Ruling Congress, Dems Rolling in Special Interest Cash

By Avni Patel

Apr 19, 2007 3:52pm

The campaign coffers of the new Democratic House committee chairmen have seen a big jump in contributions from lobbyists and special interests since the Democratic takeover of Congress, according to new campaign finance filings available on PoliticalMoneyLine.com. In some cases, Democrats in powerful posts are raising more money from special interest groups than the Republicans they replaced. Campaign finance experts say that special interests have been contributing mostly to Republicans over the last 12 years of GOP rule on Capitol Hill.  Now they are having to making quick friends with Democratic leaders. "Lobbyists and interest groups need to make a connection right away, and one of the ways to do that is through a PAC contribution," says Kent Cooper, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine. In the past three months, the new committee chairmen have raised $2.4 million in campaign contributions from PACs, the committees created by lobbyists and special interest groups to make contributions and influence elections. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. "Committee chairmen act as the gatekeepers exercising control of whether legislation moves or is at a road block, deciding what is to be considered when," says Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "If you’ve developed a cordial relationship with them over time and have given them contributions, it certainly goes to your benefit." The chairman to receive the most PAC money was Rep. Charles  Rangel of New York, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, who reported raising $486,669 from PACs, compared to $7,500 during the same period two years ago. Rangel’s PAC donors compromised more than half the money he raised and represent a broad array of industries including health care, finance, transportation, agriculture, technology, retailers and organized labor. Krumholz says that Rangel and his colleagues are in the position to be key money makers for the party. "More money generally flows to members on high profile committees, like Ways and Means, because they exercise control over earmarks and specific legislative agendas for essentially all areas of industry," says Krumholz. Other top recipients of PAC money include Rep. John Dingell, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who received $307,582 and Rep. Collin Peterson, the chairman of House Agriculture Committee, who received $196,894 from PACs. Click here for a full list of the committee chairmen’s PAC contribution totals. The former Republican chairmen of those committees received significantly less PAC money than their Democratic counterparts. Rep. Joe Barton, former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received $50,000, one-sixth the amount Dingell received. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, former chairman of the Agriculture committee, received $80,000, half the amount Peterson received.  Campaign finance experts say that Democratic party leaders expect the new committee chairmen to use their new positions of power to bring in more money to the party and actively solicit money from special interests. "It’s a two-way street, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship," says Krumholz. Committee chairmen contacted by ABC News either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

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