Study: New members of Congress rely on special interest money once in Washington

By Francisco Alvarado, 

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Carlos Curbelo

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Carlos Curbelo

Nearly five-dozen newly elected members of Congress collectively raised $17.3 million in special interest money during their first year in office – increasing their reliance on contributions from single-issue political action committees, according to a new government watchdog report.

The fundraising analysis by Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) found, too, that the 58 new members’ reliance special interest campaign contributions was especially true for those in “a vulnerable seat or serve on committees of particular interest to major industries.”

The $17.3 million in special interest PAC contributions was 16 percent higher than those members collectively raised as first-time federal candidates during the two-year election cycle for 2014, the report said.

The CREW report identifies Florida U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Gwen Graham as among the top money haulers.

“We think it is important for the public to know where their money is coming from and how much money is coming in,” said CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz. In the case of Curbelo and Graham, “the floodgates certainly opened,” Libowitz added.

Curbelo’s press secretary Brittany Martinez did not return two phone calls and an email requesting comment. Graham declined to respond to the report via her spokesman, Matt Harringer.

CREW’s analysis found that Curbelo received $497,338 in 2015, representing a 228 percent increase in donations from special interests groups compared to the $151,550 he raised between 2013 and 2014 for his first congressional race. The report said Graham’s $582,147 in special interest contributions was the second-highest amount raised by a member of the freshman class in 2015. Compared to the 2014 election cycle, Graham’s contributions from special interests groups increased 42 percent after she went to Washington.

Libowitz said the campaign data CREW analyzed shows that new members who were considered vulnerable, including Curbelo and Graham, constituted nearly half of the freshmen members who received more special interest money in 2015 than they did as first-time federal candidates. The report also noted that Curbelo, a Republican, and Graham, a Democrat, were also put into programs by their parties meant to help vulnerable candidates with fundraising and organizational support.

In 2014, Curbelo beat incumbent Joe Garcia in a tight race despite being outspent by his Democratic rival, who at the time was being dragged down by election-fraud scandals involving a former campaign manager. However, a new map for Curbelo’s congressional district approved in December 2015 now favors Democrats even more than when Garcia held the South Florida seat. In the general election, Curbelo will likely face off against Garcia again or Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-American businesswoman who was Charlie Crist’s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Last month, Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, announced she was dropping her re-election bid now that her North Florida district is solidly Republican. She strongly hinted at a possible 2018 gubernatorial run.

“The money seems to flow most to representatives that are viewed to have tougher races to win re-election,” Libowitz said. “If special interests are targeting the most vulnerable in Congress, the public deserves to know what they are getting for supporting these members.”

CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that many of the freshmen members ran on a platform that they would curtail the influence of special interest groups. “But the truth is, as soon as they got into office, they were more than happy to be taking massive campaign contributions from special interests,” Bookbinder said. “What we found is a clear illustration of the special interest influence that is out of control in Washington right now.”

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  • 2012 election I made six contributions. .. $200 total. This year it will be ZERO. Ill let these SLOBS get their $$$$ from special interest groups. Once you get to Washington you become a CASH PIG and will do and say anything to continue in office.

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