Ways and Means Slot Can Buoy Fundraising

Posted November 16, 2009 at 5:59pm

How much is one of the coveted spots on the powerful Ways and Means Committee worth to a Member?

There’s no exact math to it, but consider this: During the first three quarters of the 2008 cycle, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) reported $268,000 in campaign contributions.

This year, after being tapped for a seat on Ways and Means in January, Higgins had raised $531,000 in contributions through Sept. 30.

Higgins, whose office declined to comment for this article, was one of 11 Members who got Ways and Means slots at the beginning of the 111th Congress. Fundraising reports show that during their first several months on the job some made more of their newfound influence than others when it comes to collecting campaign dollars.

Six of the 11 new Ways and Means members raised more money during the first three quarters of the 2010 cycle than they did compared to the same time period last cycle, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis.

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) saw the second-biggest gain behind Higgins, with $124,000 more in contributions this cycle compared to this point last cycle.

Other new committee Members who have seen an uptick in fundraising in the first nine months of 2009 compared to 2007 are Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who had $94,000 in additional contributions, and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who had $49,000 more. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) had $44,000 more and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) had $39,000 more.

As the chief tax-writing committee in the House, Ways and Means has long been viewed as a gateway to power and influence on Capitol Hill, and openings on the committee are not only coveted, but usually reserved for up-and-coming Members.

One Congressional insider said last week that tracking the new committee members’ fundraising performance is one way to tell who the “real rising stars— are as opposed to those “who got on a top-tier committee and set it on autopilot.—

Those new committee members who saw a drop-off in fundraising when compared to the 2008 cycle include Democratic Reps. Bob Etheridge (N.C.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.) and Republican Reps. Geoff Davis (Ky.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Peter Roskam (Ill.).

Geoff Davis earned the distinction of being the new committee member with the largest drop-off in contributions compared to his pre-Ways and Means days. Davis brought in $340,000 less in the first nine months of 2009 than he did one cycle ago.

Heller and Yarmuth saw a $247,000 and $168,000 drop, respectively, while Etheridge and Roskam each saw a decline of less than $20,000.

Of course, Members’ re-election circumstances have a lot to do with how much money they raise, and in early 2007, Geoff Davis was coming off a competitive race against former Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.) and his seat was being closely watched by Democrats. This year, there has been no serious effort to recruit a candidate against the Congressman, so there may have been less incentive to fundraise.

Geoff Davis’ office did not return requests for comment Monday.

Perhaps a more accurate barometer of how effective Members have been in making use of their new committee post might be found in comparing the Members’ contributions from political action committees. PAC donations are one way for trade associations and interest groups to influence Congress’ most powerful Members.

Eight of the 11 new Ways and Means members received more PAC contributions in the first nine months of 2009 than they did during the same time period in 2007.

Higgins was again head of the group, pulling in $108,000 more in PAC contributions than he did in the first three quarters of 2009. He was followed by Danny Davis, who had $78,000 more PAC contributions; Reichert, with $66,000 more; Boustany with $56,000 more; Sánchez, who reported $43,000 more; Geoff Davis, with $35,000 more; Etheridge, who showed $28,000 more; and Brown-Waite, who had a $26,000 increase in PAC contributions.

On the flip side, Roskam reported $122,000 less in PAC contributions on Sept. 30 than he had at the same point in 2007. Yarmuth had $46,000 less than he did two years before, and Heller reported $39,000 less PAC contributions.

All three sophomore lawmakers won highly competitive races in 2006 that were targeted by both national parties and, in theory, began the 2008 cycle with big bull’s-eyes on their backs. But after all three won re-election fairly comfortably in 2008 (Heller’s race was the most competitive), none of them is currently among the list of most endangered Members in 2010.

Roskam spokesman Dan Conston said the Congressman’s fundraising “has remained strong, especially as he’s had to balance it with new responsibilities on Ways and Means, as a deputy whip, as the deputy incumbent retention chair at the— National Republican Congressional Committee. Roskam also chaired the NRCC’s March dinner, which raised $6.4 million in two months.

But not everyone believes Ways and Means is the be-all and end-all when it comes to fundraising dividends from committee posts.

“If you’re looking at straight campaign donations, Financial Services is the better committee to be on because the PACs that give are bigger,— one longtime Capitol Hill staffer said.