The House Budget Committee chairman isn’t holding any face-to-face open-to-the-public town hall meetings during the recess, but like several of his colleagues he will speak only for residents willing to open their wallets.
Ryan, who took substantial criticism from his southeast Wisconsin constituents in April after he introduced the Republicans’ budget proposal, isn’t the only member of congress whose August recess town hall-style meetings are strictly pay-per-view.
Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) is scheduled to appear Aug. 23 at a luncheon gathering of the Arizona Republican Lawyers Association. For $35, attendees can question Quayle and enjoy a catered lunch at the Phoenix office of the Snell & Wilmer law firm.
And Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) took heat in Duluth this weekend for holding private events in his district’s population and media center — including a $10-per-head meeting to be hosted next week by the local chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which on its invitation notes that the organization “supported Chip in his stunning upset over longtime Congressman Jim Oberstar in the 2010 election.”
It’s no secret why members of Congress would shy away from holding open town hall meetings — it’s no fun getting yelled at by angry constituents or having an uncomfortable question become an unfortunate YouTube moment.
By outsourcing the events to third parties that charge an entry fee to raise money, members of Congress can eliminate most of the riffraff while still — in some cases — allowing reporters and TV cameras for a positive local news story.
The host of Quayle’s event, Lawyers Association President Jonathan Brinson, said his group previously had paid luncheons featuring Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and most of Arizona’s GOP congressional delegation.
But those events didn’t come in the absence of an open-to-the-public town hall like oneMcCain held last week, at which he faced angry tea party constituents.
“After Republicans voted to gut Medicare and other vital programs while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and corporations, it’s not surprising that they would not want to face their constituents in an open forum,” said MoveOn.org Executive Director Justin Ruben. “There seems to be no limit to how much our government is for sale.”
Quayle spokesman Richard Cullen said the first-term Republican held a jobs fair and roundtable last week and did an event focusing on “senior issues” for residents of a private retirement community. But Quayle — who is in Israel this week — is not planning an open town hall.
“We made a decision about two months ago that we knew we’d be busy at work in Washington on the debt ceiling,” Cullen said. “We called it a jobs week. We wanted as soon as we got back into the district for his focus to be on jobs.”
And indeed, the Arizona Republic wrote a rather glowing story Saturday about Quayle’s jobs fair, a far cry from its May report about his town hall meeting, in which the paper wrote that he “faced tough questions from voters” about Medicare.
Ryan, who had police remove a man who yelled at him about proposed Medicare cuts during an April town hall meeting in Racine, will host telephone town hall meetings but no free events in person during the recess, spokesman Kevin Seifert said.
Seifert said Ryan is also “holding business tours and office hours throughout the recess.” He said the decision not to hold public town hall events had nothing to do with criticism the House Budget chairman took from constituents in April.
Seifert added that Ryan has nothing to do with the Whitnall Park Rotary Club’s decision to charge $15 for admissiona fee that will pay for the catered lunch of meat and potatoes the group will provide, club president Kent Bieganski told POLITICO.
“It’s not something our office can control,” Seifert said.
Pastor Larry Meyers, the club’s webmaster, said about 50 people have registered online and paid the $15 for the Ryan event. He said the club’s catering hall can serve as many as 250 people and will not admit people who do not pre-register and pay the $15 fee.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski said Ryan is scared to defend his record before his fellow citizens.
“Paul Ryan has had a hard time going before open crowds, and for good reason,” Zielinski said. “I’m sure Ryan doesn’t want to go before the public to explain while his extreme ideology caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade U.S. long-term treasury bonds. Beside, Ryan likes smaller settings — the kind where you can cozy up to a hedge fund manager and get a good $350 bottle of wine.”
Cravaack ran into a protest last week when he met with local business leaders in lieu of hosting a town hall meeting.
Chad McKenna, a local labor leader with the North East Area Labor Council, dinged Cravaack in the Duluth News Tribune for not holding a town hall meeting in the state’s fourth-largest city.
“Cravaack’s in Duluth meeting with business folk, but the average person on the street doesn’t have access to him,” McKenna said of the first-term Republican.
Cravaack, a first-term Republican from Lindstrom, 126 miles south of Duluth, announced last month that he was moving his family to New Hampshire. He has held town hall meetings in Brainerd and Grand Portage, each more than 115 miles from Duluth, according to WDIO-TV.
He told the paper Duluth’s constituents are welcome to meet with a staffer at his district office’s office hours. Cravaack told the paper he will return to Duluth when it suits his schedule, but that wouldn’t be during the August recess.
Cravaack spokesman Michael Bars said Tuesday that he has hosted 12 town hall meetings and seven teleconferences since taking office in January.
“Rep. Cravaack’s primary focus is to create more jobs for the 8th District; he looks forward to continuing this conversation with his constituents,” he said.