By Molly K. Hooper - 03/17/11 10:00 AM EDT
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) has apologized to irate Republican members who were singled out in a leaked document that highlighted that they were behind in their party dues.
Sessions, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), told The Hill this week that he did not leak the information to the press last month. He also took issue with the accuracy of the data provided to Capitol Hill publications.
His emphatic denial of leaking the names of nine GOP lawmakers reportedly in arrears, more than one month after the story appeared in the press, indicates that the issue is still politically sensitive in the Republican Conference. Several members told The Hill that they are trying to ascertain who leaked the data and speculating among themselves who did it.
Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Bill Young (R-Fla.), Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Gary Miller (R-Calif.) were included in the articles for owing a combined $1 million in NRCC dues left over from the 2010 cycle.
Steve King said, “Leaks … are not conducive to a constructive result.” He added that if anyone in his office leaked that kind of sensitive information, he or she “would be dismissed.”
Sessions emphatically asserted that neither he nor his staff had anything to do with the leak.
The Texas Republican’s face grew red as he told The Hill, “It was inappropriate, whoever got the story in the paper. It was not factually correct and it did not represent the essence of anything that I said. It was a complete fabrication. Why would I release that? I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t!”
The articles did little to convince McCotter, who reportedly owes nearly $500,000, to fork over the money.
In a recent interview with The Hill, McCotter, a former leadership lawmaker and a target of Democrats last year, said, “I’m under no contractual obligation with the NRCC.”
According to a lawmaker on the list, there are other members who owe back dues from last year’s cycle, but who were conspicuously absent from the recent articles.
During the House GOP conference’s annual retreat in Baltimore last year, several GOP members were upset when lawmakers discussed fundraising while addressing who sits on the powerful Steering Committee, which doles out panel assignments.
After it was suggested that members sitting on the Steering Committee should pay additional NRCC dues, McCotter “went ballistic,” according to a source in the room.
“Thad McCotter said, ‘That’s a horrible idea, because now you are doing pay-to-play,’ ” the source said.
Another source confirmed McCotter’s protests, saying the former GOP Policy Committee chairman stormed out of the room.
Asked for comment on the incident, McCotter told The Hill that he “does not comment on Steering Committee matters.”
Pressuring lawmakers to pony up cash for the campaign committees is nothing new.
Republicans have relied on peer pressure and on several occasions barred the doors during so-called “prayer calls” for contributions at their closed-conference meetings at the Capitol Hill Club, where they discuss campaign matters.
But in recent years, the NRCC has not publicly embarrassed lawmakers through leaked memos — even when Republicans last controlled the House in 2005 and 2006.
That strategy has been employed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over the last several cycles, with some aides saying it has been quite effective.
Paul, a subcommittee chairman who had $1.8 million cash on hand at the end of 2010, said last week, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as dues. I don’t know anything about it.”
Wilson has said he will meet his $191,000 obligation to the NRCC, pointing out that Democrats sought to take him out last cycle.
The South Carolina lawmaker noted that the NRCC lists its members’ fundraising goals on a large board in the NRCC’s offices. Those with outstanding dues are marked clearly in red.
“It’s practically public information anyway,” he said. “Anyone who goes in there can see it.”
But that doesn’t mean the totals on that white board are accurate, according to an official at the NRCC.
For lawmakers who struggle to raise money, the NRCC grants “credits.” For example, attending the upcoming NRCC dinner will earn a lawmaker a credit of $5,000; making fundraising calls will earn a certain number of credits. Sometimes the credits aren’t applied to lawmakers’ dues, and may not be recorded accurately on the tally sheets, the NRCC operative explained to The Hill.
For example, Terry, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was caught off-guard when he read in mid-February that he owed $169,000 for last year’s cycle.
Terry, who was deemed a Democratic target in the 2010 cycle, thought he was settled up. He said Sessions conceded last year that because he had to worry about his own race, he would be excused from paying any extra money beyond the normal annual dues.
Now, Terry says, he isn’t sure if he owes that money or not.
“I don’t know if whatever I raise for the March [fundraising] dinner is applied to last year’s assessments or not,” Terry told The Hill.
Sessions would not comment on the dues owed by members.
The nine members include a committee chairman (Pete King), a senior appropriator (Young) and members who sit on “A” committees. King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has paid the $40,000 he owed, according to a GOP source.
Shane D’Aprile and Sean J. Miller contributed to this article.