FLATWOODS Every election cycle, U.S. Congressman Thomas Massie said he is “extorted” by the Republican Party to pay $300,000 for his committee assignments.
“I call it extortion, they call it assessments,” he said.
These “assessments,” essentially dues to the Republican party, are fundraised through political action committees and lobbyists as a price to pay for committee positions, Massie told a crowd of about 25 during a recent coffee and pizza forum in Flatwoods.
He told them, “I can’t go and do a fundraiser and raise $300,000 and stand up in front of people and tell them, ‘Well, you know what? It’s not really about the election. I need the money to buy a committee seat.’”
It’s not just that way with the Republican Party — Democrats are also expected to pay to be on certain committees, too, and the price tag steepens based on the power of both the committee and the seat. Powerful committee chairmanships can cost millions of dollars, Massie said.
Massie sits on three House committees: Oversight and Reform, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science, Space and Technology.
“I’ve paid them zero,” Massie said, which yielded a scattered applause at the pizza parlor. “It looks like a phone bill they send to me. An overdue notice.”
He said the bill has a footnote reading, “Note: price is subject to change based on your leadership positions.”
When asked what party officials do when committee members don’t pay up, a man in the room chimed in to say, “It’s our job to fire you, not theirs.”
Massie smiled and said, “They can’t not make me a Congressman, but they can take all your committees away.”
He said party officials have created what he called the ‘Wall of Shame’ that lists all caucus members, their individual assessments, how much they’ve paid and how much they still owe.
“Can we request a copy of that?” a woman asked, to which Massie said no, that the information is not public knowledge.
During his first month in office (he was first elected in 2012), Massie chaired a subcommittee on technology in the House Science committee, but the group was soon dissolved.
“Seems like a pretty big deal to be in Congress for a month and be a subcommittee chairman. Six weeks later, they dissolved the subcommittee, after I voted against (former Speaker of the House John) Boehner and didn’t pay my dues payment,” Massie said.
He added the party offered his chairmanship back two years later, but it was shortly before he planned to vote against Boehner again, so he gave the position to someone else.
“If enough of us don’t pay, they just can’t kick you all off your committees,” Massie said. “They wouldn’t have enough Republicans to serve and the Democrats would run all the committees.”
He said he is not sure nobody else has paid nothing on their bills, but added “There aren’t many who don’t pay anything.”
Some apparently choose to make “payments” to keep officials off their backs.
Massie said some may say he needs to “play along” in order to get representation on powerful committees, like Ways and Means, but most also do not like to hear the money has to be raised using lobbyists and special interest groups.
News of committee seat price tags is not new. National Public Radio reported on the issue in 2012, but many seem to have forgotten or are apathetic to the situation, Massie said.
“People know about this, sometimes it becomes an issue…. but it just doesn’t get enough people mad enough…..It just doesn’t have enough interest for people,” Massie said.
The NPR story quoted now-Sen. John Flake, R-Arizona, when he was in the House of Representatives as saying, “Where much is given, much is required,” adding the payments are “certainly taken into account” every two years when committee assignments are reconsidered by the party.
“I don’t want to give you the impression committee seats are for sale,” Massie said. “They’re for rent.”
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