The Kingdoms and the Power

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By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Washington is a town where power is routinely won and lost, and where the pursuit of it never goes out of style. Now political junkies have a new way to track who has the most.

A company serving lobbyists published its "Power Rankings" of Congress online yesterday after five months of combing through legislative records, committee assignments, news articles and fundraising documents.

The list, which can be viewed at , is a snapshot of who the company believes wielded the most power on Capitol Hill last year, said Brad Fitch, chief executive of Knowlegis, a new firm that provides software and information to clients who want to influence public policy.

The rankings take into account such factors as tenure, committee positions, party membership, money contributed to congressional candidates through leadership PACs and the degree to which a politician was able to shape legislation through amendments.

"It's free," said Fitch, a former deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advises Hill offices on their operations. "Basically, all the public has to gauge, as to whether their member is doing well, is their own press releases or their campaign ads," he added. "We thought it would be helpful to give them an additional scorecard." He plans to update the rankings in October.

The top scorers in each chamber were hardly a surprise. In a Congress controlled by Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was deemed the most powerful senator, while Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) topped the House.

But the rankings show that visibility does not necessarily equate with power. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass), for instance, was rated only 61 out of 99 in 2005, despite having won his party's nomination for president the year before. Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Russell Feingold (Wis.), both possible contenders for the 2008 nomination, ranked 41st and 82nd, respectively. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) was the only Democrat to crack the top 10, finishing fifth.

In the House, the second most powerful member last year was Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). The former majority leader left his leadership position last fall amid legal troubles and a burgeoning lobbying scandal involving former staff members, and he plans to resign in June.

Only two House Democrats finished in the top 10: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and David R. Obey (Wis.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, who were 8 and 9, respectively.

The rankings do not take into account a lawmaker's success in earmarking funds for the home district, or the value of constituent service. "We recognize that this is not the totality of a contribution of a member of Congress to their constituents," Fitch said.

Although the GOP dominated the top slots, Republicans, somewhat surprisingly given their majority status, occupied bottom positions as well. Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) was found to be the "least powerful" senator, and Rep. John Campbell (Calif.) was clinging to the basement in the House.

"Thank goodness I'm from South Carolina, where if I'm lucky, I'll have another 50 years or so to prove 'em wrong," DeMint said in a written statement, alluding to the tenure of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who died in 2003 at age 100 after serving more than 47 years.

Myal Greene, spokesman for Campbell, noted that his boss was not sworn in until Dec. 5, when he filled the seat vacated by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), named to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. "I wouldn't put much stock in the rankings," he said. "I guess we're not that insignificant if The Washington Post is calling us."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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