Politics

Freedom Caucus Member’s Book Slams Money-Obsessed Politicians

In ‘Drain the Swamp,’ Ken Buck also takes aim at NRCC’s ‘pay-to-play’ culture

Colorado Rep. Ken Buck attributes criticism of the House Freedom Caucus to “just plain jealousy.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Freedom Caucus member Ken Buck describes a money-hungry, lobbyist-influenced Republican leadership in his first book “Drain the Swamp” but he told CQ Roll Call that life is better for the hard-line conservative faction under Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

The Colorado Republican, now in his second term, has few kind words in his book released this week for Ryan’s predecessor, Ohio’s John A. Boehner, whom conservative lawmakers worked to oust. Boehner has since set up a practice at the K Street firm Squire Patton Boggs, and his spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Buck writes that Boehner mounted a “war on conservatives” including those in the Freedom Caucus, booting some off committees and leadership posts as retribution for not sticking with leaders on votes. And he characterizes the House GOP leadership style during the former speaker’s tenure as “bullying.”

“Paul is much more focused on policy than power,” Buck said Thursday in an interview, hours after discussing the book and life in Congress at a Heritage Foundation event.

Some members of the invite-only Freedom Caucus opposed the Ryan-backed rewrite of the 2010 health care law, dealing a legislative disaster on March 24 to Ryan and President Donald Trump. The president turned his Twitter ire on the conservatives, and called out Freedom Caucus leaders by name.

But Buck, who had announced his support for the GOP health care bill, dismisses all the hits to his group.

“Part of it is just plain jealousy — they can’t get into the Freedom Caucus, so they want to bad mouth the Freedom Caucus,” he said during the Heritage event.

Fundraising pressures

In his book, Buck writes: “Money rules in Washington.”

He recounts in detail the contributions that House Republicans are expected to forward to their campaign arm as dues to serve on congressional committees. Lesser committee spots, such as the Judiciary panel, will set a freshman lawmaker back $220,000, Buck writes, while “A” committees, such as Ways and Means, require dues of $450,000.

“Members are required to pay for committee assignments,” Buck writes. “Lobbyists, corporations, and wealthy individuals who need something from Congress raise the money.”

The result of that system, he writes, “is that members routinely vote for defective legislation in order to please party leaders and get money for their re-election campaigns instead of doing what is right for America.”

He tells a story of an Appropriations chairman urging lobbyists not to donate to then-Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who eventually left the panel because she couldn’t raise enough money to cover dues for that “A” committee. The Wyoming Republican did not seek re-election in 2016.

Buck, in the CQ Roll Call interview, said he does not prohibit lobbyists or political action committees from donating to his campaign coffers. He also said he regularly seeks out their views on policy matters.

“We solicit information from all sides of a piece of legislation,” he said.

Buck said he’s heard thirdhand of instances when people may have allowed political donations to sway their votes but added he was reluctant to discuss it, since he didn’t have direct knowledge.

“I have never had someone come up to me and say, ‘I was going to vote against this but voted for it because someone gave me money,’ ” he said.

Buck’s book includes advice for ordinary Americans and for Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to “drain the swamp,” as Buck did previously. So, too, did Nancy Pelosi of California when she became House speaker after Democrats won the majority in 2006.

His top priority, he said, is pushing for a balanced budget amendment. He also recently introduced a bill that would require the Office of Management and Budget to track revenue collected from budget offsets. Buck believes such “pay-fors” do not actually generate notable revenue.

If his quest does little to endear him among his party’s leadership, Buck has found common ground with a small, bipartisan collection of lawmakers including New York Democrat Kathleen Rice. He said in the interview he started a group modeled on the ReFormers Caucus, an effort by the campaign finance organization Issue One. Buck said this group has a dozen members, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.

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