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What is a Congressional Caucus?

Hiram Sanabria, other editors


In 1973, the House of Representatives had thirteen African-American Representatives, the highest number ever of African-Americans to serve in Congress simultaneously in U.S. history. Prompted by Charles Diggs Jr.’s election (1955) as the first African-American House member to represent Michigan, he and other African-American lawmakers created the Democratic Select Committee – later named the Congressional Black Caucus, a successful, expanding group of Legislators still active today.



When the Congressional Black Caucus was first created, the group faced solid partisan opposition and lacked adequate resources and credibility to be a significant force in Congress. President Richard Nixon’s refusal to meet with Caucus members for discussions proved the group’s lack of real power in Congress. This move was met with the group member’s unanimous refusal to attend his State of the Union address. As a result of widespread attention to the caucus’s response, President Nixon gave in and met with the group to establish the caucus’s recognition and credibility in Congress. 



What is a Congressional Caucus?


A Congressional Caucus, Congressional Member Organization (CMO), or Informal Member Group (IMG) is an unofficial coalition of members with similar goals and interests who work together to achieve specific policy objectives. In order to avoid confusion with party caucuses, these groups are collectively described as informal Member organizations. 


An informal Member Group does not have access to the same resources as a CMO. Examples of the limited resources CMOs can access include personal offices, internal communications, and portions of a Member’s website addressing CMO issues. Informal Member Groups may be eligible to register as CMOs with the Committee on House Administration if they meet certain criteria. 


Created in 1959 and active until 1994, the Democratic Study Group (DSG – not to be confused with the Democratic Select Committee) is considered the first modern Informal Member Organization in Congressional history. It was founded as a liberal counterpoint to the influence of senior conservatives and southern Democrats and played a crucial role in passing liberal legislation, despite opposition from conservatives during the late 1950s and 1960s.


Congressional Caucus membership is generally split among the Congressional Progressive Caucus, New Democrat Coalition, Republican Study Committee, and Freedom Caucus. In addition to these, other organizations such as the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Caucuses have significant Congressional membership. More recently, the LGBT Equality Caucus was formed to focus on expanding and preserving LGBTQ rights. 


What is the purpose of CMOs and Informal Member Organizations?


Despite constraints on House Members' ability to assist CMOs and IMGs, their numbers have grown significantly since the 1990s. They play a crucial role in Congressional affairs today and are frequently used to debate ideas and proposed actions related to public policy or representational issues. Groups may participate in direct legislative lobbying for a specific issue or concern, provide opportunities for Members and staff to learn about policy issues, or raise public awareness about those issues. CMOs often hold membership and staff meetings to discuss and devise legislating strategies. While certain CMOs have more specific goals, other organizations may have broader objectives and address various areas of concern for policy topics. Hundreds of CMOs exist within the chamber walls of the House and the Senate, reflecting members’ objectives and future legislative aspirations.


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