Video: John Oliver Highlights Problems of Congressional Fundraising
Did you know there were an estimated 2,810 fundraisers for Congress held from 2013 to 2014?
That’s just one of the eye-opening Sunlight Foundation statistics John Oliver cited on the April 3 episode of “Last Week Tonight” to paint a picture of how much time members of Congress spend fundraising.
Oliver dedicated the entire episode to the topic of congressional fundraising—and just how horrifying it is for everyone involved. Indeed, the politicians themselves, who have to raise most of the money, have complained about the fundraising process for years.
Oliver made a strong case that those in Congress spend too much time on fundraising, citing facts, including:
- In 2011, The Hill reported that members spend anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of their time fundraising.
- In 2014, the National Journal reported that a former Senate leader said senators spend two-thirds of their last two term-years raising money.
- Steve Israel, a retiring top House Democrat, told Oliver in a sit-down interview that he had held more than 1,600 fundraising events for his own re-election throughout the course of his 16-year career. As Oliver clarified, that breaks down to almost one fundraiser every three days.
- It’s possible to structure an entire day with nothing but fundraisers. Rep. Bruce Braley did just that, with breakfast, lunch and evening reception fundraisers all on the same day, according to Sunlight Foundation.
- A leaked model daily schedule from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggested politicians spend four hours a day fundraising on the phone. In 2014, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy recalled her first committee hearing and how she was pulled out in order to make calls.
So, why is this a problem?
One answer is pretty straightforward. With so much time devoted to fundraising, it begs the question: When do they actually have time to do what they were elected to do?
As Oliver satirically answered: “Washington is like Rod Stewart’s haircut. Party in the front, party in the back, frankly too much party and no business anywhere to be found.”
Another, perhaps, bigger problem revolves around the work they actually find the time to do. The individuals who members of Congress reach out to are those who are rich enough to become donors, and, as such, these individuals likely have different concerns—like, Oliver suggested, estate taxes and which Belgium kimono their cats should wear that day—than the typical American.
And only communicating with those wealthy individuals undoubtedly will skew, warp and affect how those politicians see the world and which issues they focus on during their small amount of time not spent fundraising.
So, why does this ad nauseam fundraising continue if no one enjoys it? (Israel went so far as to call phone fundraising, in particular, “a form of torture.”)
It’s because neither party is willing to back down first.
Politicians don’t just fundraise for their own campaigns. They fundraise for membership dues (ranging from $125,000 to $800,000), which are then distributed to other candidates in tougher races. So a stoppage in fundraising would lead to less money going toward that party’s candidates and their campaigns, making it harder to triumph over the other party.
Instead, divided we remain as congressional fundraising continues.
Watch Oliver’s full segment below:
Allison Ebner is content editor for Promo Marketing, NonProfit PRO and Print+Promo. Reference any animated movie, "Harry Potter" character or '80s band and you'll become fast friends.