If Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said his book shelf was a time capsule, a memorial to the modern GOP, you’d believe him. Here is Stephen Slivinski’s Buck Wild, a jeremiad against the Bush-era big-spending Republicans. Here is Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept, the terrifying tale of how “radical Islam is destroying the West from within.” Here is one of Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s bestsellers on how Christ can save your life.
Less predictable are the tomes bookending the collection: not one but two hardbound copies of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, a favorite among many supporters of free markets and limited government. “Those aren’t my only two copies,” Campbell says, laughing. “Atlas Shrugged is the book I give to our interns after they spend a summer here, working for free. I consider it to be the authoritative work on the power of the individual.”
It is late September in Washington, D.C. Another Rand disciple is in the news: Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, is on the talk shows promoting his autobiography. Like Greenspan, Campbell is upset that the Republican Party has been growing the government, hiking spending with funds that don’t exist. But Greenspan is out of public life. The 52-year-old Campbell, an Orange County, California, car salesman who arrived in D.C. just two years ago, is one of his party’s fastest-rising stars.
“He’s an absolutely fantastic member of the Republican conference,” says a senior GOP aide. “I think he’s become the heir apparent to lead the Republican Study Committee,” the anti-tax, anti-spending caucus founded in 1973 by then-insurgent proto-Reaganite Republicans. Campbell currently heads the RSC’s Budget and Spending Taskforce.
Outside of an actual leadership post or a committee chairmanship, carrying the RSC’s banner is a House Republican’s surest path to media prominence. But Campbell differs from RSC stars such as former chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Pence combined a fairly rote anti-spending message with heaping helpings of culture war conservatism. In September 2007, for example, Pence advanced a resolution condemning MoveOn.org for a newspaper ad that criticized Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.
That sort of politics doesn’t animate Campbell. He is one of those Republicans who, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), blames the GOP’s lax spending discipline for its election losses. He attained his office after a special election in December 2005 to replace Rep. Christopher Cox, a Republican who had just been appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Campbell thus spent a year in the majority as the GOP collapsed around him.
“I started to question what was going on,” he says. “I didn’t think what we were doing was” —he pauses—“the right thing to do. I can’t say I was surprised that we lost.”
Campbell has had a year in the minority since then, and there he has found his role: smiling, take-no-prisoners outrage at government spending. Campbell votes for partisan “sense of the House” resolutions, such as the time-wasting measure condemning MoveOn.org. But he’s far more interested in exposing the spending habits of both parties. He maintains the Green Eyeshade blog at the conservative Web hub Townhall.com, where he systematically attacks his fellow members for what they’re adding to bills or planning in the cloak rooms. In one September post, he matter-of-factly pointed out that Alaska’s Ted Stevens, the senior senator from his own party, “led the earmarking pack” on this year’s $459 billion defense appropriations bill.
A number of elected officials now blog. Most of their efforts read, in content and in style, like punched-up versions of talking points and fund-raising letters. Campbell’s blog is different. He calls out colleagues for taking contributions from the companies for which they’re writing earmarks. In a post about the defense bill, Campbell named and shamed Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) for directing most of their earmarks to contractors who had donated to their campaigns. “I will let you draw your own conclusions,” he wrote. The subtext: If Campbell has rebuffed contractors asking for favors, why can’t they?
“Of the first 50 meetings I had after I was elected,” he tells me, “47 were with businesses asking me for money. I was just stunned. Gee, I didn’t know I was just an ATM machine for taxpayer’s money.”
During the floor debate over the defense appropriations bill, Campbell honed in on a $2 million earmark for Sherwin-Williams, a paint company that is developing a “paint shield” for military vehicles. In the process, he locked horns with the fearsome chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). To everyone’s surprise, Campbell cleaned the 33-year congressman’s clock.
After Murtha rambled about how the military probably wanted the paint shield earmark even though it wasn’t on its “priority list,” Campbell pounced. “Mr. Chairman,” he said, “you said you’re ‘sure’ the military [wants it]. So you’re not aware if, in fact, the military has asked for this kind of technology?”
Campbell kept his eyes trained on the Democrat. Murtha didn’t have anything to say.
“I guess the answer to that is no,” Campbell said.
Of course, the House isn’t a debating club. The earmark survived anyway.