Freshmen Lawmakers Taking More Money from PACs

By Carolyn Bolls | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - U.S. House freshmen are depending much more on political action committees to fuel their re-election campaigns. In the first quarter of this year, 43 percent of the newcomers' re-election campaign dollars came from PACs, a 15 percent increase from when they ran as non-incumbents, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.

"More of the early money, raised particularly by freshmen, comes from PACs than it does from individuals," Steven Weiss, spokesperson for the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), told Cybercast News Service. "That says that politicians are very reliant on PACs to receive an early boost in fund raising long before the election."

The CRP's June 23 report showed that of the 20 House members who received the most contributions from PACs during the first quarter of 2005, five of them were elected for the first time either in November of last year or March of this year. Two were Democrats and three were Republicans.

Freshman Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who won a special election on March 8 to succeed her late husband, Robert T. Matsui, surpassed all House members with a total of $488,600 in PAC contributions, about 44 percent of the total she has raised for her 2006 re-election campaign.

According to Weiss, PACs contribute to freshmen incumbents as a way to "cover their bets to make sure that the ... newly elected lawmaker realizes that the PAC is supportive of the lawmaker whether or not the PAC contributed to that lawmaker's campaign before the election."

PACs have doubled their support for Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) since he was initially elected. When he ran in 2004, PACs made up 30 percent of his campaign contributions. Now in his first session, approximately 60 percent of his re-election campaign is contributions from PACs, the CRP stated.

Reichert holds the eighth spot on the House's list of most PAC contributions.

"Incumbents are far more valuable to industries and interest groups than challengers are," Weiss said. "Interest groups will often give to incumbents who did not receive their support as challengers."

Rep. Melissa Bean's (D-Ill.) re-election campaign has taken in 6 percent more in PAC contributions than she collected in her campaign last year. Her current top contributor is the pro-abortion rights group, EMILY's List, which made no contributions to her 2004 campaign.

Weiss said new contributors "most definitely" influence House members' legislative decisions.

Reps. Michael E. Sodrel (R-Ind.) and Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) are the other two freshmen who made the CRP's top 20 list.

In his group's latest report, Weiss stated that "House Democratic leaders were among those who raised the highest proportion of funds from PACs in the first quarter." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised 97 percent of her re-election campaign money from PACs while political action committees contributed 76 percent of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) fundraising total.

While PAC contributions are optional, Weiss said it is rare for a candidate or an incumbent to refuse money from such organizations because "money is so important to the political process."

Repeated telephone calls to the freshmen House members mentioned in this article were not returned.

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