Peoria Journal Star

May 17, 2006

Power name of game on Capitol Hill
Study lists lawmakers' rank in the Washington hierarchy

By Dori Meinert
OF Copley News Service


WASHINGTON, d.c. - Capitol Hill is teeming with elected officials who wield power - or at least hope to convince the folks back home that they do.

But who really holds the power? A study released Tuesday came up with a few surprises.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., may be the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate according to his party's leadership hierarchy. But he's No. 8 when it comes to overall power among Senate

Democrats, according to the study by Knowlegis, a newly launched government relations consulting firm.

Overall, Durbin ranked as the 22nd most powerful member of the Senate's 100 members in 2005, the year studied.

Durbin's aides tried to make the most of the ranking.

"On the one hand, it's flattering that Durbin was named by Time magazine last month as one of the top 10 senators in the country. This power ranking puts him pretty high up there," Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said. "But I think the ranking that's most important to him is how the voters in Illinois and his constituents in Illinois see him."

Senators and House members were scored on 15 factors, including their committee assignments, legislative successes, years in Congress, leadership positions, appearances on TV talk shows and fund-raising. Then there's that special something called the "sizzle factor."

That's what helped boost Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who ranks 98th in Senate seniority but 68th in the power survey. The researchers acknowledge that grading a lawmaker's "sizzle" is a rather subjective process. But they wanted to give weight to star power.

"Sen. Obama has been identified as the darling of the Democratic Party," said Brad Fitch, CEO of Knowlegis. "... It's really the kind of obvious in-your-face power that could not be ignored."

In the category of influence, which includes money contributed to other lawmakers, Obama jumps up to 12th - only two spots below Durbin.

"We're still trying to figure out what 'sizzle' is," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Among Illinois House members, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, and House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Wood Dale, topped the list.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, ranked third in the state and 61st overall in the House, largely because of his committee assignments. He sits on the powerful Appropriations and Intelligence committees. LaHood hadn't seen the study and had no immediate comment, spokesman Tim Butler said.

Retiring Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, ranked 11th among the state's lawmakers, but 282nd overall in the House. Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, ranked sixth in the Illinois delegation and 123rd overall.

Ranking last in Illinois was freshman Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Chicago, who ranked 436 out of 434 House members and five nonvoting delegates. There was one House vacancy in 2005.

The researchers acknowledge the limitations of their analysis.

Notably, it excludes lawmakers' ability to steer federal funding to their state through "earmarking," a process done largely in secret. It also doesn't attempt to measure lawmakers' effectiveness in assisting constituents or behind-the-scenes negotiating to reach compromises.

But the ranking "can serve as a valuable tool for citizens when they are judging their elected officials," said Fitch, adding that the group plans to update its study before the November election.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.