Members of the far-right GOP freshmen class have not been sworn in yet, but are already becoming entangled in the Washington web of lobbyists and corporate donors. The incoming congressmen, many of them Tea Party candidates, have quickly put together fundraisers to pay off their campaign debts and also to fund their 2012 reelection bids. Unsurprisingly, corporate interests have readily stepped up to the plate to support their fundraising efforts, and freshmen Republicans are more than happy to have the help.
Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reports that with the help of the Republican House leadership, many GOP freshmen are embarking on an all-out blitz for corporate cash to recharge their campaign war chests:
After Francisco "Quico" Canseco beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.) as part of the Republican wave on Nov. 2, the tea party favorite declared: "It’s going to be a new day in Washington."
Two weeks later, Canseco was in the heart of Washington for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club. The event–hosted by Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)–was aimed at paying off more than $1.1 million in campaign debts racked up by Canseco, much of it from his own pocket.
After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital’s culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.
Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.
The aggressive fundraising efforts underscore the financial pressures facing new members of Congress even before they take their seats. The contributions also represent a symbolic challenge for the Republican class of 2010, many of whom gained office by running against the ways of official Washington and monied interests.
"The lobbyists are all saying, ‘Welcome to Washington; let me help pay off your debt,’" said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. "It’s particularly interesting when so many of this year’s freshmen were running against Washington. But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand."
Rep.-elect Bill Flores (R-Tex.), a retired energy executive who held a debt-retirement reception Nov. 17, received post-election contributions from political-action committees for, among others, Deloitte, ExxonMobil and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Flores, who ousted Democratic veteran Chet Edwards, also forgave himself more than $600,000 in personal loans, FEC records show.
The financial advisors group also gave $2,500 each to more than a dozen other incoming legislators including Rep.-elect Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), who held a Nov. 18 fundraiser, records show. Benishek took in last-minute donations from Johnson Controls, Delta Airlines and the K&L Gates lobbying firm, records show.
Benishek is a surgeon and abortion opponent who won the seat being vacated by centrist Democrat Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). He campaigned against "ungodly spending" in Washington and pledged not to seek earmarks, which designate federal funds for local projects.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said debt-retirement events and other post-election fundraisers "are God’s gift to special interests," allowing corporate PACs and lobbyists to curry favor with grateful lawmakers. It also allows some donors to pitch in with a candidate that they had previously ignored or opposed, she said.
"If you were on the wrong side or just AWOL during the election, this is your chance to make it up," McGehee said. "It’ s a great way to get in good with members of Congress."