For Paul Broun, talk of cracking down on illegal immigrants has been a reliable hit on the campaign trail as he seeks to rally the Republican base to his U.S. Senate run.
But the Georgia congressman was a virtual no-show on a House subcommittee overseeing border security issues.
During the two years he was assigned to the Border and Maritime Security panel, Broun missed more than 80 percent of its hearings, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of congressional records. That’s the worst attendance of any of the 12 lawmakers who served on the panel in 2011 and 2012, the AJC review found.
A Broun spokeswoman said the lawmaker from Athens has a heavy workload — serving on three committees and six subcommittees — so he frequently has conflicting meetings.
“While he may not always be physically present at every hearing, he is kept up to date on the issues and items of discussion by his staff,” Broun spokeswoman Christine Hardman said.
Broun’s rivals for Senate nomination include two other congressmen: Reps. Jack Kingston and Phil Gingrey. Both have far better committee attendance records, the AJC review found.
Also in the crowded GOP field are former Secretary of State Karen Handel and businessman David Perdue. On the Democratic side, non-profit executive Michelle Nunn, the daughter of ex-U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, is running. The victor will replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss next year.
Among the 16 of 19 border security sessions Broun missed were several that featured Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher. One missed hearing focused on stopping the flow of illicit drugs from Mexico. Another addressed whether the nation has fixed the border and visa problems that allowed hijackers to enter the United States and carry out the 9/11 attacks.
Since arriving in Washington in 2007, Broun has also missed more than 60 percent of the 53 meetings of the full Department of Homeland Security committee. The border subcommittee is part of that larger panel.
Broun also serves on the Natural Resources Committee and the Science Committee, where he is the chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
While illegal immigration is a hot political topic, there have been few votes on the issue on Capitol Hill by which to gauge lawmakers’ views.
In 2010 Broun voted against the DREAM Act, a bill allowing a path to citizenship for some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul this year. The House is taking a piece-by-piece approach, but Republicans have not brought any of the individual bills to the floor.
Broun has staked out a hard-line stance, opposing any bill that would provide a new path to citizenship for immigrants and calling for tighter controls at the border.
D.A. King, of the Dustin Inman Society, which promotes tougher immigration controls, said Broun has been a reliable supporter. But King said he was surprised at the congressman’s poor showing at committee meetings.
“I would be very interested in an explanation for those absences.” King said. “Showing up matters.”
Committee attendance on Capitol Hill can be tricky to track. Not all committees take attendance, and records posted online aren’t always comprehensive.
But according to an AJC review of hearing records available from the Government Printing Office — which posts most, but not all hearings — Broun attended or participated in 28 percent of committee hearings from 2007 through 2012. Kingston, who only serves on the House Appropriations Committee, has perfect attendance but at far fewer hearings. Gingrey, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the House Administration Committee either, attended or participated in 75 percent of his committee hearings, the AJC review found.
When it comes to participating in votes on the House floor, Broun, Gingrey and Kingston have nearly identical records. Kingston, an 11-term veteran from Savannah, has missed 3.5 percent of House votes in his career. Broun has missed 3.7 percent. Gingrey, of Marietta, has missed 3.9 percent.
The median for incumbent members of Congress is 2.3 percent, according to federal data compiled by govtrack.us.
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, said he’s not bothered by Broun’s low committee attendance rate.
“We’d all like our members of Congress to attend these committee hearings,” Gheen said. “But that’s not as important to me as where he stands.”
For Gheen, Broun is on the right side, and that’s enough.
How We Got The Story
The Atlanta Journal Constitution decided to look at attendance records for the Georgia members of Congress running for the U.S. Senate. To do so, we pored through several hundred committee meeting records compiled online by the Government Printing Office. Most committees took attendance so a member’s presence was easy to determine. The Science and Technology Committee did not. For that committee, we looked at whether the member participated at all in the proceeedings. either verbally or through written testimony. The AJC did not include a handful of hearings, where attendance was in doubt.