Since 2015, our elected leaders have had to spend
hours fundraising, instead of doing their jobs.
One of the biggest problems with our campaign finance system is that the ever-escalating price of running for office traps elected officials in an endless cycle of fundraising. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and members of Congress either spend big or get outspent in their election bids—and no one wants to be outspent.
The result is that members of Congress spend a LOT of time fundraising. Like a whole lot.
To figure out exactly how much time elected officials spend on the phone with donors and attending fundraisers, we just launched a new feature on our homepage—a counter to keep track of how many hours members of Congress spend raising money (if they’re following the recommendations from the Democratic and Republican National Committees). As it turns out, if our elected officials are following their parties’ guidance, they’ve spent an obscene amount of time fundraising this year alone.
When we posted this blog, the counter was at 829,781 hours (it will be higher by the time you start reading this). To put that into perspective, that’s 103,722 eight-hour work days—or about 94 years. And that’s just since the start of the 114th Congress on Jan. 5, 2015.
(Fun fact: that’s longer than John Dingell, the longest-serving still-living member of Congress, has been on this earth. He was born July 8, 1926.)
Why does it matter? Because every hour that a lawmaker spends schmoozing with deep-pocketed donors is an hour he or she doesn’t spend getting to know colleagues on both sides of aisle, troubleshooting constituent concerns or diving into complicated legislation to address the most critical issues facing our country. Every hour they spend fundraising is an hour they don’t spend working to make our lives better and our country stronger.
And it’s not just that lawmakers aren’t able to do their jobs (because they’re not), but spending that much time fundraising also has pretty serious policy implications. Very few people have the means to give large campaign contributions. Just 0.29 percent of Americans have contributed more than $200 to political campaigns this election cycle. This matters because when members of Congress dial for dollars, they aren’t calling people who can only give $5 or $10—they’re often not even calling people in their districts or home states. Instead they’re talking to a tiny sliver of the population that has a very different set of concerns than the average voter. The result is a congressional agenda bent heavily in favor of the priorities of the wealthy.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of this whole thing is that the very people who could stop the endless fundraising (sitting members of Congress) actually really hate fundraising. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) compared “call time,” the hours that legislators spend sitting in cramped cubicles cold-calling donors, to waterboarding. Reps. David Jolly (R-FL) and Rick Nolan (D-MN) went on 60 Minutes to blow the whistle on the 30 hours a week they’re told to spend fundraising by party leadership. Rep. Thomas Massie came out swinging against the price tag on coveted committee appointments.
If Congress is really serious about getting out of those dingy call-time cubicles, we have a few solutions that could make it happen. But until lawmakers act, our counter will just keep on ticking.
You can take a look at the methodology behind our counter here.