Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Claif.), who wants to head the House Commerce Committee's important health subcommittee, gave $14,000 to 10 fellow Democrats on the committee to help them get reelected this month.
McGraw-Hill's Washington Report on Medicine and Health reported that Waxman maintained his own political action committee and said it was "unusual for a relatively junior member," though some old hands like Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) do the same.
Waxman said that he actually gave $40,000 in all more than half the money he raised, to House members with tough election battles. He said he gave $20,000 two years ago "when I wasn't a candidate for chairman," and this year's gifts had no connection with his current desire, "only that I wanted to see, some people reelected that I know and think well of."
Nine Commerce Committee members who originally got $1,000 each though Chairman Harley O. Staggers (D.W.Va.) later returned the money. Reps. Richard L. ottinger (D-N.Y.) and Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) got $3,000 each.
Third-termer-elect Waxman is in a unique position to give to others. An orthodox liberal on most issues, he has had only weak opposition in his recent campaign to represent California's 24th District. This is the "Hollywood district," with many movie stars and others who make generous contributions and, he reported, are willing to see some of the money used for other "progressives."
On the health subcommittee Waxman has been a strong supporter of Chairman Paul Rogers, the Florida Democrat who is retiring this year. Waxman backed President Carter and Rogers on efforts to put a mandatory limit on hospital price increases, an effort that failed in the Commerce Committee after weeks of debate.
Rep. Richardson Preyer (D-N.C.) is considered the leading candidate to head the subcommittee. Preyer and other members of his family are important stockholders in Richardson-Merrell Inc., whose Merrell-National Laboratories division makes some of the country's leading prescription drugs.
Drug industry regulation is one of the key is issues the subcommittee must face next year, and some members have privately wondered whether Preyer can avoid a conflict of interest if he becomes chairman.
"Preyer is still very interested in the job," an aide said. "All his holidays are in a blind trust, though he does see the list once a year when he signs his income tax. In a previous case where there was a possible conflict - involving swine flu vaccine, he simply abstained from voting."