The amount of time that members of Congress in both parties spend fundraising is widely known to take up an obscene portion of a typical day -- whether it's "call time" spent on the phone with potential donors, or in person at fundraisers in Washington or back home. Seeing it spelled out in black and white, however, can be a jarring experience for a new member, as related by some who attended the November orientation.The article is full of quotes from members of Congress lamenting the pain of call time, "You might as well be putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails," "It’s the most painful thing," "There's no way to make it enjoyable," and so on. And of course, they're really stuck doing this nastiness, particularly in the Citizens United era when billionaires can swoop in and dump millions against them.
A PowerPoint presentation to incoming freshmen by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, obtained by The Huffington Post, lays out the dreary existence awaiting these new back-benchers. The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in "call time" and another hour is blocked off for "strategic outreach," which includes fundraisers and press work. An hour is walled off to "recharge," and three to four hours are designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress -- hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents. If the constituents are donors, all the better. The presentation assured members that their fundraising would be closely monitored; the Federal Election Commission requires members to file quarterly reports.
But here's the thing, this fundraising scheme is the fault of no one but themselves. Sure, it was the conservative Supreme Court who gave billionaires a shot at buying elections, but there's nothing stopping those congresscritters from allowing publicly funded campaigns.
Problem is, as much as those incumbents hate call time, they hate the idea of their campaign opponents being equal on spending even more—any public financing system would give challengers easy access to that taxpayer cash just as well. Currently, the vast majority of incumbents head into their reelection battles with large fundraising advantages, and they'd rather keep it that way. Members in vulnerable districts need every advantage they can get to hold on to their seats. Members in safe districts need that fundraising advantage to scare away any primary challengers.
There's no doubt that publicly financed campaigns would be infinitely preferable to the status quo. Imagine—legislators who spent all their time doing their jobs and meeting with constituents, rather than begging for money! But until they're willing to do something to change that system, they should quit their whining.