an industry caucus does not mean doing the bidding of an industry group, House said. “There is no undue influence. We value the advice and counsel of experts throughout the whole spectrum of the U.S. industry.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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