Jane Chastain : Politically Direct

That Telemarketer on the Phone may be Your Congressman

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There is a reason most people screen their telephone calls. Telemarketers.  Would it surprise you to know that the most aggressive bunch of telemarketers are the very people we have elected and sent to Washington, D.C., our very own representative and senators.

If you have made the mistake of donating to a political party or one of its offshoots like a congressional or senatorial committee, you know what I mean.   At first it may be flattering to get a call from one of these people inviting you to a “special event” or thanking you for your past support.   However, you can be sure that the primary reason for that call is to separate you from your money.

The phone calls never stop, even during working hours.

On April 24, “60 Minutes” showed us the extent of the problem in a segment it called, “Dialing for Dollars.”    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-are-members-of-congress-becoming-telemarketers/

We are well-aware that representatives and senators are under a lot of pressure to raise money for the next election, but it’s not just about their own elections, it’s about raising money, big money, for the party.  If they don’t they are literally on their own if they are challenged.

In that segment Norah O’Donnell interviewed Rep. David Jolly, (R-FL)who won a special election in 2014, and shortly thereafter was taken to school by party bosses. They let him known that his primarily job in Washington was to raise $18,000 per day on the phone, for as long as he holds the office.  According to some, that translates to about 30 hours per week, per lawmaker.

Aren’t they supposed to be attending committee meetings, studying and passing legislation and meeting constituent needs?

It’s not just Republicans.  Democrats are expected to do the same thing.  In fact, the members interviewed for this segment allege that the congressional schedule is conveniently arranged to allow them time to do all this telemarketing.

Representatives and senators are prevented by law from using their offices to fundraise so each party provides a suite of private offices within walking distance from the Capitol for that purpose.  There, they are provided a list of donors with detailed information about each one, along with phone numbers and a script.

Jolly, who is one of five GOP candidates running for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, rebelled.   He no longer makes those calls and, in effect, now is campaigning without a net.  That’s not all.  He has sponsored the STOP Act, which would ban all federal officials from directly soliciting donations.  Not surprising, he is out there virtually alone.   Only six of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors and some of those members are on their way out the door.

The implication from this segment is that the increased pressure on these lawmakers to raise money is because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.  To a certain extent this is true, but it’s not the whole truth.

Our founders envisioned a citizen legislature, with representatives who would come to Washington for a short time each year to do the business of the country and then go back home to their real jobs.  Congress was never supposed to be a full-time job.

Legislators come to Washington, often with the best intentions. Then, they become drunk with power and try to make it a career. Big corporations give them money to do their bidding so, once in Washington, they have plenty to spend on touting their virtues before each and every election.  That made it hard, if not impossible, for a challenger to defeat an incumbent.  Citizens United changed all that.

Citizens United simply allows groups of citizens who have common interests to band together in PACs to protect those interests, whether it’s the environment, energy, defense, school choice, balanced budget, etc.  (Unlike traditional non-profits, they MUST disclose their expenditures and their donors.)

Thanks to Citizens United, these groups now are allowed to run ads — just like the congressmen — before an election, so these Super PACs can hold representatives and senators accountable for how they vote on these issues.   This decision essentially leveled the playing field.

Want to take money out of politics?  Congress should pass a law that prevents  members from working on or voting on any bill that affects an individual or entity  that has been a campaign contributor.   This is, and always has been, a conflict of interest and should be stopped.   Unfortunately, that has as much chance of passing as the STOP Act because most citizens — PACs or no PACs —  are asleep.

Written by Jane Chastain

May 4th, 2016 at 5:30 pm

One Response to 'That Telemarketer on the Phone may be Your Congressman'

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  1. I’d love to make an intelligent comment on money in politics but I don’t know all the facts, both pro and con. This article presents some valuable information that most people, including me, are not familiar with. Likely anything the political parties endorse are self-rewarding at the expense of the best interests of our country’s original goals of freedom and protection of its citizens, their property, and their beliefs.

    Warren Rosenbaum

    9 May 16 at 2:46 am

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