Blog — House Armed Services Committee

January 10, 2014

Funds for Favors II: The Industry Strikes Back

By Matt Corley

Committee chairmen and ranking members in the House of Representative increasingly rely on campaign contributions from the industries they oversee, according to new research by CREW. Using data from the 2010 and 2012 election cycles provided by Maplight.org, CREW found that 80 percent of the examined committee leaders reported a larger share of their campaign contributions in 2012 came from interests overseen by their committees. Not all the shifts in industry support followed the same pattern. In fact, a few broad patterns were discernible depending on whether a member was ascending or descending in power. 

Funds for Favors

As CREW’s first Funds for Favors report demonstrated, as members’ power and seniority increase, the industries they are responsible for regulating steer more and more money into their campaign coffers. This proved true for the Republicans who took over committees after their party gained control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Seventy percent of the committee chairmen examined by CREW saw their contributions from interested industries increase faster than their total contributions between the 2010 election cycle and the 2012 cycle. In one case, Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) saw his contributions from the defense industry increase even as his overall contributions declined, resulting in increased dependence on the exact interests he is charged with regulating.

With the shift in partisan control of the House in 2010, the five Democratic committee chairmen who were demoted to ranking members saw their contributions from industries their committees oversee plummet. In most cases, however, their industry contributions decreased at a slower rate than their overall contributions, causing these leaders to become more dependent on special interests despite falling out of favor with them.

For instance, 47 percent of Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D-MN) campaign contributions during the 2010 election cycle — when he was chairman of the Agriculture Committee — came from the agriculture industry. After the Democrats lost control of the House and Rep. Peterson became the committee’s ranking member, contributions from the agriculture industry dropped by 20 percent. His overall contributions dropped at faster rate, however, meaning the agriculture industry accounted for 51 percent of his campaign contributions during the 2012 election cycle.

Though CREW used campaign data from the 2010 and the 2012 election cycles, the report examined committee leaders at the start of the 113th Congress, meaning that some of the leaders didn’t assume greater power until 2013. Even these six leaders, who were on the cusp of increased power while collecting contributions in 2012, saw special money follow the trajectory of their influence. All but one of the six saw large increases in contributions from industries regulated by their committees. On the House Financial Services Committee, for example, both Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) assumed their leadership positions in 2013. In the preceding campaign cycle, their contributions from the financial services industry increased significantly, growing 74 percent and 275 percent, respectively.

These patterns, despite their differences, point in a single direction: Special interests use campaign money to curry favor with congressional leaders. It’s not a subtle phenomenon. Campaign contributions follow power.

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