The first meeting of the 113th Congress was full of pomp and ceremony. Fourteen California freshmen gathered their friends and families and raised their right hands to become the newest members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Their biggest challenge at the moment is staffing their offices.
Six-year-old Madeline Valadao witnessed history on the House floor as the new Congress began its work. "The worst part was having to stand up," she says, "and the good part was when my dad got sworn in."
Her dad is freshman Congressman David Valadao, a Republican from the Central Valley. Valadao landed a prized spot on the House Appropriations Committee. He brought what he calls his “team members” from the two years he served in the California legislature. He’s also hired “two or three” D.C. locals. "As long as they’re open minded and willing to work, and willing to think for themselves," he says, "that’s what I need on my team. I don’t need any ‘yes’ people around me."
It’s freshman orientation time, Capitol Hill style. Newly-elected members of Congress spent last week in Washington, where there was a lot to learn and not much time to learn it.
It was a busy week for the new House members from California.
Republican Doug LaMalfa from Redding said going to the House floor was "pretty cool." Ventura Democrat Julia Brownley said there were a lot of meetings in a lot of different locations, which resulted in sore feet, "But it's all been great and very exciting."
L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas said they received ethics training early in the week, but he had more questions after the session than he did before he walked in the door.
Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had his priorities in order: he found out where he could get his dry cleaning done in the Longworth House Office Building for about a fourth of the price they charge at the hotel where the newbies were put up.
David Valadao, a Republican representing Hanford in the Central Valley, said the hardest part has been remembering names and faces. He noted when he was a lawmaker in Sacramento, it was easier: just 80 members. And as the minority party, his Republican caucus "just had 27 at the time."
California is sending a bumper crop of 14 freshmen to Capitol Hill. They were feted at a dinner in the grand Statuary Hall of the Capitol by Speaker John Boehner, had their I.D. pictures taken, and staked out their preference for committees.
Cardenas wants Energy and Commerce, since he's an engineer. Takano, a teacher, is leaning toward Education and the Workforce. LaMalfa pointed out that he's a farmer in his "real life," so the Agriculture Committee would be "a natural." But LaMalfa said he already knows this much: "Freshmen don't walk in here and start dictating where they go."
Nevertheless, Democrats Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach and Jared Huffman from Humboldt are both requesting Transportation and Infrastructure. Their party is the minority in the House, which means fewer seats on plum committees like those they're seeking.
But Cardenas isn’t discouraged: "The way it works around here, they say if you don’t get what you ask for, and they give you a different committee, apparently you still get to reserve a right to be on it when a slot opens up in the future."
Brownley also wants one of those rare Transportation seats. She spent an afternoon making her case to the top Democrat on that committee, Nick Rahall of West Virginia.
It’s not just the protocol new freshmen have to learn. There’s also the physical lay of the land. Just ask Valadao and Sacramento Democrat Dr. Ami Bera. Valadao said he got "a little disoriented" in the Capitol. Bera said it's a "maze" of a building and compared it to a hospital.
Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino also got a little confused when she stepped into a bathroom: "I walked in and [thought], Why are there urinals here?" She double-checked the door, saw the men's room sign and walked right back out.
But these 14 new members have worries off the Hill as well. Their top concern is housing, whether they'll need a roommate, or a car. Dr. Raul Ruiz of the Coachella Valley said he's thinking about the East Coast winter weather, which he experienced during his college days at Harvard: "I’m starting to think of which clothing that I have that are remnants from my time in Boston that will keep me warm here in D.C."
Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, broached another matter that crosses party lines: "One of the longer commutes in Congress." Peters wondered how he'll make a bi-coastal lifestyle work. LaMalfa said the challenge is whether to "move your family back to this place and then just go home for district business and then try to get back and be here? Or is there enough days that they’re home, you should just stay here and hustle back and forth on the weekends?"
The freshmen will have time to think about logistics while they’re home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be back at work at their temporary cubicles in the basement of the Rayburn Building at the end of the month, picking lottery numbers for office space and learning more about the way things work in D.C.
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a political action committee that is pouring big sums of cash into races around the country, including an Inland Empire Congressional contest.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a busy man these days. But before Hurricane Sandy hit, he launched a political action committee that has dropped $2.5 million on last minute ads and mailers in an Inland Empire Congressional race.
Bloomberg’s political action committee, Independence USA, started spending money in Southern California a week ago, with $65 thousand on mailers supporting Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod. She’s trying to unseat a fellow Democrat, incumbent Congressman Joe Baca in Ontario.
