Congressman Rick Nolan

Representing the 8th District of Minnesota
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The Huffington Post: This Congress Has Spent One Million Hours Raising Money

Dec 14, 2016
In The News

Imagine you were just put in charge of a corporation with a $6 billion budget and more than 20,000 employees that had the ability to control $4 trillion in market activity. Now imagine that you find out that members of your senior management team are spending half their time doing something other than their jobs.

Well, we, the people, are in charge of hiring and firing, through our votes, members of Congress. It costs us taxpayers about $6 billion a year to operate Congress, which in turn has the power to appropriate and oversee $4 trillion in government spending. The problem is that members of Congress — the senior managers — are spending half of their time raising campaign cash. That’s time they’re not spending attending oversight hearings, reaching out to their constituents or building the bipartisan bridges necessary to move legislation forward. That includes, by the way, federal spending legislation, which is evidenced by the fact that Congress, regardless of who is in control, cannot consistently pass a budget. It just keeps passing “continuing resolutions” to kick the hard work of compromise to the next Congress.

Every two years, we, the bosses, have the ability to hire and fire our employees, and to imbue them with a sense of the mission and strategy of the organization moving forward. This cycle, candidates up and down the ticket have heard one message repeatedly from average their bosses: it is time to reduce the stranglehold money and its influence have over our leaders and government.

Yet, as of today, starting when the 114th Congress began its work on January 6, 2015, we estimate the 535 members of the House and Senate have collectively spent more than one million hours cold-calling and grip-and-grinning donors at breakfasts and dinners.

With this in mind, here is my challenge to the 115th Congress: In January when the clock starts over, work together to fix the system so you don’t have to spend 50 percent of your time raising money from deep-pocketed donors, interest groups and unions.

The good news is that through the unified voices from the left and right, politicians are already reacting to public outcry on money in politics. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both talk about stopping the selling of influence and access in our government; and in the case of the latter, Clinton has laid out a plan to do so.

And she’s not alone. Florida Republican David Jolly and Minnesota Democrat Rick Nolan introduced a bill — the Stop Act — to put an end to members of Congress directly soliciting campaign contributions, and it has more Republican co-sponsors than Democrats. Meanwhile, Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes showcased a moment of leadership by introducing the Government by the People Act,”a radical proposal to overhaul our entire campaign finance apparatus. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin introduced the comparable Senate bill, the Fair Elections Now Act.

The truth is that once elected officials retire, they speak frankly about the fundamental problems with the legislative branch of our government remaining beholden to raising money up to 40 hours a week. Retiring Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY), former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, dutifully logged the 4,200 hours he spent asking for money from donors while sitting in a cramped cubicle across from the Capitol, and 1,600 fundraisers he attended. At Issue One, we’ve recruited more than 150 former elected officials from both sides of the aisle as part of our ReFormers Caucus, to mobilize for changing this system locally and nationally.

Americans across the country are doing their part, too. People are so concerned, money in politics has become a top five voting issue ahead of Tuesday’s election and the demand for change is driving people to vote. They agree that fixing the system should be a bipartisan cause: The overwhelming majority of voters — 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans — around the country want their members of Congress to work with the opposing party on this issue.

We need new ways of financing elections where everyone is empowered to participate, including those running for office; that ensures we’re electing leaders based on their ability, experience and character, not their skill at soliciting donations. Remember for a moment that nearly 60 percent of the donations to Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson during the presidential primaries came from small donors contributing $200 or less. And that throughout his run for the White House, Donald Trump may have raised as much as $100 million from these kinds of donors as well, according to Politico.

When someone cares enough to donate $5, $10 or $100 to your campaign, they are passionate about your candidacy and stances on issues. They will advocate for you, whether to their family, friends or co-workers. That is what democracy is about.

If you want our politicians to address issues of national security, criminal justice, immigration and the small-business economy, they have to curb the influence of money in politics first.

We need Congress to work for all Americans instead of spending another one million hours raising money from a small slice of deep-pocketed individuals. Regardless of who is president or which party controls the next Congress, if elected politicians don’t want to spend the majority of their time on what we “hired” them to do, we will address it during their next review (election) in 2018.