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Campaign contributions could be key in Energy and Commerce battle

As Republicans jockey over next year's open gavel at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Michigander Fred Upton holds the upper hand of seniority, while Texan Joe Barton fights for a waiver of term limits to retain the top GOP slot. But dark-horse candidate John Shimkus of Illinois can claim an asset of his own: a lead in the campaign donation chase.

In competitions for chairmanships, the contributions that lawmakers bestow upon colleagues who faced difficult races can often play a major role in attracting support. Whether Shimkus' slight lead in contributions to fellow Republicans gives him an advantage over his Energy and Commerce rivals remains to be seen -- but he edged Upton in total giving, with $162,500 to the Michigander's $144,000, according to a Greenwire analysis of campaign finance data.

When campaign largesse to House Republicans who will be returning to Congress next year is taken into account, however, Upton retakes the lead from Shimkus. Greenwire's analysis, which looked at donations from both campaign committees and leadership political action committees, found that Shimkus steered $124,500 to victorious GOP candidates, compared with $131,500 from Upton.

Barton sent a total of $97,285.20 to GOP candidates' coffers during the run-up to the historic Republican election wins last week, with all but $21,000 of his giving headed to winning campaigns. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who also has expressed interest in leading Energy and Commerce next year, contributed just $2,000 to congressional candidates.

The mantle of most prolific contributor to Republican candidates is just one piece of a large puzzle that could be solved as early as next week, when the new House majority meets to formally elect its leadership slate. All four of the Energy and Commerce chairmanship hopefuls have directed further donations to the National Republican Congressional Committee and state party committees, which were not covered in the Greenwire analysis.

Still, with the chairmanship match growing more heated by the day, even small advantages may prove crucial.

Upton is taking heat from conservatives who charge that he leans insufficiently to the right on issues that fall under the powerful Energy and Commerce panel's purview, though he has vowed to battle U.S. EPA on its regulatory agenda if he's handed the gavel in the 112th Congress (Greenwire, Oct. 19). The Michigan representative holds a 39 percent lifetime rating on environmental policy from the League of Conservation Voters, while Barton took a 6 percent rating, and Shimkus stood at 5 percent.

Shimkus, for his part, began circulating a letter yesterday that formally outlined his reasons for bidding for the gavel. He vowed to aggressively pursue oversight of the Obama administration's health care reform law, while making no mention of environmental policy -- but prominently cited his campaign generosity toward the party.

"Illinois alone showed wins in three Democratic held seats and one open seat, in addition to winning the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama," Shimkus wrote in his letter. "These experiences have given me a greater understanding of the direction all members envision as we move this nation forward."

Click here to read a copy of Shimkus' letter concerning the Energy and Commerce chairmanship.

Reporter Katie Howell contributed.

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