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House Gavel Hopefuls Stock PACs

As the first session of the 109th Congress grinds on, several House Members are raising money with an eye not toward November 2006, but rather January 2007, when the chairmanships of several key committees will be handed out.

While Members gunning for committee gavels are usually quick to say that those picks are determined by legislative knowledge and leadership ability rather than fundraising, most will also admit that lawmakers can help their cases by bringing in plenty of campaign cash to hand out this year and next, particularly if they have leadership political action committees.

Leading the way on that front is Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), who is expected to compete with Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) for the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress.

McCrery’s leadership PAC, the Committee for the Preservation of Capitalism, raised $808,000 through June 30 and had $672,000 on hand.

“I think the Republican Conference promotes people base on merit and part of considering whether someone merits a promotion is what they’ve done over and above their regular duties in the House,” McCrery said. “Fundraising is one of the things that should be considered.”

Johnson’s Leadership Encouraging Excellence PAC, meanwhile, raised $171,000 over the same six-month period and had $193,000 on hand. And Shaw’s Sunshine PAC had $27,000 in the bank after raising $36,000 in the first half of the year.

Of course, Members have fundraising considerations beyond their leadership PACs. Shaw, for example, holds a competitive seat and would need to raise significant sums for his re-election account.

That’s why it’s helpful for chairmanship candidates to have safe seats, like the one Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) represents as he shoots to take over the Education and the Workforce Committee.

McKeon said having a safe seat had helped him donate or raise more than $2 million for GOP Members since he was elected to Congress. He also helped lead STOMP, a leadership-driven program to boost turnout and grass-roots activism.

“I think fundraising is part of it,” said McKeon, though he added that a number of other factors would be important.

Through June, McKeon’s 21st Century PAC had raised $208,000 and had $186,000 left in the bank.

McKeon’s possible opponent for the Education gavel, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) has been less active. His PAC, the Badger Fund, took in $56,000 through June 30 and had $28,000 on hand.

Petri is also a potential candidate for the Transportation and Infrastructure gavel, as are Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and John Duncan (R-Tenn.).

Mica’s Majority in Congress PAC, which was formed in early 2004, as of Friday had not yet filed any fundraising reports for 2005. Boehlert’s Science Leadership PAC appears to be dormant, and Duncan does not have a leadership PAC.

The money chase is more intense at the International Relations Committee, where Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) are fighting it out.

Ros-Lehtinen created her IRL PAC last July, and so far this year she has raked in $289,000 and had $221,000 on hand. That represents a big boost over the last six months of 2004, when she raised a total of $37,000.

Burton’s Hoosier PAC, meanwhile, has been relatively inactive in recent years and has not filed any reports yet for 2005. But he does have $953,000 on hand in his re-election account that he could use to help his fellow Republicans.

“I think there’s a lot of things that are taken into consideration” for chairmanships, Burton said, mentioning seniority, expertise and voting patterns as key factors.

The Indianan did allow that fundraising was important, too. “My strategy is to just be as helpful to other candidates as I can be,” he said.

The Financial Services Committee could also be the scene of a chairmanship showdown, with GOP Reps. Richard Baker (R-La.) and Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) both expected to mount strong bids.

Bachus’ Growth and Prosperity PAC reported raising $139,000 through June 30, with $35,000 left over in the bank. Baker’s Back America’s Conservatives PAC had not yet filed as of Friday.

At the Judiciary Committee, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Coble (R-N.C.) are potential chairmanships candidates. Smith’s Longhorn PAC has raised $163,000 this year and had $195,000 left over as of June 30. Coble does not have a leadership committee.