I Will Not Dial for Dollars

I have always heard that politics is a sleazy business, but I had no idea until doing Web searches on fundraising of how bad the actual situation is. A 2018 Democratic Congressional candidate says that party leadership only has the goal of raising money—the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will only support candidates who raise $200,000 or even more in a quarter, basically giving the message of “we don’t give a shit who you are, young man. Just show us the money.”

Even worse, if you are successful in winning a Congressional seat, both Republicans and Democrats demand a grueling schedule of “dialing for dollars” where as a freshman Congressman you spend 30+ hours a week in a dank cubicle begging and pandering to donors for money:

Congressional telemarketing schedule

Rep. David Jolly: “It is a cult-like boiler room on Capitol Hill where sitting members of Congress, frankly I believe, are compromising the dignity of the office they hold by sitting in these sweatshop phone booths calling people asking them for money. And their only goal is to get $500 or $1,000 or $2,000 out of the person on the other end of the line. It’s shameful. It’s beneath the dignity of the office that our voters in our communities entrust us to serve.”

This work eschews actual legislating. Congressmen are chastised for attending committee hearings, even pertaining to important legislation relevant to their districts, because dialing for dollars takes preeminence. Party leaders even give you a script for each potential donor that includes key background information about their work, political concerns, and even their children’s names, so you can coerce them into donating.

Once you have donated to a politician, it’s sort of like having put in your phone number for a car dealership… you will be bombarded with telemarketing calls from politicians asking for more and more money. They may even be outside your district, or worse, an incumbent presiding over your district with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge that you should donate or face ruination for your small business.

Two days ago, I spoke with Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, the 2018 Democratic candidate for the district I’m running in. She said that money is key and politics is a nasty business. The DCCC set a goal for her of $250,000 in a quarter, which she reached—in fact, she trounced Republican Michael Waltz in fundraising with $3.2 million compared to his $2.0 million, plus $3 million from super political action committees (PACs) funded by Michael Bloomberg. Nevertheless, she lost by a wide margin (56% to 44%). She noted that Trump voters have a Pavlovian response to whatever he says, which rang true for me being that I have fervent Trump-supporting family, used to be a Trump supporter myself, and was born and have lived in Volusia County my whole life, which is a Republican stronghold.

The very schedule of Congress itself is built to enable hours and hours of telemarketing calls. The House only meets for a couple hours a day and adjourns for valuable lunchtime hours so Congressmen can file across the street to dank cubicles to sell their souls to wealthy patrons. Even senators are not immune, although they do most of their calls from their cars and only have to go up for election every 6 years instead of 2.

Politicians are known for “flip-flopping,” but this is not always intentional. They actually know almost nothing about the positions or concerns they endorse, as they are prepared and handed to them by staffers. Their concern is fund-raising, not legislating. The following is from The Huffington Post:

Several members of Congress interviewed for this story said that the time spent fundraising cuts into a wide swath of what could be productive activity.

“It bites into your private life. It bites into your leisure time,” said former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is now being considered for a Senate seat. “You shouldn’t only do what you have to do, you should be able to read. … It cuts into time members spend with each other.”

“Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership,” said Miller. “They certainly are going to be asking questions to witnesses at hearings that their staff suggested. If they offer an amendment it will be something that leadership suggested they offer … to try to give them a little boost back home.”

Working a schedule like that as a freshman teaches a member of Congress about the institution’s priorities. “It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising,” Miller said. “You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically. It’s a fairly disturbing suggested schedule. You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.”

Pressure to raise money is intensified by the requirement that members of Congress pay dues to their respective parties. The dues structure varies based on seniority and committee assignments — the more exclusive of which can carry a hefty price tag. The quality of a committee assignment is directly related to the amount of dues owed, as black-and-white an admission of the connection between fundraising and policy outcomes as can be found.

I will not dial for dollars. Not for my campaign, and not if elected to Congress. Although I already knew new Congressmen have little legislative power without important connections and committee standing, I had naïvely thought it was related to a combination of tenure and expertise. In truth, committee appointments are dangled like carrots to House members who can bring in the most money dialing for dollars. Therefore, if elected I will have little luck influencing legislation on my key issues. However, I can still do useful work as a liaison between federal entities for my constituents, and of course members of Congress get an annual budget of nearly $1 million to hire staff and rent office space toward these ends.

Although I will not be popular among party leadership in my district or in Congress if elected, currently, there is basically no other Democrat running against incumbent Michael Waltz and we are actually already very late in the season. I will continue my campaign free of DCCC support or coercive soul-sucking efforts to fundraise, focusing on visiting local Democratic clubs and caucuses to spread my message. It is not even clear that money always translates into votes, given that Ambassador Soderberg’s money did not, although this may be also a function of the political culture among voters in this district. However, 2020 is a brave and scary time. For all we know, Michael Waltz might be engulfed in a scandal or decide he is tired of “banging his head against the wall” as Republican Congressman-turned-governor Ron Desantis did, or the dumpster fire that is Donald Trump might grow into an all-encompassing conflagration that destroys the Republican party.

If you would like to support me, instead of high-pressure sales pitches pandering to wealthy donors who are destroying the planet, I will only solicit donations to interested parties at in-person events (if any) and via online donations on ActBlue, the same platform Bernie Sanders uses for his grassroots support. Click here if you would like to make a donation.

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