Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois raised about $200,000 more from lobbyists in the first half of this year than Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, a potential signal of fundraising strength that could further distinguish the two Republican lawmakers in their fight for the House Energy and Commerce Committee gavel.
Shimkus brought in nearly $1.1 million for his leadership political action committee and his personal campaign committee from lobbyists in the first six months of this year, according to a Roll Call analysis of this summer's lobbying disclosures. Walden raised $864,000 from K Street during the same period.
The two are the front-runners to replace Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, should the GOP maintain control of the House in the next Congress. Upton has served the full six-year term that the Republican conference allows. While Shimkus has seniority on the panel, Walden has served for two terms as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, a position that gives him the opportunity to raise impressive sums and curry favor with the rank and file.
The filings are the most recent indications of how close each lawmaker is to the influence industry on K Street. The powerful committee has broad jurisdiction over health, energy, and telecommunications and Internet policymaking, and lobbyists from each sector often donate substantially to the committee's members, and especially to its chairman.
It's not clear how important those ties are to the group of Republicans empowered to decide for the conference who will chair each committee. Chairmen are expected to raise large sums for the conference. But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan asked, in a past chairmanship race, that all fundraising metrics be left out of members' presentations to their colleagues.
Even Shimkus downplayed the importance of contributions.
Most of the sums coming in from K Street are small — donations of $1,000 to $2,500. Individual lobbyists, like all individual donors of hard money contributions, are capped at $5,000 each year to lawmakers' leadership PACs, and $2,700 to a campaign committee for each the primary and general election campaigns. Companies can give $5,000 from their PACs to candidates' leadership PACs and $5,000 to the re-election committee for each the primary and general campaigns.
Only a few lobbying organizations have given more than $10,000 to either lawmaker this year. AT&T and the National Telecommunications & Cable Association maxed out to both lawmakers' leadership and re-election coffers. Shimkus also nabbed $10,000 from the health insurance company Health Care Service Corporation.
More than a dozen others dropped $10,000 on Walden, including Aetna, Eli Lilly, Google and Home Depot. Still others gave larger sums to the NRCC on Walden's behalf, including the National Association of Broadcasters. Lawmakers may raise money for their leadership PACs and re-election campaigns from corporations and individual donors who aren't registered to lobby.
The diversity of those donors reflects the powerful committee's broad jurisdiction. In the 115th Congress, it is preparing to update the drug and device approval process at the Food and Drug Administration. The panel is also likely to take up a revamp of requirements for biofuels such as ethanol, the future of the proposed nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and changes to laws governing electric grids.
Walden attributed the fundraising discrepancy, in part, to the tough primary fight that Shimkus faced this spring. The Illinois Republican invested about $1.5 million to beat back a challenge from state Sen. Kyle McCarter, who was backed by the conservative group Club for Growth.
Walden isn't sluggish when it comes to fundraising. He donated over $5.5 million to the NRCC during his two terms as chairman, including $2.4 million so far in 2016, an aide said. Walden also visited 38 states so far this year, topping the 35 he visited during the 2013-2014 cycle, and traveled 251,000 miles for the conference during his tenure at the helm.
Several lobbyists close to the committee also attributed Shimkus's larger lobbyist fundraising to his primary bid, and downplayed the idea that the totals would drastically influence the criteria used by the Republican Steering Committee to select a chairman.
Shimkus defended his overall fundraising efforts over time, saying that he'd contributed substantial sums to the NRCC and fellow members even as he fought off a challenger. So far this year, he has contributed $290,000 from his leadership PAC and close to $500,000 from his re-election campaign to the NRCC, according to updated numbers provided by an aide.
"People can look at the numbers and they can see that even in a tough primary race, I'm raising money, I'm also supporting candidates while we're doing that," he said.
Kate Ackley and Alisha Green contributed to this report.