Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Henry Brown: Caucuses! Caucuses! Caucuses!

Henry Brown sure does like to caucus. On his website he touts,

"A member of numerous Congressional caucuses, the Congressman is Co-Chairman of the Port Security Caucus, the Congressional Friends of Canada Caucus, the Coastal Caucus and the Congressional Shellfish Caucus"

That's a lot of caucusing. But what exactly are caucuses and what do they do?

To answer that question, I found an interesting article from Politico from March 19, 2007 :

Whatever their focus, caucuses are "an all-purpose advertising tool for members," said Steven S. Smith, director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis.

They offer the means to appeal to particular interests back home and illustrate that lawmakers are standing up for various causes, something that
can translate into campaign donations.

Ah - so it's resume padding, it's fluff that looks pretty on campaign websites then?

Sort of - the article goes on to mention powerful groups like the Blue Dogs (conservative democrats) and Congressional Black Caucus -- and I've heard of the Republican and Democratic Caucuses of course -- but those groups influence legislation. From Politico,

Caucuses vary in their effectiveness. Smith points to the political factional caucuses, such as the Democratic conservative Blue Dogs, as among the more important players. "They tend to be coalition leaders. Their chairs are consulted and they bargain with the leadership," he said, noting that single-issue caucuses, meanwhile, are increasingly narrow.

"There have been many times when the Blue Dogs have been pivotal to passing legislation," Smith noted, in part because they have the ability to mobilize their members.

As an example, remember it was most recently the Congressional Black Caucus that voted against the financial bailout, and so did many Blue dog democrats.

So caucusing can serve two purposes - resume padding and being legislatively useful. But what about Congressman Brown's 'caucuses,' what about the Congressional Friends of Canada and shell fish caucus amongst the others?

Well when it comes to the Cannuck's I find it interesting that Brown didn't found this caucus until after former buddy from the SC House David Wilkins became Ambassador to the great white north.

And the shellfish society, caucus what have you - it was created in '05, and much like the Friends of Canada was pushed to form from lobbyists.

So we know that Brown's 'Caucuses' are devised and created by lobbyist but what do they do?

Well I didn't have to go much further than that same Politico article,

Some don't let the serious work of influencing legislation get in the way of fun, even when there's a purpose in mind.

Take the Friends of Canada caucus, formed just over a year ago by Rep. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.) to "spread good maple across town," said legislative assistant
Chris Berardini. The group focuses on border security, tourism and energy.

So why does a South Carolinian head the caucus? In a name, Myrtle Beach.

The caucus recently participated in the 47th Annual CanAm Days in the South Carolina beach city, a popular destination for Canadian tourists. All of the caucus
member were invited to attend, but turnout was low because it fell on St. Patrick's Day weekend, a staff member said.

Brown, meanwhile, represented the caucus in his home district and entertained 15 members of the Canadian Parliament, three ministers and the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors. This is the first time the caucus participated in the event.

Brown also chairs the Shellfish Caucus, a role that complements his position as the senior Republican on the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee.

The Shellfish Caucus's more popular claim is its social events. Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) made Mardi Gras parties occasions not to missed, but the future of the caucus's legendary shrimp boils is uncertain under new ethics rules.

Ah.... so Brown's ultimate purpose for being a part of these caucuses then is for resume padding, and well after examining his contribution list -- some padding of his campaign coffers too.

Notice how earlier I mentioned that many of these caucuses are instigated by lobbyists? And in the case of the FoC and the Shellfish Caucus this is explicitly so. Well it appears that while Brown is having fun partying with the Canadians and slurping down Oysters and beer with the Blue Oyster Caucus, he's also getting several thousand dollars of their money.

From the FEC $4000 from the National Ocean Industries Association and $2000 from the Pacific Seafood Processors PAC are just two of the many PACs which also include huge Timber Companies, oh and a number of individual lobbyists also have given to Brown - and who could forget the fact that big Oil 'pwns' Henry Brown.

Oh well -- all in the name of constituent services I'm sure.

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