Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Defining The Machine
“This isn’t about campaign finance reform. This is about people doing something that is wrong.”
In 2010 America elected a new breed of Congressional and Senatorial Representatives. The idea and the hope was that they would bring back accountability to the legislative process. They would be accountable to the people who elected them. The ‘Tea Party’ moniker that was attached to all these candidates lent an air of fiscal accountability and representation for the people to this new breed. It would help to propel them into office. What the Tea Party did not know, what most of the candidates didn’t know and what none of the media reported on is the enormous money machine which overshadows the entire legislative process after some one gets elected into office.
We are not talking about campaign finance reform, that is a totally separate argument. Rather, we are talking about an ongoing assembly line of party dues and party fundraising that begins in the chambers of Congress. In effect it is a ‘pay to play’ system of government. To claim that the system is ‘rigged’ does not even begin to scratch the surface. This includes how members rise through the ranks to obtain senior or “leadership” positions as they’re termed. This involves how committee assignments are rewarded, how becoming a ranking committee member is decided, how one can attach their name to bills which may aid in their re-election, to moving or stalling pieces of legislation.
When a candidate is seated he/she is immediately put onto a treadmill of constantly raising money. The demand is so paramount that two representatives, Pete Sessions (R Tx.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R Pa) missed their swearing in ceremony because they were busy in the capital hosting celebration parties at the capital visitor center which many deemed to be fundraisers. Incidentally fundraising anywhere within the Capital building is not allowed.
Mike Fitzpatrick, a newly elected 1st term congressman missed his swearing in ceremony to host a fundraiser. To those who elected him this is a bad sign. To party leadership like Pete Sessions who also is the head of the Republican National Congressional Committee, they sit back and smile thinking this Fitzpatrick kid has a future in Washington.
Within the RNC and DNC just across the parking lot of Congressional offices and Capital Hill special “call centers” are set up for this very purpose. The list of donors to both parties are some of the most prominent companies in the United States today.
Failure to raise the designated money or failure to partake in the process altogether will result in being tossed under the bus come next election cycle. Your proposed Bills will die before the ink is dry, no committee seats for you Congressman, and no invites to those special luncheons either. The official is simply cut from the herd and is cast into a political no man’s land of obscurity to serve out their short and ineffectual one and only term.
However, compliance and/or raising more than your share of funds propels you into that special club of the game players. You get on that committee if not the chairmanship itself. You get all the CNN and FOX interviews you can handle, fully equipped staff, free parking and day passes at Sandals.
Lt. Col. Allen West is one of these special people in that special club. Part of his job is to strong arm other Reps for money. That is why he gets all the television time, sits on committees and ensures party support come November 2012.
The amount of time raising money is substantial. Every member of the house says they dislike this task yet most are not willing to give specifics to it. Most estimates have it between 30 and 70% of their time is raising money. Committee hearings are scheduled around fundraisers. Votes have been scheduled around fundraisers. They say they’re so busy which creates midnight and weekend votes. Imagine if they didn’t fundraise! They could vote between 9-5 Monday through Friday! The Parties won’t allow it.
What is more concerning is 30 to 70% of what a member of congress fundraises is given away! The money is transferred directly back to the parties or given to other members to buy influence which may be beneficial to their election, move or stall legislation and buying committee assignments.
All members entering congress are immediately in debt. They are automatically assigned what is called “party dues”. This is an annually assigned amount each member must pay or transfer from their campaign accounts to the Party coffers. The amounts are astronomical. For Party leadership Nancy Pelosi must raise 25 million dollars for the party. Minority whip Steny Hoyer is set to hand over 800,000 from his campaign account and raise another 2.5 million for the party, assistant leader and leader of the congressional black caucus James Clyburn will transfer 600,000. and raise another 1.5 million for the party. This is not optional if they want to be in leadership and stay in leadership. This is how they obtain leadership.
As reported in Politico the Democrats 2011 dues ranges from 75,000 for freshmen with no standing to 250,000 for ranking members of committees (which is what Jim McGovern D MA. pays). Sub-committees upwards of 500,000 for DCCC council leaders and deputy whips.
There is staff provided (or hired) specifically charged with the task of navigating this Niagra Falls of a financial rafting trip! There is a person who runs the call centers in both the RNC and DNC. Aids also participate in the process.
Ethics rules forbid the use of Congressional/Senatorial offices to raise campaign funds. So, with bi-partisan support as a show of political unity convenient offices were set up just across the parking lot of Capitol Hill.
But the Ethics rules are broad in scope. However, there has never been a rule or law that a politician hasn’t found a loophole to jump through. In fact, the Code of Ethics isn’t a ‘law’ or ‘rule’ in the strict sense of the word but rather “....a concurrent resolution expressing the ’sense of Congress’ rather than a statute (and)... represent continuing traditional standards of ethical conduct to be observed....” (House Ethics Manual).
A politician cannot (from his/her office) make campaign calls, send a letter to a contributor, even take or leave a message to a contributor. That’s what the RNC and DNC offices across the parking lot are for!
Unless, said contributions come from other members for party dues. Not only does this money pass freely but this ‘machine’ is running full throttle almost 24/7 during the entire politician’s term in office.
In a 2/25/09 article for Roll Call, Jackie Kucinich brought to light how the RNC secures party dues. “....if they do not pony up their dues, they will get no help for their re-election campaigns....” Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers (R) told lawmakers in one of those secret, closed door meetings “.... if you do not participate, you do not get help....” He then passed around a contract for all those present to sign or get left behind.
In 2010, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) demanded an average $50,000 dollar hike in party dues. Former DCCC Chair Rahm Emmanuel was known to threaten Democratic lawmakers to be banned from DCCC offices (across the parking lot) until they kicked in the 50K. (Aaron Blake, The Hill).
Appointments to positions are now based on how much that politician has contributed; not their experience or knowledge. This facilitates party ideology and political polarization. Bi-partisan used to mean a meeting in the middle. Today it means whichever party is in the minority has to succumb to the party in the majority and to procedural strategies employed by that majority.
During the 2010 Congressional campaign in the 3rd District. Sitting Congressman Jim McGovern was hammered in a debate about why he raised over 2 million dollars in two past campaigns where he ran unopposed. He darted around the question a few times until he finally answered, “..because I can...”. And he was right. So can’t others. The party will tell you who to call, how many times, send in another list after you finish the first one and set the amounts to raise. In fact, the longer you serve and pay to play the better the money gets. That’s why Congressman McGovern “can”.
Curiously, the media pays no attention to this. The emphasis is on “campaign finance reform”, an appropriate, yet deceptive way of keeping the public’s attention elsewhere. The process simply promotes the one person who can benefit the party and the donors. With the media split down Left and Right there is little incentive to report this practice and expose it for what it is.
What would it matter anyways? What does either side gain from exposing the other side to a practice they both partake in? Sure, a few disgruntled voters this year and a few political sacrificial lambs to the media then business as usual after the election. It is a process that has gone on for decades and may take decades to remove. We must hold leaders accountable, find the ones who will not be part of the machine and work diligently to help them get re-elected (since the party won’t). Perhaps these are the people we are looking for.
Patrick Barron is creator of http://definingthemachine.com/ and was the 2010 Ind. Candidate for Congress in the 3rd Dist. Mass. Patrick works for the Mass. Dept. of Mental Health.
Christopher Maider is the writer of The Lexington Green at
http://thelexingtongreen.blogspot.com/ and producer of The Meat and Potatoes 2012 Youtube Channel at