The Confessions of a Congressman
Kevin Price, Vice President – Government Affairs
It’s no secret there is a lot of money in politics. In a presidential election year it’s sometimes painfully evident. In part that’s because contributing to a candidate’s campaign is considered “free speech” under the Constitution and is protected by the same principles that govern speech. And as you know, you can say just about anything in our society unless it were to endanger someone. While it would be admirable if simply the power of ideas predicated the passage of laws, we all know there is a lot more to the process of governing. One Congressman, Steve Israel of New York, recently announced his retirement from Congress at the end of his term. All Members of Congress are, by necessity, politically astute, but Israel ranked among the most astute in recent years. He ascended very quickly within the Democratic Party to become the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, one of the party-controlled campaign committees on Capitol Hill. In a January 8, 2016, opinion-editorial in the New York Times Israel admits the amount of time he spent raising money for his and his colleagues’ campaigns. It’s quite astonishing. Here’s a portion of what he wrote.
In the days after my first election to Congress, in 2000, I attended several orientation sessions in Washington, eager to absorb the lessons of history. I wanted to learn what Congressman Abraham Lincoln had learned, to hear the wisdom of predecessors like John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Joseph Gurney Cannon. The romance was crushed by lesson No. 1: Get re-elected. A fund-raising consultant advised that if I didn’t raise at least $10,000 a week (in pre-Citizens United dollars), I wouldn’t be back.
The money race began, and I attended political action committee fund-raisers, which are like panhandling with hors d’oeuvres. There were hours of “call time” — huddled in a cubicle, dialing donors. Sometimes double dialing and triple dialing. Whispering sweet nothings and other small talk into the phone in hopes of receiving large somethings. I’d sit next to an assistant who collated “call sheets” with donor’s names, contribution histories and other useful information. (“How’s Sheila? Your wife. Oh, Shelly? Sorry.”)
Since then, I’ve spent roughly 4,200 hours in call time, attended more than 1,600 fund-raisers just for my own campaign and raised nearly $20 million in increments of $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000 per election cycle. And things have only become worse in the five years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which ignited an explosion of money in politics by ruling that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in elections.
I know what you must be thinking: Wow, Washington is so corrupt. Isn’t there something that can be done to change our system of government?
As undesirable as it might seem, let me remind you of a quote from Winston Churchill: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.
Given that, we need to be successful within our system of government as it is. We don’t have a choice, we must make our voices heard, otherwise someone will speak for us and it’s likely we won’t like what they say. You may be assured we will use our lobbying skills and resources to get your voices heard as loudly and clearly as possible.