At the beginning of the year, Jolly announced that would he stop personally fundraising for his Senate campaign, and further said he’d introduce a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from personally seeking donations. It didn’t take much cynicism to believe that this was just a bit of grandstanding designed to distract from Jolly’s consistently poor fundraising, but this new crusade earned Jolly a segment on 60 Minutes a week ago.
On the show, Jolly promoted his “Stop Act” (which stands no chance of becoming law anytime soon, and may not even survive in court if it did), and he delved into the gory details of candidate fundraising. Jolly began by saying that GOP leadership demands that its members raise “$18,000 a day,” then described how he had to cold-call donors to meet his goals. The show’s producers then went on to show the actual NRCC-approved script for fundraising calls, complete with a diagram outlining how a member of Congress should respond depending on what the target says.
The segment was already not exactly the type of thing leaders at the NRCC (or the DCCC, for that matter) would have liked, but the worst was yet to come. Reporters are barred from NRCC call centers, but host Norah O'Donnell explained that with the help of an unidentified GOP staffer, 60 Minutes placed hidden cameras inside NRCC headquarters, and the show obtained some pretty interesting footage. There were shots of the office cubicles where members made their calls and a list identifying how much money each member had brought in. Jolly summed up the office by calling it “a cult-like boiler room on Capitol Hill where sitting members of Congress, frankly, I believe, are compromising the dignity of the office they hold by sitting in these sweatshop phone booths calling people asking them for money.”
This stunt very much pissed off NRCC chair Greg Walden and his staff. Simms’ letter insisted that there never had been a meeting where Jolly was told to raise $18,000 a day, calling it “a work of fiction.” He went on: “Had the reporter or producer of the story bothered to verify this claim, they would have been told as much.” Simss then said 60 Minutes had "knowingly trespassed or encouraged another to trespass in our offices to film footage." He concluded in histrionic terms: "Not since Watergate has the headquarters of a major political party committee been so violated. CBS conspired with an anonymous staffer to enter our offices and obtain unauthorized footage under false pretenses. This is not journalism. This is trespassing."
Republicans love to hate the media, so it's not too notable that the NRCC is picking a fight with CBS’s famous news magazine, but it's very unusual for the committee to charge one of their own with lying and conspiring against the party. There are plenty of explanations for what could be going on. As we noted at the outset, the NRCC has never liked Jolly. In 2014, just days before Jolly's closely watched special election in a Florida swing seat, anonymous staffers at the committee—which was also led by Walden at the time—leaked embarrassing details about Jolly's campaign operation to Politico. Among other things (including complaints that Jolly paraded around the district with a girlfriend 14 years younger than him), the NRCC's people claimed that Jolly ran a weak campaign and had to be bailed out by DC. Jolly ended up narrowly winning the special, but there's absolutely no love lost between Walden’s staff and Jolly.
The NRCC may also be annoyed at the idea that Jolly might run for re-election for more than just personal reasons. Jolly's once-completive seat was redrawn into a district that Obama won 55-44, and even if Jolly would still have an outside chance, he'd be the decided underdog. The NRCC may just prefer to triage the seat altogether rather than waste millions defending it: Since the NRCC is, first and foremost, an incumbent protection organization, they'd probably feel obligated to do something to help Jolly. So to avoid flushing money on a potentially hopeless race, it’s possible that the committee is trying to signal Jolly that he'd be better off just taking his chances in the Senate race.
But what may have annoyed the NRCC the most (as well as their counterparts at the DCCC) is that Jolly gave potential House recruits an ugly glimpse at their future if they run and win. Any credible congressional candidate will need to spend a great deal of time and effort fundraising (aside from wealthy people who can just cut themselves a check). Still, many of them may hope that, once they actually get elected, that annoying part of their life will at least die down. If so, the footage of the NRCC's call center is the last thing they'll want to see. After all, who wants to run a very tough race and learn that they're going to spend hours each day essentially acting as telemarketers in addition to having to do their already-stressful day job?
None of this was exactly a secret before those hidden cameras rolled, of course, but those images of dreadful NRCC cubicles make the whole dark enterprise a lot more vivid than it was before. Jolly's ultimate sin may have been exposing just how sucky it is to be a congressman—and forcing potential candidates to ask themselves why they'd want this life for themselves.