It’s time to reset our congressional fundraising counter!
In July 2016, we launched a counter presenting a rough running estimate of how much time members of Congress collectively spent raising money for their campaigns since the start of the 114th Congress. Based on the advice given to members by the Democratic and Republican national party committees, and statements by the members themselves, we set up a counter to do the math (read about our methodology here) and keep it updated. By the end of the 114th, the counter had reached well over 1 million hours.
As we said when we started the counter, most members of Congress don’t like this system: the ever-escalating price of running for office traps elected officials in an endless cycle of fundraising. As super PACs become larger, and the threat of one of them dumping huge amounts of money into any race at the last minute grows accordingly, so the need for bigger and bigger campaign war chests keeps on growing too.
The result is that members of Congress spend a lot of time fundraising instead of doing the people’s business. A recent case in point: Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski called out fellow Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for leaving a compromise energy bill hanging unresolved in conference committee at the end of the 114th Congress so that he and his caucus could head up to New York City for a fundraiser.
Compounding the problem, members spend their fundraising time talking to those most likely to give the maximum contribution of $2,700, i.e., the wealthy. It’s hard to imagine hanging onto a solid sense of how average Americans live and think when you spend four hours a day hobnobbing with deep-pocketed donors.
The 115th Congress starts today, so we are starting our counter over, back at zero. The members will come to Washington — some for the first time, eager to make their mark — and they’ll start hiring staff, meeting colleagues, learning the rules of congressional procedure… and they’ll start making phone calls to potential donors to start fundraising for their next campaigns.
It’s a bad system, and we have ideas on how to change it. We hope you will check them out, and join us in a bipartisan conversation about how to make this counter obsolete. Imagine if our representatives had an extra four hours each day to engage with average voters, get to know their fellow members of Congress, discuss critical legislation and find the common ground necessary for functional democratic governance. It’s an eminently achievable vision. Until we get there, our counter will be here, on our home page, tallying up the sad total of hours lost.