Backgrounder: The House Republican Campaign Committee, Puppet Master of the General Assembly
“No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems – of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2. Whatever is No. 3 is far behind.” — Thomas Sowell.
by Cmdr. John Pickerill
The Indiana General Assembly opened its session in January. It is now the fifth straight year Republicans have had a Democrat-proof supermajority in both House and Senate. You would think by now they would have enacted new bulwarks protecting every one of the core beliefs in the GOP Platform (limited government, federalism, freedom from government interference, sanctity of life, second amendment, fiscal responsibility and so forth).
Plenty of bills were introduced supporting these beliefs but few saw the light of day. Instead, we have spending increases and new government programs. And this year, House Speaker Brian Bosma is proposing a tax increase. What happened?
For the answer you need to know how a bill really becomes a law. I don’t mean the School House Rock “I’m Just a Bill” version, I’m talking about the follow-the-money version. At its center is the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC), a group unaccountable to and outside of the democratic process.
This committee nonetheless is the most powerful political organization in Indiana. Most House GOP legislators have surrendered control of their election campaign — fundraising, planning, spending — to the HRCC with the promise that the HRCC (and political consultant “Mark It Red”) will protect incumbent Republicans if they face a challenger in the next election.
And that’s how they keep getting re-elected. Today, when a legislator gets campaign donations you can bet they turn over the lion’s share to the HRCC, often $10,000 or more at a time. The HRCC brought in over $2.3 million in 2016 alone. And this gives its chairman, Brian Bosma, incredible leverage.
Bosma already has huge influence as Speaker. He alone decides which bill is assigned to which committee. He alone appoints every member of those committees including chairmen. In turn, a committee chairman has absolute power to decide if a bill gets a hearing or dies in committee. It’s probably no coincidence that most chairmen make huge donations to Bosma’s HRCC.
In the end, a bill is passed because Mr. Bosma wants it to, because it was just easier for the other Republicans to go-along-to-get-along and not risk their HRCC protection money — that and loyalty could mean a chairmanship one day. Bucking the system could mean losing campaign funding and (gasp) losing the next election. Principle quickly takes a back seat to staying in office.
What influences Bosma and his legislative agenda each year? If campaign finance reports are any indication, it’s the political action committees (PACs) and those who fund him. In the last four years his personal campaign accepted $2.2 million, his biggest contributors being Indiana Merit Construction PAC, Indiana Multi Family Housing PAC, Zink Properties LLC, Build Indiana PAC, and billionaire Dean White also plopped down $500,000.
But because committee chairmen are bringing in so much money to the HRCC, Bosma is influenced by their donors as well. And it should come as no surprise that Build Indiana PAC (lobbying for road construction companies) made big donations to most of his committee chairmen, most notably Ed Soliday (Roads and Transportation) and Tim Brown (Ways and Means) who each got $12,000. People looking to buy influence know who has influence. Bosma, Brown and Soliday received more campaign contributions than anyone in the House in 2016 (January-October).
So how does a bill become law? The PACs give Bosma his marching orders, Bosma (with his HRCC carrot) gives legislators theirs, and the HRCC kills deliberation.
John Pickerill, former chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. A graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, Pickerill retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Commander.