Members of Congress Spend Hours a Day on Fundraising

A blog about business and economics.
June 12 2013 10:45 AM

The Fundraising Grind  

A flag at the U.S. Capitol flies at half-staff for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., June 6, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
A flag at the U.S. Capitol flies at half-staff for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., June 6, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Talking to members of the European Parliament and people who staff them and their party groups, it's natural for analogies to the U.S. Congress to get bandied about. But one of the most striking things to emerge from those conversations is something that doesn't come up: Fundraising. As Andy Sullivan writes in Reuters, members of Congress in the United States spend hours a day raising money. Members of the European Parliament do almost no fundraising.

Discussion of campaign finance in the United States often focuses on the donations and their impact on votes cast in Congress, but I really do think it's worth thinking harder about the fundraising. To win a congressional election and stay in office, you need to be willing and able to spend hours a day raising funds. And unless and until you amass a few decades' worth of seniority, your clout with your colleagues will largely depend on your willingness and ability to spend hours a day raising funds. Even if you take a relatively optimistic view of the relationship between donations and campaign outcomes, it's hard to take an optimistic view of the relationship between all that fundraising and the quality of the work-product coming out of Congress.

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For starters, it means that the entire political system is filtering strongly for a very peculiar personality type. But more broadly, it means that members of Congress simply have very little time available to think about issues and strategic approaches. You need to spend a lot of time flying back and forth between your home state and D.C., you need to put in a lot of "call time," you need to cast some votes, and you need to do some campaigning. That's not a schedule that's very friendly to becoming informed or thoughtful about the issues.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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