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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Congressional Member Organizations: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation

Robert Jay Dilger
Senior Specialist in American National Government

Jessica C. Gerrity
Section Research Manager

There are 694 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 618 informal Member organizations had from 1 to 321 members, with an average membership of 25, and the Senate’s 76 informal Member organizations had from 1 to 61 members, with an average membership of 14. On average, House Members report membership in 34 informal Member organizations and Senators report membership in 18. Of these 694 informal organizations, 249 are registered with the Committee on House Administration as congressional Member organizations (CMOs).

The term “congressional Member organization” refers to a group of Members who join together in pursuit of common legislative objectives and register the organization with the Committee on House Administration. In many instances, Members assign personal staff (including shared employees) under the Member’s control to assist the CMO in carrying out its legislative objectives. Any informal group of House Members who wish to use personal staff to work on behalf of an informal Member group, discuss their membership in the group in official communications, or mention their membership on their official House website must register the group with the Committee on House Administration as a CMO. There are no registration requirements in the Senate.

Informal Member organizations that are not registered with the Committee on House Administration (including those in the Senate) are called “informal Member groups.” The term “informal Member organization” is used when referring to both CMOs and informal Member groups. This report focuses on CMOs, primarily because they tend to be more long-lasting and influential than informal Member groups.

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. Nearly all CMOs serve as forums for the exchange of information. Many hold regular Member or staff meetings, typically weekly, monthly, or quarterly depending on the legislative calendar, to exchange information and develop legislative strategy. Many CMOs also invite outside speakers and groups to make presentations to the CMO’s members.

This report examines the purpose and activities of CMOs and the reasons Members form them. It also identifies and describes seven CMO types, and it provides an overview of the historical development of informal Member organizations since the first Congress, focusing on their regulation in the House by the Committee on House Oversight/Committee on House Administration, the rise and fall of legislative service organizations (LSOs), and the House’s decision in 1995 to issue regulations for establishing CMOs and governing their behavior. It concludes with a step-by-step guide for House Members and staff who might be interested in forming a CMO. Many of the steps in the guide may be of interest to Senators and their staff who are considering forming an informal Member group in the Senate. 

Date of Report: September 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R40683
Price: $29.95

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