Explainer: What you should know about congressional caucuses
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Explainer: What you should know about congressional caucuses


Wait, why should I care about this topic?

Americans tend to view partisan politics as being mostly binary—between Republicans and Democrats. But within Congress there are also factions that shape legislative agendas and determine the laws that affect our daily lives. For example, it was primarily opposition by the Freedom Caucus (about 40 members) that stopped the Republican healthcare proposal, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), from being voted on.

What is a congressional caucus?

A caucus is a faction within a legislative body that pursues its interests through the legislative process. In the U.S. Congress, such caucuses can be informal (called informal Member groups) or formal (i.e., Congressional Member Organization or CMO). In their formal form in the House, the group is registered with the Committee on House Administration. CMOs exist to affect public policy, either directly through policy advocacy for a region or an issue, or indirectly by attracting media attention, or through the socialization and orientation of their Members.

In addition to the term caucus, they are sometimes called conferences, coalitions, study groups, task forces, or working groups.

What do congressional caucuses do?

The primary function of CMOs is to develop legislative agendas and be forums for the exchange of information. Many of the groups hold regular member or staff meetings and may also invite outside speakers and groups to make presentations.

What are the types of CMOs?

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), there are seven types of CMOs:

(1) Intraparty CMOs: promote the policy views of like-minded Members within a political party.

(2) Personal interest CMOs (the most prevalent type): typically focus on a broad, single concern, such as the environment or children, that is often under the jurisdiction of more than one committee.

(3) Industry CMOs: advocate the interests of a particular industry.

(4) Regional CMOs: champion the interests of a particular region.

(5) State/district CMOs: advocate the interests of a particular state or district.

(6) National constituency CMOs: advocate the interests of particular constituencies, such as women, minorities, and veterans.

(7) Diplomacy CMOs: concern themselves with improving foreign relations with another country or region of the world.

How many CMOs are there in the current congress?

According to the CRS, there are 800 informal Member organizations listed in the Congressional Yellow Book or registered with the Committee on House Administration. According to self-reported information contained in the Congressional Yellow Book, the House’s 703 informal Member organizations had from one to 294 members, with an average membership of 21, and the Senate’s 87 informal Member organizations had from one to 71 members, with an average membership of nine.

On average, House Members report membership in 34 informal Member organizations (ranging from 0 to 136) and Senators report membership in 16 (ranging from 0 to 52). Of these 800 informal organizations, 300 registered with the Committee on House Administration during the 114th Congress as congressional Member organizations (CMOs).

Are their bipartisan CMOs?

Yes, usually for issues that are not as divided along partisan lines. For example, this month two Republicans and two Democrats co-founded the Congressional Estuary Caucus to “give the nation’s estuaries a stronger voice and presence in Congress by uniting lawmakers in support of these critical ecosystems.” (Estuaries are bodies of water usually found where rivers meet the sea.)

Can Senators be part of a House CMO?

Yes, members of both the House and Senate may participate in CMO, but at least one of the officers of the CMO must be a member of the House.

What are the rules for CMOs:

According to the Congressional Members Handbook:

• CMOs may not use the Frank [i.e., a way for members to send official mail for free], nor may a Member lend his or her Frank to a CMO.

• A Member may use official resources for communications related to the purpose of a CMO. Any such communications must comply with the Franking Regulations.

• Members may devote a section of their official website to CMO issues.

• A Member may use inside mail to communicate information related to a CMO.

• Members may prepare material related to CMO issues for dissemination.

• Official funds may not be used to print or pay for stationery for the CMO.

• Members may refer to their membership in a CMO on their official stationery.

Can CMO’s hire staff?

No, CMOs cannot employ staff. The individual members are considered the employing entities, so CMO business is handled by the staffers who work for the Representatives or Senators.

According to the Congressional Members Handbook, a Member of a CMO, in support of the objectives of that CMO, may utilize employees (including shared employees) and official resources under the control of the Member to assist the CMO in carrying out its legislative objectives, but no employees may be appointed in the name of a CMO. Business cards for individuals who work on CMO issues must list the employing authority before the name of the CMO.

What are the largest CMOs?

Here are some of the largest caucuses:

Congressional Diabetes Caucus (339 members)

Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (276 members)

Republican Study Committee (172 members)

International Conservation Caucus (119 members)

Congressional Progressive Caucus (75 House members)


Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).