Members of Congress must pay secret fees known as “party dues” to the Democratic and Republican parties to secure and maintain top committee chairmanships and assignments, newly uncovered internal documents reveal.
The never-before-published lists are reprinted inside the new book Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, written by Government Accountability Institute President and Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer.
Senior congressional staffers say the committee price lists have long been rumored to exist but that few people on Capitol Hill have seen them, giving them an almost “mythical” quality.
The book contains copies of the Democratic and Republican price lists detailing how much money lawmakers must raise to obtain and keep their seats on congressional committees. The so-called “party dues” lawmakers must contribute for committee assignments are separate and apart from the fundraising they conduct for their own campaigns. If lawmakers fail to make their tribute payment to their party, they can lose their place on a powerful committee.
“These party dues are not voluntary,” writes Schweizer. “Members are not asked to pay–they are required to pay.”
In the 2013-2014 election cycle, the going rate for a Democratic assignment as the ranking member on a top committee like the House Ways and Means or Financial Services Committees is $500,000. Schweizer reports that Democrats also use a “members points system” that rewards its members for attending party fundraisers.
Prices on the Republican House committee list are higher due to the GOP’s House majority–a fact that creates even greater opportunities for lawmakers to extract donations from the industries a committee oversees. According to Schweizer, the GOP price sheet is actually posted on the wall of the Republican Congressional Committee and contains red marks beside the names of lawmakers who fall behind on their party dues.
GOP prices for committee posts vary widely. For example, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who is the chairman of the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, is expected to extract $990,000 from donors for the GOP. The chairman of the less powerful House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, is required to bag just $405,000.
Schweizer contends that the common belief that outside forces and special interests seek to bribe Washington politicians is wrong. The reverse is true: lawmakers use a series of “brass knuckle legislative tactics” to politically extort wealthy interests and industries into forking over large political donations–some of which can then be funneled to a politician’s friends or family members.
Schweizer’s political extortion argument holds troubling implications when considered alongside the price lists for committee assignments.
“Built into the valuations is the implicit extortion value of the [committee] seat,” explains Schweizer. “Sitting on the House Financial Services Committee means you can extract lots of money from wealthy financial institutions.”
According to the author, committee assignments have far more to do with fundraising prowess than policy expertise.
“We want to believe that committee assignments are based on knowledge, expertise, and background,” writes Schweizer in Extortion. “But a member of Congress will end up on a powerful committee like the House Ways and Means Committee or Financial Services Committee only if he or she can raise money.”
Schweizer adds: “Raising money is what helps an ambitious member of the House rise in the ranks far more than ideas or competence.”
When asked how he managed to obtain both the DNC and RNC price lists, Schweizer said, “Good old-fashioned gumshoe investigative journalism.”