To help inform Issue One’s landmark report, “The Price of Power,” we interviewed several members of our bipartisan ReFormers Caucus at-length about their experiences with fundraising and concerns with the “committee tax” imposed on lawmakers.
Every Tuesday and Thursday over the next few weeks, we will release edited excerpts of those conversations with these former lawmakers to supplement and expand on the disturbing picture the report painted: that of a broken democracy, which Congress itself must act to fix.
Christopher Shays, a member of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, is a Republican who represented Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from August 1987 until January 2009.
What was your experience with the role of fundraising and committee assignments?
When I was first elected to Congress, there was no such requirement to raise money in order to be on a certain committee or full chairman. I understand why it’s evolved: It costs so much to run for office now that both parties are trying to find any means possible to raise money. But you shouldn’t have to buy a position. That’s just wrong. That’s immoral and should be illegal.
Why do you think it has evolved to the point where the chairs of powerful committees are now expected to raise so much money for the parties?
They are better able to raise the money because they are in key positions. They set agendas and so on.
What’s the impact of these contributions?
It doesn’t mean that donors bought the chairman’s vote. Everybody’s contributing to the people who have a bit more influence than others. This is not something the public generally understands, but you don’t get bought off by money. Votes trump money any day. An organization that has a large membership that is united is going to have far more impact than some lobbyists’ campaign contributions.
How did the role of fundraising and the pressures of fundraising evolve over your time in Congress?
I came from a very wealthy district. We could do a lot of fundraising through letters and events. Still, fundraising just takes too much of your time.
If there was one thing you could do to address the fundraising pressures that committee chairs face, what would it be?
Both parties say you have to raise so much if you’re going to be on a certain committee; you have to raise so much if you’re a subcommittee chairman; and you have to raise so much if you’re a chairman. I think that’s just morally wrong. It should be against House rules to have to raise money to be on a certain committee.
Former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) is a member of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, the largest bipartisan coalition ever assembled on behalf of political reform and government ethics. Read more about “The Price of Power” here.