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Lobbyists pony up in race for Ways and Means GOP leader

Nearly $4.1 million donated to three contenders

Vying for the top Republican spot on the Ways and Means Committee are, from left, Reps. Jason Smith of Missouri, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Adrian Smith of Nebraska.
Vying for the top Republican spot on the Ways and Means Committee are, from left, Reps. Jason Smith of Missouri, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Adrian Smith of Nebraska. (Caroline Brehman and Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)

The three Republicans vying for their party’s top spot on the House Ways and Means panel in the next Congress have raised nearly $4.1 million combined this cycle from K Street lobbyists and their companies’ affiliated PACs, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. 

With Republicans favored to win control of the chamber in the midterm elections, one of the three is poised to become the next chairman of a panel that is critical to business interests. The committee handles tax, health care, and trade legislation and oversees some of the government’s biggest-spending programs, such as Social Security.  

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan, who is seeking his ninth term and is currently the second-ranking Republican on the panel, raised the most of the three contenders from the K Street sector with nearly $2.1 million donated during the 2021-2022 election cycle, according to lobbying contribution reports filed with Congress covering donations through June 30. 

He’s followed by Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, who is seeking his sixth term, with $1 million from registered federal lobbyists and affiliated PACs. Smith serves as the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, and he ranks fifth in seniority among Republicans on Ways and Means. 

In third is Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith, who collected almost $1 million, about $981,000, from K Street sources. Like Buchanan, he is currently in his eighth term in the House. He has served on the committee as long as Buchanan.

The CQ Roll Call analysis includes donations to the lawmakers’ reelection accounts as well as other funds they control, such as leadership PACs.

Both Adrian Smith and Jason Smith voted against certifying the 2020 election for President Joe Biden, a move that may have cost them, at least early in the campaign cycle, some PAC donations. Many corporate and association PACs froze their donations, especially to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the election, in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack. Most PACs resumed giving again by mid-2021. The semiannual filings do not include donations from the recent fall fundraising period.

Despite the favoritism shown to Buchanan from donors, lobbyists expect a similar approach to policy regardless of who wins the gavel race.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a huge difference in what they focus on in the near term,” said former House GOP aide Mark Williams, now a lobbyist with the bipartisan firm Ferox Strategies. 

Kimberly Ellis, a former aide to the committee’s current top Republican, Kevin Brady of Texas, who is retiring, said she did not know of any industry sectors that had sent up red flags about any of the three. 

“They obviously have different personalities, and they would all govern a little bit differently in terms of style or tone,” said Ellis, a lobbyist with Monument Advocacy. 

All three would likely put a strong focus on the panel’s oversight role, she added, including focusing on recent legislation from Democrats that provides funding for about 85,000 new Internal Revenue Service employees. 

Even if House Republicans win control of the chamber, their legislative agenda would be hobbled by a Democrat in the White House and potentially a Senate still under Democratic control. 

“I think Republicans in a new majority will be focused on oversight, and that would be a huge component of what the future Ways and Means chairman focuses on,” Williams said. 

Still, Republican lobbyists say that a GOP-led Ways and Means panel, no matter who wields the gavel, may show preference for small business over big business interests. 

“The Ways and Means Committee will focus on policies that benefit the coalition of voters that has faithfully supported Republicans,” said John Stipicevic, a former House GOP leadership aide, who is chief advocacy officer at the CGCN Group. “Small-business owners, entrepreneurs and working-class voters will be rewarded with tax proposals that have them in mind. This will require a new type of Republican lobbying strategy.”

Hedging their bets

Some lobbyists and business PACs donated to all three of the contenders, the filings show. 

The PAC of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the city’s largest lobbying practices, reported donations in equal amounts of $2,500 to Buchanan, Adrian Smith and Jason Smith in the first half of this year. 

Health insurer Cigna, too, disclosed donations to all three this year, as did Lockheed Martin and Honeywell

Lobbyist Kirsten Chadwick, whose lobbying areas include tax and trade issues at the firm Fierce Government Relations, reported donations to all three, as did health care lobbyist Jeffrey Kimbell of Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates.

Former California GOP Rep. Ed Royce, himself a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has donated to all three members in recent years through his Road to Freedom committee, but as of mid-year had donated only to Buchanan this cycle.  

Fundraising overall, and from K Street specifically, is only one piece of the Ways and Means gavel race. All three lawmakers are seeking reelection in races rated Sold Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Since they don’t have competitive reelection races, that  allows them to share the fruits of their  fundraising with the party committee, their colleagues and future colleagues. 

All three also have been hitting the campaign trail. 

“Adrian appreciates the broad range of support he has received. In addition to strategically utilizing those contributions to support and grow the Republican team, he regularly encourages donors and PACs to give to candidates directly,” said a spokesperson for Adrian Smith in an email. “He also has a robust donor recruitment and engagement program in place which he utilizes to bring new support to candidates and committees, including the NRCC. To build a strong Republican majority, he’s been crisscrossing the country this election cycle. He’s spending the month of October on the road, helping candidates and taking Republicans’ Commitment to America directly to voters from Georgia to Arizona and beyond.” 

Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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