One would have hoped that members of Congress were dedicating the vast amount of their time and energy to resolving the major issues of our times. That hope, obviously, would be incorrect. Which explains why our lost war on drugs, our failing public schools, our skyrocketing deficit, and other major issues never get resolved.
The article went beyond this exposure of showing that Congressional members are more focused on their political donors than their constituents. When it comes down to Congressional committee and subcommittee posts, one would have hoped that the politicians staffing those positions would be the most qualified and have the most expertise for each committee’s duties.
For example, one would hope that politicians serving on veterans’ affairs committees had some understanding or experience with veterans and the problems they face. Those that sit on banking committees have some kind of finance or banking experience in their background. Same with highway committees, housing committees, etc.
But again, that hope would be dashed. According to the article, the best members matched to the appropriate committees is farthest from the reality of what goes on in Washington. Consider the following insightful quote from the article
“The quality of a committee assignment is directly related to the amount of dues owed, as black-and-white an admission of the connection between fundraising and policy outcomes as can be found.”
This quote and Huffington Post article introduce a process that I was not aware of. They called it a "dues process" and apparently all members of Congress, from both parties, are given monetary targets that they have to hit and raise money that is funneled to the national Republican and Democratic political organizations.
Apparently, making or missing your dues target determines the quality and quantity of Congressional committee assignments a member of Congress can land. It has little to do with someone’s skills, experiences, or education, it all has to do with raising money to meet your dues target.
And these dues target are not trivial. In fact, they are obscenely high, which probably requires sitting politicians to do much more fund raising and hitting up political donors than actually doing their jobs and serving their hometown citizens. A March 11, 2012 Politico article highlighted how obscene these dues targets were for Democrats in 2011 (as you read them, ask yourself how much energy is diverted to these activities vs. problem solving activities):
- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer - $800,000 each.
- Pelosi was given the additional assignment of raising another $25 million for the party and Hoyer had to find another $2.5 million.
- Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn was to raise $1.5 million.
- John Larson and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Xavier Becerra and George Miller (Calif.), and Steve Israel (N.Y.) were expected to give $450,000 apiece OF THEIR OWN MONEY. Which raises the issue of why anyone would want to be a Congressman for an annual salary of $170,00 when in the case of these sitting politicians, according to Politico, they have to put up $450,000 of their own money for dues. Something like corruption smells here in this math.
- DeLauro and Miller were told to raise another $500,000 for the national Democratic Party while Israel has to raise an additional $10 million.
- Vice chairs Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Pedro Pierluisi (P.R.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) were to transfer $300,000 apiece (which I am assuming is also their own money), and their goals for raising money ranged from $300,000 for the latter three to $4 million for Wasserman Schultz and $6 million for Crowley.The lists goes on but you get the idea.
This obviously suboptimal process results in suboptimal legislating. The Huffington Post article discusses this disgrace in detail:
One member of Congress said that the fundraising takes up so much time that members don't even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. "One thing that's always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues," said the member, who didn't want to be quoted by name. "They didn't have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I'm probably guilty of that." He recalled one meeting early in his career, where he brought several members together to try to hash out a compromise, just as he had done earlier as a state legislator.
"Staff members were all twitching at the discussion, because their principals were saying things that were just flat-wrong or uninformed or wondering aloud about what the industry practices really were," he recalled. "The staff members of course had a pretty good idea. ... The members were sitting around the table having a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion."
Pretty scary stuff that a member of the process thinks that the process results in a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion. Which probably led to a remarkably uninformed and unproductive piece of legislation that never resolved the war on drugs failure, the high national debt problem, the lack of a national energy program and strategy, etc.
Members of Congress are so distracted into raising ungodly sums of money that pervert our democracy that they themselves end up being unremarkable, uninformed, and unproductive. When a Democratic Congressman confronted Pelosi in a meeting, stating that the dues process and levels were unreasonable, she simply replied that they were not doing enough to raise money. Never mind that not only are the dues levels unreasonable, the whole process and focus on raising money to the detriment of everything else is an abomination.
As a closing to the today’s and yesterday’s exposure of what really goes on in Washington, think about the image the following describes, in the words of a current Washington politician:
U.S. Senators do not bother going to their party’s headquarters or the rowhouses near the Capital building to make fund raising calls since it is against the law to make fundraising calls from their offices: “But they [U.S. Senators] go outside and sit in their cars and make calls.
Yes, your U.S. Senators, some of the most powerful people in the country and the world, go sit in their cars and grovel for money from political donors over their cell phones. What an obscene and disgraceful image. Paying dues, raising money. Making calls, raising money. Attending fundraisers, making money. With a little bit of uninformed legislating thrown in. No wonder we are in such sad shape as a country.
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