May 9, 2016
New members of Congress raised 16 percent more from political action committees tied to corporations, unions and issue groups in 2015 than they did in the entire two-year cycle in which they ran for office, according to a major new report released today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). More than half of the 58 new members elected in 2014 raised more special interest money in their first year in office than in the two-year period leading up to their election.
The report found that not only are new members taking significantly more money from special interests than they did while running, they are becoming reliant on it. In the 2014 election cycle, special interest PAC money accounted for roughly 17 percent of the total funds raised by new members; in 2015 alone, that number jumped to about 38 percent.
“The desire of corporations and other interested parties to endear themselves to new members is not the only factor contributing to the increased reliance on special interests for fundraising,” the report states. “Almost immediately after winning the election, new members are told by party leadership that they need to begin aggressively raising money for their next election.”
The report found that special interest money flowed to new members facing tougher reelection. Vulnerable new members raised, on average, nearly twice as much money from special interest PACs as their colleagues in safer seats.
Six new members saw their special interest fundraising more than triple in their first year in Congress with two members jumping by an order of magnitude—Steve Knight (R-CA) going from less than $15,000 in 2013-14 to more than $200,000 in 2015 and John Katko (R-NY) leaping from less than $45,000 to more than $450,000.
“Many of these candidates ran on a platform of taking back Washington from the special interests,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “But the truth is, as soon as they got into office, they were more than happy to be taking massive campaign contributions from the special interests. What we found is a clear illustration of the special interest influence that is out of control in Washington right now.”