WASHINGTON – Two Maryland lawmakers rank among the most and least reliant congressmen on special interest money, according to a study released Wednesday by a consumer advocacy organization.
The findings from government watchdog group Public Citizen chart lawmakers’ sources of funding since the 2000 election, though they do not include the financial reports lawmakers were required to file this week.
At the top of the list is Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, representing Maryland’s 5th District. He was rated “most dependent on special interest money” in the House and ranked fifth out of the 433 members reviewed for contributions received from lobbyists.
In contrast, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, was ranked among the least dependent on money from lobbyists and special interests.
Senators and representatives were scored separately according to their campaign contributions from four groups: lobbyists, out-of-state individuals, small donors and political action committees.
Among the report’s findings was that campaigns are hinging on larger donations from interest groups as opposed to smaller donations from constituents. The problem, the study says, is particularly pervasive among those in party leadership positions, like Hoyer.
“Those who have the most power in Congress get the most money from special interests,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, which advocates public funding for campaigns. “My hope is that this will encourage members of Congress to behave differently.”
But others suggested that’s how the system works and that members have to raise money to fund campaigns.
“Mr. Hoyer receives contributions from those who agree with him on the issues, not the other way around,” his spokeswoman, Stacey Farnen Bernards, wrote in an e-mail. She also noted that Hoyer was instrumental in passing the bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, the last major reform legislation in the House.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, had not seen the report, in which he ranked 12th in the House for contributions from lobbyists, but said that in representing the Washington suburbs, many of his constituents are lobbyists. He also pointed out that in the past, he has taken issue with the methodology of such studies and would have to examine it.
While Hoyer received slightly more than half of all contributions from political action committees, Gilchrest received none at all.
Though the report shows Gilchrest received a small amount from PACS, the figures do not reflect that Gilchrest returns all PAC money, said his chief of staff, Tony Caligiuri.
Gilchrest attributed his removal from special interest money to the fact that he doesn’t like to talk on the phone or go to fancy receptions, but his reasons go deeper than that.
“The integrity of your soul is all you have,” he said. Interest groups are important “but it’s just gotten out of hand.”
Gilchrest was also among the top 20 representatives for contributions received in the amount of $200 or less.
More than 62 percent of contributions received by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, also came from small donors and the Maryland Senate delegation was ranked fourth-least-dependent in the nation on special interest money.
Hoyer placed in the bottom 10 percent of the House for contributions received from small donors at just 17 percent, the study shows.
As the House’s second-ranking Democrat, Hoyer has publicly acknowledged his intention to run for Majority Leader should the Democrats take control of the House in November.
“People approach this job from very different points of view,” said Gilchrest. “Some are more ambitious politically, they want to be something. I’m probably as politically ambitious as the sunset.”
“The more money you get, the more time you spend with the high rollers,” said the eight-term congressman, that’s time you’re not spending with constituents, reading about the issues or “just plain thinking.”
– 30 – CNS-10-19-06