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The Most (And Least) Valuable Committees In Congress

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
April 6, 2012

This story is part of Planet Money’s series on money in politics.

Most of the nitty-gritty action in Congress happens in committees.

Not surprisingly, campaign contributions flow to members of the committees that big donors are really interested in — like, say, the ways and means committee, which oversees the tax code.

This makes a huge difference to lawmakers, who need a steady stream of donations to fund their re-election campaigns.

Both parties rank each committee for its fundraising potential. There are lists of the A, B, and C committees, and fundraising targets for the members. Those lists aren’t public. Many lawmakers say these lists exist, but no one would give one to us.

So we created our own list, based on publicly disclosed fundraising numbers. At our request, Lee Drutman of the Sunlight Foundation, crunched data going back to the early ’90s.

The analysis found that Ways and Means is the most valuable committee for fundraising. Lawmakers on the Ways and Means committee raise an extra $250,000 a year compared to the average Congressman.

The judiciary committee was the worst. Congressmen on that committee raised $182,000 less than the average Congressman.

Here’s a list of the bottom three and top three committees:

One thing this graph doesn’t show: The value of being a chairman.

Being a committee chairman carries huge power in Congress. Not surprisingly, it also leads to a huge fundraising boost. But the lawmakers who land these spots are expected to raise lots of money, and turn it over to the party, which spreads it around to other members.

“Where much is given, much is required,” says Rep. Jeff Flake. “You’re given dues, assessments, and if you’re a senior member on committees that lend themselves to fundraising, and you’re either a ranking member or a chairman, then you’re expected to raise a lot of money. When you come up every two years to either retain your position or move to another committee, those things are certainly taken into account”

This post was updated on April 6 to add audio content. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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