In-Depth: Rep. Richard Nolan (D-MN) introduced this bill to prohibit members of Congress and candidates for Congress from fundraising while Congress is in session — reducing the amount of time members of Congress spend in Washington fundraising for reelection as opposed to legislating in the Capitol:
“It’s time to change the way we do politics, and restore people’s confidence in our great American democracy. The massive amounts of money in politics and time being spent fundraising is denigrating members and candidates, and it’s discouraging good people from running for public office. It has turned members of Congress into middle-level telemarketers dialing for dollars. As a result, this Congress is the most unaccomplished, undemocratic and unremarkable in our country’s history. We are elected to go to Washington and go to work on the people’s business. That’s what being a member of Congress should be all about.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) added:
“Our nation was founded on the principle that government should be by the people and for the people, not government by and for special interests. Over the years, members of Congress have strayed from this founding principle by focusing on fundraising for their next election rather than doing the people’s work. As a result, our nation’s problems have grown worse, and people’s trust in government’s ability to fix them continues to shrink. The common sense reforms in this bill are critical to helping reduce the influence of money in politics and get Congress working again.”
Former Senator Tom Harkin, the longest-serving Democrat in Iowa history, says that the current fundraising pressure decreases collegiality in Congress, as members no longer have time to socialize:
“It’s not as much fun in that we’re so consumed with other things. Here’s what I mean — we used to have a Senate Dining Room that was only for senators. We’d go down there and sit around there, and Joe Biden and Fritz Hollings and Dale Bumpers and Ted Stevens and Strom Thurmond and a bunch of us — Democrats and Republicans. We’d have lunch and joke and tell stories, a great camaraderie. That dining room doesn’t exist any longer because people quit going there. Why did they quit going? Well, we’re not there on Monday, and we’re not there on Friday. Tuesday we have our party caucuses. That leaves Wednesday and Thursday — and guess what people are doing then? They’re out raising money. The time is so consumed with raising money now... that you don’t have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time.”
Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits, expressed his organization’s support for a similar bill in 2016, stating that “prioritizing fundraising for political campaigns over legislative responsibilities is disastrous for the American people.”
Despite popular belief that members of Congress spend all their time “dialing for dollars” or participating in other fundraising activity, there is evidence suggesting these fears are overblown. The Congressional Management Foundation, in a survey of Congressional chiefs of staffs, found that chiefs of staff were “lucky if they can get four or five hours a week raising money.” According to the Congressional Management Foundation’s findings, all political/campaign work — a broad category that encompasses fundraising — takes up less than a fifth (20%) of members’ time.
There is one Republican cosponsor of this bill.
Of Note: According to the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), the average cost of a congressional campaign (House and Senate spending averages combined) has increased to more than $10 million, with a growing number of races doubling that amount. Since 1986, campaign budgets have increased 62% for the Senate, and 344% for the House of Representatives.
Members of both chambers spend significant time and energy raising money: In the 2012 election, House incumbents raised an average of $1.7 million – an average of $2,400 per day in the two-year election cycle in that chamber. In the 2012 election, Senate incumbents who were up for reelection raised an average of $10.3 million — an average of over $4,700 per day over that chamber’s six-year term.
Former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), who resigned in 2015 after Politico raised questions about his mileage reimbursements, is an example of the disturbing extremes the current campaign finance system can create. In the current system, Members are valued by leadership and fellow members of Congress because of their fundraising prowess, rather than their legislative abilities. Schock — whose legislative achievements in the House could only have been described as “slim,” especially in the context of his role as Deputy Minority Whip upon arrival in the House — was seen as an up-and-comer largely due to his reputation as a rainmaker.
While some might worry that this bill leaves members of Congress too little time to fundraise, the format of the congressional calendar makes it unlikely that this will be the case. In 2014, the members of the House spent only 29 weeks in session — each of which was bookended by long weekends that members could use to do district work, fundraise, or run for re-election.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStock / NoDerog)