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Shutdown has not shut off money tap for members of Congress
Question of the Day
The government shutdown has placed thousands of federal workers on unpaid leave, but money is flowing to one group: Congress.
That’s right, despite causing the shutdown in the first place, members of the House and Senate are still drawing their paychecks — and some are even going ahead with scheduled fundraisers, building up their political war chests in hopes of holding on to their jobs after midterm elections next year.
“It looks terrible to be taking care of your campaign while you’ve got the government shut down,” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks government transparency. “The idea that you’d be having a swank fundraiser, rubbing elbows with lobbyists and raising campaign money can really just be a terrible thing for Congress.”
But that hasn’t stopped several lawmakers from holding events, according to a Sunlight Foundation survey.
Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, held a fundraising luncheon at Tortilla Coast in Washington on Tuesday, just hours after the government officially closed its doors for lack of funding. The smallest contribution level was $1,000.
If you had only $500 in your pocket, you could have gone to support Rep. Charlie B. Rangel, New York Democrat, on Wednesday night at an event hosted by several other House members.
If you are looking for an outdoor activity, you can attend the second annual Trout Fishing Weekend benefit for Sen. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican who is not up for re-election until 2016. The event, at Gaston’s White River Resort in Arkansas, costs $2,500 and, as of midweek, is still a go unless the impasse on Capitol Hill drags on.
“Sen. Boozman is committed to being here in Washington until this is resolved, so he won’t be home for [the fundraiser] if the government is still shut down,” said Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer.
Other lawmakers have been more concerned about the optics of raising money while the rest of the government goes without pay, and several have canceled events.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, was planning a “Taste of Cincinnati” fundraiser for Tuesday but canceled the event as it looked likely that the government was headed for a shutdown. The Ohio food prepared for the event was donated to a D.C. homeless shelter, a spokesman for Mr. Chabot said.
Rep. Lois Capps put on hold an “Autumn Reception” scheduled for Tuesday, and fellow California Republican Rep. Mike Thompson canceled a $2,500 evening of “stimulating conversation and some of California’s finest wines” planned for Monday.
“Working on solving the shutdown takes priority,” Thompson communications director Austin Vevurka told The Washington Times.
Rep. David Roe, Tennessee Republican, stopped a Thursday breakfast fundraiser with Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican. The event was $250 minimum at the Capitol Hill Club, a private Republican social club.
Public anger over the shutdown likely is causing the cancellation of events, Mr. Allison said.
“It is the exposure that’s making them cancel it; it’s not because they think there’s something wrong with fundraising,” he said. “It’s sort of like asking to be rewarded for not doing your job.”
If the shutdown goes on for several weeks and scrutiny starts to wane, Mr. Allison said, he expects the fundraising routine to resume.
“Once the eye is off of these guys, they’ll go back to raising money,” he said.
Members of Congress also have been criticized for receiving paychecks during the shutdown, a perk not afforded to many federal workers.
The average annual salary for lawmakers is $174,000, though congressional leadership positions such as speaker of the House can pay more than $220,000.
Several lawmakers have said they are refusing their pay until the shutdown ends. A survey by The Washington Post found that, as of Wednesday afternoon, 100 lawmakers — 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats — have said they would either refuse their salary, return it to the government or donate it to charity.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the shutdown would have a real impact on his constituents.
“I will donate my paycheck to charity for as long as Senate Democrats deprive hardworking Americans of their paychecks during this completely unnecessary shutdown,” he said.
Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, Washington Democrat, said she plans to continue her policy of tying her pay level to that of other government workers.
“When sequestration began earlier this year, I returned 8.2 percent of my salary back to the Treasury, and for the duration of this shutdown, I will return the remainder of my personal salary as well,” she said.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination who led a 21-hour filibuster leading up to the shutdown, also said he would donate his pay to charity.
The shutdown also hasn’t slowed fundraising for gubernatorial campaigning in Virginia between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II. With Election Day approaching, both have fundraising events scheduled for the coming week.
Some PACs are even using the shutdown and controversy over the president’s health care law as an opportunity to drum up support and cash. Groups on both sides of the aisle have solicited donations for supporting their sides of the arguments.
“The optics of sending an email aren’t as bad as the optics of an open bar with lobbyists,” Mr. Allison said.
• Kellan Howell contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Phillip Swarts is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covering fiscal waste, fraud and political ethics. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Washington Guardian. Phillip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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