Finance Panel Freshmen Gain 53% Edge in Donations to Aid Re-Election Bids
For congressional freshmen trying to win re-election, membership on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee has its rewards.
The 14 first-term lawmakers on the committee, which is at the center of efforts to rewrite financial rules, are among the biggest fundraisers of the 58 members of Congress who took office in 2009.
The panel’s freshman members, including some whose seats are considered among the most endangered, raised an average of 53 percent more than other first-year lawmakers, a review of Federal Election Commission records shows. The four freshmen gathering the most money for their 2010 races -- Democrats Alan Grayson of Florida, Jim Himes of Connecticut, John Adler of New Jersey and Gary Peters of Michigan -- sit on the panel.
“If you’re a freshman and you’re in a district where you need a lot of money to win, that’s a good place to put you,” said Bill Allison, an editor at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group.
The foundation counted more fundraising events for Financial Services members than for any other House panel.
Some analysts say the financial regulation legislation, which lawmakers are still discussing, could have been stronger.
“The industry spent a lot of money making campaign contributions,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group.
The donor list includes employees of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., two of the banks overseen by the committee. Melissa Daly, a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, and Jennifer Zuccarelli, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Ryan Carbain, a spokesman for Adler, said the lawmaker sits on the committee to “help small businesses create private sector jobs.” He has supported legislation to protect credit card holders and set up an independent consumer financial protection agency, among other measures, Carbain said.
As of March 31, Adler raised $369,600 from the financial industry, his largest source of funding from any sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington- based research group.
Todd Jurkowski, a spokesman for Grayson, said, “Being on the Financial Services Committee is not the reason for his fundraising success.” He said Grayson is mostly raising money from “honest people who are sick and tired of seeing members of Congress for sale.”
‘You’re a Factor’
Grayson has raised $92,500 from employees of financial companies, his largest source of money from any industry, according to the center. Still, he’s received far more from organized labor, $152,500, FEC data shows.
Elizabeth Kerr, a spokeswoman for Himes, who has collected $717,800 from the financial industry, had no comment.
In addition to the funding advantage the committee conferred on freshmen, it also gave them extra visibility as they helped write the biggest overhaul of market rules since the Great Depression.
Freshmen Peters and Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio were among 31 House members who negotiated the bill with senators. Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Vic Fazio, a senior adviser at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, called it “a clear message that you’re a factor in Washington.”
Peters ousted Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg two years ago to win the seat. He took in $244,753 from financial, insurance and real estate employees, compared with $84,427 in 2008.
Fighting Wall Street
Peters, a former executive at Merrill Lynch & Co., now part of Bank of America Corp., has held at least two fundraisers targeting the industry or hosted by a financial lobbyist, according to Sunlight. Overall, he raised $2.1 million through March 31, almost as much as the $2.6 million he collected for his last race.
Peters “was an early leader in the fight to crack down on Wall Street greed and recklessness, including authoring the measure to ensure Wall Street banks pay back every penny of the bailout,” said spokesman Cullen Schwarz.
Kilroy, in a rematch against former Ohio state Senator Steve Stivers, is considered one of the most vulnerable House Democrats, according to the three nonpartisan Washington-based publications that rate congressional races, Congressional Quarterly, the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report.
‘Stack of Letters’
Her amendment to hold credit-ratings agencies to the same accuracy standards as investment bankers, auditors and company lawyers was accepted by the conference committee, she said.
She said serving on the Financial Services panel allows her to address concerns of economically struggling constituents.
“We have a stack of letters from people who have been hurt,” Kilroy said in an interview. “I know those stories. I take them into the hearing room with me.”
She raised $1.5 million for her re-election through April 14, compared with $1.1 million for Stivers, FEC records show. Employees working for insurance, real estate and investment firms are among Kilroy’s top donors. She has held at least three fundraisers hosted by financial services lobbyists, according to Sunlight.
“I’m not on the committee to raise money,” she said. “I am challenging Wall Street.”
Stivers, a former banking lobbyist, has taken in more money from the industry than Kilroy, $149,430 to $97,994, through March 31, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.