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Freshmen Lawmakers Find Their Posts Lucrative

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MEMBERS of Congress's largest freshman class in decades, swept into office on a wave of public anger at Washington, didn't take long to find the Capital's money trail.

The newcomers - especially those who landed assignments on the most influential House committees - tapped lobbyists, lawyers, consultants, and political action committees for campaign funds, a review of more than a dozen 1993 campaign finance reports showed.

``Their campaign finance profiles represent literally business as usual,'' said Ellen Miller of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that monitors political money.

Lynn Schenk, a California Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will consider health care reform this year, raised nearly $400,000 in 1993. More than half, $234,000, came from special interest groups, while substantial amounts came in individual donations from lobbyists.

Labor invested heavily in Representative Schenk's reelection. The United Auto Workers provided $13,500; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $12,000; the Machinists donated $5,000; and the electrical workers and seafarers gave $4,000 each.

The 115 freshman House members were elected by a public angry over congressional scandals and the influence of special interests. Polls showed voters believed Congress had lost touch with average Americans, and many nonincumbents ran on anti-Washington platforms.

Usually, challengers attract few donations from PACs, the donating arms of special interest lobbies. But once they're elected, Washington insiders line up to win their attention.

In an interview, Schenk said she has been a strong proponent of reforming the campaign finance system and of putting curbs on lobbyists' gift giving. The freshman who won the rarest assignment, a seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, did well with financial and health interests. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D) of Illinois, took in $220,000 for the year, including $5,000 from the ophthalmologists, $4,000 from commodity futures brokers and $2,500 from the dentists' PAC.

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