California Democrat Henry Waxman scored an early-round victory over Michigan Democrat John D. Dingell today in Waxman’s quest to unseat the longest-serving member of the House of Representative and claim his Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship for the upcoming 111th Congress. In a 25-22 vote, the House Democratic Steering Committee endorsed Waxman for the job — though the final vote by the full Democratic caucus won’t come until Thursday.
The 69-year-old Waxman’s challenge to Dingell’s leadership focuses on disagreements over the latter’s leadership on issues of, as Waxman put it, “energy, climate change, and health care.” Dingell has drawn fire from environmental groups for favoring the interests of the automobile industry over pro-green concerns.
The 82-year-old Dingell, who has represented his southeastern Michigan district since 1955, is a top recipient of largesse from the energy and automobile industries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he received more than $300,000 in contributions from the energy industry in 2007 and 2008 alone — more than from any other sector. His attachment to the automobile industry — unsurprising given his Detroit-area district — is longstanding. The Center’s 1998 book The Buying of Congress, found that from 1987 to 1996, Dingell’s three top sources of campaign contributions were executives, employees, and political action committees from the “big three” automakers of Detroit: $59,900 from General Motors, $59,125 from Ford, and $55,950 from Chrysler. Another $37,591 came from the United Automobile Workers labor union.
Both congressmen also made repeated appearances in the Center’s 2006 PowerTrips database of congressional travel at the expense of outside organizations and companies. Waxman’s 22 reported trips included 10 jaunts paid for by the nonpartisan Aspen Institute and four trips paid for by institutes of higher learning — but also included forays to conferences paid for by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Pharmaceutical Marketing Congress.
Dingell’s 13 reported trips also included a trip courtesy of the Aspen Institute, but notably featured four leadership conferences for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and trips courtesy of the Walt Disney Company, the Connell Company, the National Association of Broadcasters, Ford, and General Motors.
Of course, of more interest to the Democrats may be another number: According to CQ, Waxman gave $350,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle and raised an additional $16,000, while Dingell gave $500,000 and raised $1.6 million.