December 29, 2004
Campaign for appropriations chairmanship draws to a close
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — The campaigns of three congressmen to become the next House Appropriations Committee chairman, one of the most powerful posts in government, have been conducted almost entirely behind the scenes.
Instead of appealing to thousands of voters, as in a congressional election, Reps. Ralph Regula, Jerry Lewis and Harold Rogers have focused their persuasive powers on a small group of House insiders who will decide which of the candidates will get the job.
The three aspirants are in the final round of an intense competition. The House Republican Steering Committee, a 28-member body responsible for selecting committee chairmen, meets Monday to choose the next appropriations chief.
“You have to sell yourself as the best possible selection and you do it in a lot of ways,” Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said recently while discussing his bid for the chairmanship.
During the past two years, Regula, 80, Lewis, 70, and Rogers, 66, have sought to persuade steering committee members and other influential lawmakers of their worthiness for the job. They also have raised millions of dollars in donations from campaign contributors to share with fellow Republican candidates, a prerequisite for landing a chairmanship.
The steering committee counts among its members Regula and Rogers, R-Ky., who represent their respective regions of the country on the committee. Lewis, R-Calif., is not part of the committee.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, head the committee and are widely viewed as the keys to the selection. They have more votes than the other members — five for Hastert and two for DeLay.
Neither leader has said which candidate he favors.
“We’ve got three good candidates,” explained Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., an appropriations committee member. “They are all qualified. They all have the experience. Everybody likes them. But in the end, it will get down to the speaker and the majority leader putting their heads together and going in that room and sending a signal to the steering committee about who they want,” he said.
Regula has the backing of Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Upper Arlington, who signed a letter in support of Regula from the Ohio delegation. She is Republican Conference Chair and a prominent member of the steering committee.
“I think Ralph has the knowledge and the ability and the relationships and I think he has the integrity” that House leaders want, said Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield, one of Regula’s prominent Ohio backers. Hobson believes Regula “can do the job a little better than the rest.”
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., has taken the lead in campaigning for Lewis. He calls Lewis a “very smart, very dedicated, very hardworking guy who has really taken on the issues of the appropriations committee.”
Regula has the unanimous backing of the Republican members of the Ohio delegation. Lewis claims the support of all the Republicans in the huge California delegation.
By most accounts, the steering committee is looking for someone who is both a strong leader and more attuned to the priorities of leadership than past appropriations chairmen.
“Between DeLay and Hastert, they need someone they can call into their offices and say, ‘This is what the ... allocations are going to be,’ and not have someone whining and complaining, somebody with their own agenda,” LaHood said.
They also are looking for a “team player” willing to use the powerful post to raise prodigious amounts of campaign cash and steer federal spending to the districts of vulnerable incumbents.
“What happens is that the speaker or the majority leader will call the chairman to say, ‘We’ve got to take care of so and so because they’re in a tough election and they need this project,’ ” LaHood said.
The three contenders have raised millions of dollars in campaign contributions for the party and candidates in just the past two years.
Lewis hauled in more than $7 million as chairman of a fund-raising dinner for Republican House candidates last spring. Rogers boasts he has raised $5 million, including $170,000 for DeLay’s legal defense fund.
House leaders tapped Regula to raise funds for a special election in South Dakota earlier this year. He impressed them by pulling in $625,000.
After tossing his hat in the ring last year, Regula’s first step was to form a leadership political action committee to raise campaign funds for other Republicans.
Never much of a fund-raiser in the past, Regula used the PAC to collect more than $1.3 million and distribute $632,500 to candidates as of Nov. 22.
“We supported 102 candidates financially,” Regula said. “We gave 19 states money to get out the vote, including a substantial chunk to Ohio.”
Rogers raised almost $1.3 million through his PAC, and gave away $663,000, slightly more than Regula.
Lewis trailed with $780,882 raised and $398,000 distributed from his leadership PAC.
Lewis was the early favorite for the spot, despite the fact he ranks second to Regula in seniority. Rogers ranks third.
One strategist close to House leadership expects Lewis to be chosen on the strength of his long involvement in the party and fund-raising. Lewis chaired the Republican Policy Committee and then the Republican Conference in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“He’s been a team player for 25 years,” the source said on condition he not be identified.
Another person close to the action wouldn’t be surprised if Rogers gets the nod.
“My gut tells me that DeLay leans toward him (Rogers) and I think that DeLay will have influence on Hastert,” he said, asking not to be identified.
Regula has the obvious advantage of seniority, which is still a factor. Some have perceived him as too moderate, but in recent years, the voting records of Regula, Lewis and Rogers have been similar.
At least one observer has wondered whether Regula’s age might work against him. The consensus seems to be that age is not an issue in the contest.
“Ralph may be 80 but he’s a very young person in his methods and in his energy,” Hobson said. Added Dreier, “They’re all able men, I have no doubt about that.”
Within days, the steering committee’s decision will put an end to speculation. The campaigns of Regula, Lewis and Rogers are almost finished.
“These three men will be spending a lot of time on the phone with key leaders,” said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. “This decision is worked out after dozens of phone calls over weeks.”
The campaigns, he added, “will pick up after the Christmas holiday and then become white hot in the 48 hours before the steering committee meets.”
Correspondent Dori Meinert contributed to this story.