by Lisa Black
Politicians have always asked for money during their campaigns, to be used to help them win the election. But why do they ask for it when they’re not technically ‘campaigning’? Their term isn’t up for another three years, but still they send out their ‘opinion surveys’ and ring our phones?
I recently found out.
People in my neck of the woods (Florida) may remember Trey Radel and his short-lived career as one of our congressmen. The young man had worked as an actor before becoming both reporter and anchor for television stations in several states, then settled in Fort Myers and married one of our local anchors. In 2012 he won a vacated seat in the United States House of Representatives. A year later he was arrested after buying cocaine from an undercover officer. Four years after that he published Democrazy, detailing this journey and including many tidbits about how our political system actually works. Radel has now gone back to working in media as a radio host, and I read the book as research for my upcoming release, Let Justice Descend.
I mention all this because a few pages in one chapter outline a system very rarely referred to by either of the two large political parties, one which may not be news to you but was to this clueless citizen. Here it is:
Each party has a committee devoted to getting their candidates elected. If you’re a candidate in a naturally homogeneous or gerrymandered district where the local makeup guarantees you a win based on party division alone, then you don’t really need money to spend on advertising and other campaign costs. You can instead donate part of it to the National Republican Congressional Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They send it to candidates in more evenly divided districts who face a much closer call. Nothing wrong with that, that’s what a political party is for. These party committees sometimes recruit candidates, often spend millions of dollars in advertising, and work every angle in order to get or maintain control of Congress.
The heads of these committees are members of Congress, who do this work in addition to their work as a legislator. They raise millions of dollars. Prominent committee heads of subcommittees raise hundreds of thousands. Rank-and-file members raise thousands, which they need to increase to the other two ranges if they ever want to get anywhere.
|Me across from the Jefferson memorial this summer|
The party’s committee keep a tally and post it at meetings with the name of each rep or senator and how much they’ve given. Legally, a rep or senator’s campaign cannot overlap or influence their business as a federal legislator—and timewise, that is observed (that’s why politicians have to have the stamina of a supermarathon runner, because they work all day at their real jobs and then all evening and weekends on the schmoozing, calling, cajoling and networking necessary to raise money). But in reality it doesn’t take a cynic to see that the more money they ‘donate,’ the more likely they will receive help with the bill they sponsored or get their wish in the all-important committee assignments—move from the Science and Space committee to the tax-writing Ways and Means, for instance. A touch of balance is instilled when those on the more powerful and glamorous committees are also expected to ‘donate’ proportionally more from their take.
We could take the cheerful view that this is a good thing, a gatekeeping measure if you will. If someone doesn’t have the competence and personal collateral to raise a bunch of money, then they will likely suffer the same lack of success at passing laws. A less cheerful view is to reflect on the eternal Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.
At least now we understand why our phone rings year-round.
What do you think? Is this news to you?