Congress for sale

Voice of the People by James J. Devine

A New Jersey Democrat’s bidding war for the top Democratic spot on the high-profile House Energy and Commerce Committee exposes the underbelly of America’s crooked political system.

The Republican-controlled committee is now chaired by Fred Upton of Michigan but Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey is seeking to become the panel’s ranking Democrat in a campaign against Rep. Anna Eshoo, of California.

The shore area lawmaker is now the third most senior Democrat on the panel, while his competitor is fifth in seniority.

The two top tenured Democrats — John Dingell of Michigan and Rep. Henry Waxman of California — are retiring this year.

Pallone and Eshoo have doled out contributions to their colleagues and Democratic challengers through their campaign committees and leadership PACs in hopes of boosting their own chances at landing the top slot on the influential committee.

“Energy and Commerce has 40% of the U.S. economy,” said Stephen Ryan, of the law firm McDermott Will & Emery. “It’s probably one of the three most important committees in the sense of traditional analysis of where people want to be.”

Eshoo is a close ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi while Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is backing Pallone.

“The race to become the top Democrat on a powerful energy panel has turned into a money war,” wrote Lauren French, a reporter for, in a story published earlier this year.

According to French, the two representatives “must demonstrate they have the policy chops to serve as ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, but they are also angling to prove they could be a fundraising powerhouse.”

The situation is illustrative of the degree to which political choices are dictated by money, indicating that radical change is needed to move America back into the hands of the people.

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