Congressional Parties, Fundraising, and Committee Ambition

AuthorEric S. Heberlig
Date01 June 2003
Published date01 June 2003
Subject MatterArticles
On June 14, 2000, the Republican leadership of the
U.S. House of Representatives announced “Battle-
ground 2000,” a plan for incumbent members of
the Republican caucus to raise $16 million for the National
Republi can Congres sional Committee (NRC C) (Allen
2000). The leadership gave each member a “nonvoluntary”
yellow pledge card. The amount listed was determined by a
sliding scale based on the member’s position in the leader-
ship, committee, and seniority hierarchy. A United Way-
style contribution thermometer, delineating each member’s
individual contribution, was posted outside of the suites
from which members made fundraising calls. A special sev-
enteen-member whip organization monitored progress and
exerted peer pressure. Furthermore, Speaker Hastert explic-
itly told members that their contributions to the fundraising
drive would help to determine their committee assignments
and their rank within committees in the 107th Congress.
The techniques of congressional fundraising in the most
recent election cycle are more coercive iterations of trends
that started in the last few election cycles. The Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) formally initi-
ated the practice of soliciting contributions from incum-
bents as “dues” during the 1991-92 election cycle, and the
Republicans followed in the 1993-94 cycle (Gimpel 1996;
Herrnson 2000; Sabato and Larson 2002: 87). Although a
member’s use of campaign contributions to colleagues to
advance within the House’s power structure is not unprece-
dented (see Baker 1989; Jackson 1988), incumbents’ con-
tributions from their own campaign accounts and/or leader-
ship PACs to the campaign treasuries of other candidates or
and to party committees have increased substantially over
the past decade (Herrnson 1997, 2000).
This article examines the extent to which funds donated
by the campaign committees of incumbent members of
Congress to other candidates and to party election commit-
tees affect committee transfers. In doing so, it evaluates the
extent to which congressional parties channel the ambition
of individual members by using such institutional resources
as seats on prestige committees to reward members who
assist the party in attaining its collective goals. This reward
helps to explain why members vote with the party and con-
tribute electoral funds to parties or colleagues when these
activities pose some risk to own reelection efforts.
The evidence presented here shows that contributions
affect transfers in the 102nd through 107th Congresses. The
evidence also indicates that contributions have a greater
influence on switches to prestige committees than to policy
or constituency committees. The results demonstrate the
importance of fundraising as an indicator of party loyalty in
the contemporary partisan, high-cost electoral environment.
The aim of party leaders in Congress is to accomplish
the collective goals of the party through the achievement of
majority party status (Jacobson 1985-86). With majority
status comes the ability to structure and control the legisla-
tive process (Cox and McCubbins 1993), and thus makes it
easier for members of the majority party to achieve their
policy goals and to deliver benefits to constituents.
Although individual members favor majority status,
they also have individual goals. These include reelection,
advancement to leadership positions or another office, and
good public policy (Fenno 1973). Congressional party lead-
ers face a free rider problem in mobilizing members to
achieve collective goals. Majority status is a collective good.
Its benefits are available to all members of the majority party
re g a rdless of any individual member’s contribution to
achieving it. Even if members are willing to contribute to
Congressional Parties, Fundraising,
and Committee Ambition
Congressional party leaders are hypothesized to use desirable committee assignments as a selective incentive
to entice incumbent members of Congress to contribute the collective good of the party’s campaign efforts.
Financial contributions to the party are an effective measure of party loyalty, particularly in an era of high levels
of party loyalty on roll call votes. This article analyzes committee transfers in the U.S. Congress from the 102nd
through the 107th Congresses. The evidence shows that the greater the amount an incumbent contributes to
party committees or party candidates, the more likely he or she will transfer to prestige committees. It also
demonstrates that fundraising has become more closely related to prestige committee transfers when margins
of party control in the House became very close after the Republican takeover.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2001 Annual
Meeting of the American Political Science Association. I thank Ben
Bishkin, Burdett Loomis, Peter Radcliffe, brownbag participants at
UNC Charlotte, and the editor and reviewers for their comments
and assistance. I especially thank Bruce Larson for sharing his data
on campaign contributions by members of Congress from 1990
through 1994.
Political Research Quarterly,Vol. 56, Number 2 (June 2003) pp. 151-161

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