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Rep. Massie: Every House Committee Seat Has a Price

A Kentucky congressman gave Americans a rare peek into how posh committee assignments are handed out in the People’s House.

“It was one of the scummiest meetings I’ve ever been in,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R.-Ky.) told The Cincinnati Enquirer about leaving a meeting with an unnamed lobbyist for the medical device industry, who the congressman said offered to help him raise enough money to land a slot on the House Ways and Means Committee.

“He pulled me and my chief of staff into a meeting,” the congressman told the paper. “He offered to raise the money that would be required to get me on Ways and Means. This is a lobbyist telling me he can get me on Ways and Means.” Ways and Means is the tax-writing committee in the House, which takes on special significance because all revenue bills must begin in the House—thus Ways and Means.

Massie said all the committee assignments have a price, which is part of the dues system to raise money for the party’s political operations. “I left just reeling, thinking about the implications for how this place works, when you realize that the lobbyists pick who goes on which committee.”

It is an old game that was the subject of Peter Schweizer’s bestselling expose: Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets.

One former senior aide to House Republican leadership told Breitbart that on a committee like Ways and Means, it is expected that you will raise money for the party and for other members.“There is no such thing as ‘tax geeks’ on Ways and Means, who can’t raise money.”

The former aide said one example of how it works was the 2001 battle for the committee chairmanship between Rep. Phillip Crane (R.-Ind.) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R.-Calif.).

“Crane was a conservative hero, but he could never raise money,” he said. “When he saw that the chairmanship was opening up when Archer retired, he hired a couple of guys to try and get something going, but he couldn’t compete with Thomas.” Rep. William Archer (R.-Texas) chaired the committee from 1995 to 2001.

The smart guys start hosting dinners and they team up with lobbyists and tell them: ‘Listen: Instead of giving 20 members a thousand each, give me $20,000 and I’ll pass it out for you, so we both get credit,” the former aide said. “Another way of doing it is to arrange for the lobbyist to give the same $20,000 to a chairman, so he can pass it out to guys he wants to help—and then, he gets credit, too.”

Being a chairman is a heavy fundraising lift, he said.

“Once you are a chairman, it is not just dues, it is a tax. The NRCC literally gives you a tax bill for, say, $1 million and then there is always a big push for a little more right before an election—you just have to find it,” he said. The National Republican Congressional Committee is the fundraising arm of the House Republicans.

But, any chairman knows the deal going in, he said.

“When you make your presentation to Steering, you have to tell them how much you’ve raised for leadership PACs, the NRCC and other candidates,” he said. “It is understood that if Steering makes you a chairman, that [fundraising] does not stop.”

The House Republican Steering Committee is a caucus of roughly 30 chairmen and members that decides committee and chairman assignments. Steering is led by Speaker Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.), who also has five votes on the committee and appoints the non-chairman and leadership members.

There was speculation that Ryan would reform Steering to devolve power back to the membership and the committees when on Oct. 29, 2015, he took the gavel. But, reality set in when less than two weeks later, the young speaker endorsed and then cast his five votes inside Steering for Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas)–now the new chairman of Ways and Means.

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