Day by day, more PAC money arrived. And then this week, more than $2.3 million for TV ads was reported by Bloomberg’s PAC to the Federal Election Commission.
The ad accuses Baca of siding with polluters and voting for a "dirty water bill." That bill was a GOP measure the League of Conservation Voters described as a “blatant assault” on the Clean Water Act. It passed the House, including a vote from Baca, but died in the Senate.
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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a press conference on October 24, 2012, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
The Mayor of New York came through. Michael Bloomberg created his own political action committee, Independence USA, and promised to help select House candidates around the country who support tougher gun control measures.
New filings with the Federal Election Commission show Bloomberg's PAC spent nearly $200,000 on a race in the Inland Empire. The latest FEC report shows two expenditures: $65,000 last Tuesday and another $130,000 on Thursday to pay for campaign mailers that support Democratic State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod in her race to unseat incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Baca in Corona.
On this year's NRA report card, the National Rifle Association gave McLeod a "D," describing her as an "anti-gun" candidate; Baca, described as "generally a pro-gun candidate,"got a "B+." When Baca first ran for Congress in 1999, the NRA named him one of its “Defenders of Freedom.” Nearly all other California Democrats in Congress get an "F" rating from the NRA.
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Rep. Joe Baca, D-CA, is running for re-election against a fellow Democrat, California State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod.
There’s been a lot of talk about political action committees and the jaw-dropping amounts they’re spending on campaigns. If you sift through candidates’ filings with the Federal Election Commission, you'll discover that just a tiny fraction of contributions come from friends and neighbors within Congressional districts.
Because of California’s new election rules, two Democrats are running against each other in Corona. Incumbent Congressman Joe Baca is being challenged by State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod. The campaigns combined have raised just over a million dollars.
It’s not a huge amount of money, compared to other contests. But the donor base reflects a common pattern in Congressional races.
For Baca, 60 percent of his money comes from political action committees — mostly farming, telecom, and labor groups. McLeod gets less than 20 percent of her money from PACs, mostly from Emily’s List and other organizations that support women candidates.
But buried in that pot of money for both candidates are thousands of dollars from lobbyists and consultants — donations described as “individual contributions.”
Sheila Krumholz is executive director of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. She says lobbyists have "long played the money-in-politics game." She calls it a cost of doing business.
Changes in federal law have made it more difficult for lobbyists to pick up the tab for a meal, but it does not restrict their ability to give money to a candidate's campaign. Krumholz says many lawyers should be lumped into this category — particularly those with a D.C. address, since they serve as de facto lobbyists.
Krumholz calls them "Washington animals." She says they know how to work the system, how to navigate the halls of Congress, "and they know the power of personal connection, how to use their contacts."
One way to build up that rolodex is to work both sides of the aisle. Lobbyist David Turch, for example, wrote a check to Joe Baca for $1,000. But he’s also given to GOP Congressional candidate John Tavaglione in Riverside. Over the years, Turch has contributed to Californians from both parties: Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Janice Hahn; as well as Republicans David Dreier, Darrell Issa, and Elton Gallegly.
Baca’s opponent, McLeod, has lobbyist money as well. All four partners of the Sacramento firm Lang, Hansen, O’Malley, and Miller each kicked in $2,000 to her campaign. The firm represents clients as varied as Facebook, Walmart, Hollywood Park, and the City of San Clemente.
Melanie Sloan of the D.C.-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics says when lobbyists contribute, it’s not exactly quid pro quo. It’s about building a relationship and access. Wanting to give back, she says, is human nature: "You’re likely to help people who’ve helped you."
Sloan says if a lobbyist has helped retain your seat and bundled lots of contributions, "you as a member of Congress, because you’re a human being, are just going to feel grateful and more likely to at least give that person a hearing."
Baca and McLeod each raised more than $15,000 from lobbyists and consultants — but from two different cities. Most of Baca’s come from Washington, where he’s served in Congress since 1999. Most of McLeod’s are from Sacramento, where she’s been in the state legislature since 2000.
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit that enforces campaign finance laws, says the shocking thing isn't that lobbyists and consultants give, "It’s that if you really look at the number of people generally who give $200 or more in federal elections, it’s .26% — far less than even one percent of the population."
Meaning most large campaign contributions come from a small pool of givers. And now, McGehee says, the Citizens United decision has made it possible for special interests to do more than just make a $2,500 individual contribution to a candidate: they can give an unlimited amount to a political action committee.
Joe Baca's FEC information can be found here:
Gloria Negrete McLeod's FEC information can be found here: