Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

California Freshman Congressman's Lobbyist Ties

U.S. Representative Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Even before Jeff Denham was sworn into Congress in January with a promise to "stand up for the community," California's only Republican freshman U.S. representative began surrounding himself with former and current lobbyists from big money political campaigns.

Just after Denham was elected to Congress from California's 19th district in November, he created JEFF PAC and America's New Majority. The creation of JEFF PAC makes him one of only two freshman members of Congress to have already formed a leadership political action committee, or PAC, an organization used to raise money for election campaigns.

Federal Election Commission filings for the two PACs show they have already received contributions from interests that often lobby the very congressional committees Denham sits on — Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Veterans' Affairs.

For instance, America's New Majority PAC has received contributions from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which lobbies on energy issues. Denham sits on the natural resources committee, which deals with energy issues.

In addition, Denham hired Jason Larrabee as his Chief of Staff. Larrabee is a former lobbyist for Clean Energy Systems Inc., which lobbied, again, the natural resources committee.

Since Denham created America's New Majority last November, it has added 11 other freshman members of Congress, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. Keith A. Davis — a consultant frequently hired by Republican PACs — is now its treasurer. Davis also served as treasurer for Senator John McCain's Straight Talk America PAC and for the Republican Congressional Committee, from which his firm was paid $133 million in the last election cycle.

America's New Majority has not paid Davis' firm any money yet, according to online FEC filings. But the filings do detail $85,000 in contributions from a fundraising party the PAC hosted to welcome freshman members of Congress the night before Denham took office ($50,000 came from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians alone). The event at the W hotel in Washington D.C. featured a performance by Leann Rimes and ended up costing $80,000, netting the PAC only $5,000.

Still, Denham's fundraising party earned him attention as a potentially big moneymaker for the Republican Party. He received more than $1 million in contributions in his run for Congress, mostly from crop producers. His Democratic opponent only raised $30,000, and his primary Republican contender, Richard Pombo, raised more than $660,000. Denham's Central Valley district, which includes parts of Fresno, is a largely agricultural region plagued by water shortages.

Denham's JEFF PAC hasn't seen much activity. Since it was created in September 2010, it has received only one contribution — $2400 from the Los Alamitos Race Track.

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