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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Simpson, Craig top spuds in Congressional caucus

Jesse Harlan Alderman Associated Press

BOISE – It stands to reason that Idaho lawmakers would join the Congressional Potato Caucus.

So it’s little surprise that all four members of the state’s congressional delegation count themselves in the Capitol Hill club touting legislation favorable to producers of Idaho’s most famous export, according to caucus membership rolls obtained by the Associated Press.

Sen. Larry Craig, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter, all Republicans, also share membership in the Congressional Sportsmen Caucus, another in the growing web of hundreds of informal lawmaker caucuses that have sprung up in Washington, D.C., to advocate special causes.

Otter leads the way among the all-Republican Idaho delegation. His name appears on the rosters of 28 caucuses, including groceries – the Frozen Food Caucus – and grapes – the Congressional Wine Caucus.

Rep. Mike Simpson belongs to at least 15 caucuses, including the House Rural Caucus and the Department of Energy Facilities Caucus, spokeswoman Nikki Watts said. He also co-chairs the Congressional Potato Caucus, along with Craig, and the House Sugar Caucus.

“Our caucuses really reflect the district,” Watts said. “It makes perfect sense.”

Crapo belongs to 22 caucuses and co-chairs the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, said spokeswoman Susan Wheeler.

Craig holds membership in eight groups, including the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and the Senate Sweetener Caucus.

Nationwide, an Associated Press survey of Congress recently identified more than 500 such groups, which don’t have to report their activities or membership, operating with no scrutiny from ethics enforcers, campaign finance regulators or the public.

These groups are often a powerful force in shepherding laws through Congress to benefit special interests, including potato and sugar growers and biotechnology firms in Idaho.

But other times they are little more than hobbyist workshops or the staging grounds for irresistible photo opportunities.

While a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Crapo belonged to the Boot Caucus, a club with a single membership requirement: a stiff pair of cowboy boots.

Years ago, group members got together to strut their best cowhides and posed for a photograph featured in “People” magazine, Wheeler said.

As a member of the Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus; the Senate Caucus on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children; and the Zero Capital Gains Tax Caucus, perhaps Crapo’s manageable caucus load has been filled.

But when asked by a vocational-technical school in Idaho, the senator gladly joined the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus, Wheeler said.

“It’s not because he’s a big NASCAR fan,” she said. “Or if he is, he hasn’t told me.”