A new Issue One review of federal campaign finance filings shows that both the Democrats who led the four most powerful House committees during the past two years and the Republicans who lead them now raised significant sums for their respective parties between January 2021 and December 2022.
It has long been an open secret in Washington that both the Democratic and Republican parties lean on members of Congress to raise funds for the party’s political war chests. The more influential a legislator’s role in Congress, the more money party leaders expect them to raise, with committee chairs being expected to raise more funds than members of their caucus who aren’t in leadership roles.
Issue One’s research indicates that the top Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and Ways and Means committees collectively transferred more than $5.2 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) during the past two years.
In practice, this meant that approximately $1 of every $5 these lawmakers spent during the 2022 election cycle didn’t go to their own reelection campaign efforts, but rather, the money was simply transferred from their campaigns to the national parties. Each of these 8 lawmakers transferred six- or seven-figure sums to the NRCC or DCCC.
For Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the new chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, fully 27% of her campaign spending during the 2022 election cycle were just transfers to the NRCC, Issue One found. For Reps. Jason Smith (R-MO), the new chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and Richard Neal (D-MA), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee who chaired the committee during the past two years, the percentage of campaign spending that was simply giving money to the NRCC and DCCC, respectively, was 25%.
“Whether Democrats or Republicans wield the gavels in Congress, part of the price of power is increased fundraising expectations on legislative leaders,” said Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman. “It’s outrageous that political parties are allowed to contort the legislative process by placing congressional committee assignments on the auction blocks and dictating astronomical fundraising quotas to lawmakers. The current ‘dues’ system is a lose-lose for individual legislators, the legislative branch of our government, and the American people.”
Added Issue One ReFormers Caucus Co-chair Amb. Tim Roemer (D-IN), who served in the House of Representatives for six terms and was co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition: “Political parties requiring members of Congress seeking prominent committee assignments to pay a hidden ‘tax’ for that institutional right is a shadowy practice that needs to end. It’s not healthy for members of Congress to be constantly worried about dialing for dollars. Ideally, decisions about committee assignments should be made based on legislators’ professional talents and previous experience, not how much they contribute to party organizations.”
Added Issue One ReFormers Caucus Co-chair Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), who was the top Republican member of two subcommittees on the House Appropriations Committee during his eight terms in Congress: “The current ‘party dues’ system is a recipe for corruption that disconnects members of Congress from their constituents. The current ‘dues’ system puts legislators under immense pressure to make appeals to special interests to gain and maintain their committee assignments. The factors that determine who serves on which congressional committees should include your expertise, passion, and experience — not just how dedicated you are to raising money.”
New members of Congress may not be expecting this fundraising treadmill. In a 55-page booklet sent to Republican House candidates in October 2022, the House Freedom Caucus warned that “every committee assignment comes with a specific fundraising quota attached, and each Member is expected to abide or else may find themselves serving on another (less sought after) committee altogether… If a Member neglects their ‘dues,’ or is perceived to be likely to neglect their dues, it will be reflected in your committee assignments.”
The exact amount of money that members of Congress are expected to raise is secret, albeit a secret that occasionally leaks to the press. Issue One supports “party dues” fundraising expectations being publicly disclosed and also supports strengthening House rules to delink committee determinations from lawmakers’ fundraising prowess.
See past installments of our “Price of Power” series here:
- The Price of Power: How Political Parties Squeeze Influential Lawmakers to Boost their Campaign Coffers (2017)
- The Continuing “Price of Power”: How the Political Parties Leaned on Legislative Leaders for Cash During the 115th Congress (2019)
- New documents affirm Issue One reports about the price of power in Congress (2019)
- New Congress, Same “Committee Tax”: Parties pressured legislative leaders to raise huge sums of campaign cash during the 116th Congress — and are poised to do so again this year (2021)
Issue: Party Dues