Nov. 14,

Fundraiser for Incoming Lawmakers Gives Freshmen An Inappropriate Introduction to the Influence of Money in Politics

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

The incoming Democratic freshmen of the House of Representatives are about to get their first lesson in good old boy politics. Unfortunately, the example being set by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is exactly the kind of initiation these new members don’t need.

Dingell and Rahall are hosting a Washington, D.C., fundraiser Wednesday to help the newly elected Democrats retire their campaign debt. According to the invitation, political action committees (PACs) are encouraged to contribute $20,000 apiece, while individuals are asked to consider chipping in $10,000 each.

What’s wrong with this picture? Before they’re even sworn in, these 23 lawmakers will be exposed to the quid pro quo relationship between elected officials and their wealthy benefactors – lobbyists and corporate power brokers. It’s a potentially corrupting cycle of influence-peddling that could largely be done away with if we had public financing of congressional elections.

As for Dingell, who is facing a serious challenge from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) for his powerful chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he should be aware how suspect it looks for him to be currying favor with incoming legislators the same week the freshmen and sitting members will decide his fate. We should also note that like many of their fellow members of Congress, Waxman and Dingell contributed to the election campaigns of the new lawmakers, though, according to Congressional Quarterly, Waxman gave more through his LA PAC than Dingell did through his Wolverine PAC.

If voters were clear about anything this past election, it was that they are tired of Washington’s business-as-usual style of politics. It’s time for a change. These freshmen should graciously decline Dingell and Rahall’s hospitality and, instead, pledge to sign on to public financing legislation.

###