Political Fundraising Imperatives are Why Filibuster Shenanigans Work


fritz hollings.jpgThis is a guest note by former U.S. Senator Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC).
Reading Michael Hager in The Washington Post last Friday (18 June), “Congress needs a mediation tool to dissolve gridlock,” notes that we are going to extremes to solve simple problems. Hager recommends “A political neutral service for legislative mediation” like the Congressional Budget Office. I don’t know where Hager got the idea that CBO settles anything. But the problem is money.
As Chairman of the Commerce, Space Science, Transportation Committee of the United States Senate, I had learned in World War II that if you look out for your men, they’ll look out for you. I followed this rule until the Republicans had a fundraiser for my opponent in my race for re-election, and all the Republicans attended save Ted Stevens. Stevens already was my hero and his non-attendance confirmed it. But I became immediately “partisan” as concerned the other Republicans. They wanted to get rid of me, and this made me feel likewise.
Money has not only destroyed bi-partisanship but corrupted the Senate. Not the Senators, but the system. In 1966 when I came to the Senate, Mike Mansfield, the leader, had a roll call every Monday morning at 9:00 o’clock in order to be assured of a quorum to do business. And he kept us in until 5:00 o’clock Friday so that we got a week’s work in. That meant you weren’t chasing money on the weekends, but stayed around Washington, partying with Senators that differed with you during the week. Today, there’s no real work on Mondays and Fridays, but we fly out to California early Friday morning for a luncheon fundraiser, a Friday evening fundraiser, making individual money appointments on Saturday and a fundraising breakfast on Monday morning, flying back for perhaps a roll call Monday evening. This persists for six years.
In my last race in 1998 to be elected the seventh time to the United States Senate, I had to raise $8.5 million. That factors out to $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. You don’t start collecting money the year before your re-election date. Rather, you are in constant fundraise mode. There’s no way to raise $8.5 million in little South Carolina, so I had to go to friends all over the country. That meant arranging trips during the week to travel the country on the weekend. And $8.5 million also means that you have to depend on the Democratic or Republican Campaign Finance Committee. These Campaign Committees in the Senate guarantee partisanship. We have party lunches every Tuesday, which is to help the party members that are up for re-election the coming, or that year. All members are constantly raising money for the other members, traveling, making talks, so that you can get help from the Committee when your time comes around. I always admired Bob Kerrey, the Senator from Nebraska, who was a Medal of Honor winner. But when he helped me with a million dollars as Chairman of the Campaign Committee in my last race, I learned to love him. I hear he is taking Jack Valenti’s place with the Motion Picture Association, and I wish him well.
But back to the money. Schedules have been changed for money. On Washington’s Birthday, a junior member would take the floor and read Washington’s farewell address, but the United States Senate was in session. Now, we’ve merged Lincoln’s Birthday with Washington’s Birthday for a ten-day break to fundraise. And on St. Patrick’s Day in March, another break to fundraise. Easter in April – fundraise. Memorial Day break – fundraise. Fourth of July break – fundraise. Month of August off – fundraise. Labor Day – fundraise. Columbus Day break – fundraise. I’ve even had a fundraiser on Friday after Thanksgiving.
And we cancel policy committee lunches on Thursday to go over to the Democratic headquarters to fundraise. Two little ladies keep you biting a sandwich or your tongue, calling on the phone: “We’ve got to take back the Senate.” My tally showed that I raised $611 thousand on these Thursday calls for Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina’s candidate for the Senate in 2004.
Money is the reason filibusters work. Both Republicans and Democrats go along with filibuster threats. They never really bring out the cots and require all night speaking. One Republican holds the floor for his side and one Democrat for his side, and the rest of the Senators can go to New York or California to fundraise.
Nineteen ninety-eight was twelve years ago. It takes more money now. I told aspirants against Jim DeMint this year that they have to raise $4 million to $5 million before they get help from Washington. The Republicans will easily put $15 million in the campaign to keep DeMint’s seat. And what was an $8.5 million race in 1998, has now become a $12 million to $15 million race.
Today, the campaign committees in Washington look for a candidate not with ideas or experience, but with money. I think one in California has just spent $80 million in the primary. I remember Russell Long instituting the dollar check-off on your income tax so as to finance “any mother’s son to run for president.” Now public finance has become pass


10 comments on “Political Fundraising Imperatives are Why Filibuster Shenanigans Work

  1. David says:

    Thanks, WigWag. I had forgotten he was from South Carolina. Columbia is an interesting town. I love the fact that US 1 runs right through the heart of the capital. I was reflecting one day on the basis for the route it follows. We in Florida understand it as the most important US highway in history, of course. Route 66 is fun to think about, but US 1 is appropriately numbered. And there is something particularly cool about the Old Boston Post Road. Here one is driving up a US highway through very upscale areas, and that after US 1 through some serious hard-edged settings. US 1 might be the most diverse highway in America. And all of that from a reference to Walter Russell Mead. Oh, well, the mind wandereth where it listeth, or something like that.


  2. WigWag says:

    “Fritz Hollings and Stephen Colbert are proof that South Carolina does not exclusively produce political idiots.” (David)
    The extraordinarily brilliant Walter Russell Mead is also from South Carolina (born in Columbia).


  3. David says:

    Fritz Hollings and Stephen Colbert are proof that South Carolina does not exclusively produce political idiots – majority speaking, well yes, but not exclusively. As a lifelong Southerner of nearly seven decades, I have of course seen my share of political idiots – and then some. We do know how to embarrass ourselves.


  4. John Waring says:

    Fritz, damn it, I wish you had run.


  5. questions says:

    One more structural issue by the way — the filibuster depends upon Senator number 60 — the 60th most liberal or most conservative.
    A majority vote simply moves the power and pivot point to number 50 (the 50th most liberal or conservative) plus the vice pres.
    There’s really no difference in how this plays out.
    Right now number 51 or 52 or whatever simply hides behind number 60. Without the cover, we’ll find rebellion at a lower level.


  6. questions says:

    “When spending is limited in campaigning, those in Congress will have time for the country rather than the campaign. They can stay in Washington and spend time on the nation’s business. Filibusters will be limited. Lobbyists will be limited. Corporations will be limited. Partisanship will be limited, and we’ll be returning the first amendment to its original intent. This is what Congress intended in ’71 and ’74, signed into law by Richard Nixon, and Congress can do it again if it wants to take care of the country instead of the campaign.”
    So, tell me, what’s a “campaign?”
    And I do mean this question quite seriously. Are issue ads “campaign” spending?
    If we limit the money spent, then more likely, the field is open only to the already-famous. When we allow lots of money, the field is open only to those who can raise it or already have it. Tell me which is better.
    If we limit what a candidate spends, then what do we do about “issue” ads? (That is, what is a campaign?)
    What becomes of the parties? Do they gain or lose strength, and in so doing, do we have more or fewer problems?
    I’m not convinced that the filibuster threat is really quite what it’s characterized as here. In fact, both parties frequently have structural preferences for less action rather than more, and the filibuster threat serves that structure well. The out party always values it, the in party complains about it. The rules get changed once in a while.
    If filibusters were so very awful for fundraising then perhaps no one would threaten to use one, they’d just schedule the votes. But in fact, stopping legislation is one side’s chief fundraising tool, and complaining about stopped legislation is the other side’s chief fundraising tool. So I would venture that the Honorable Senator Hollings has the point exactly backwards.
    Money is always going to be a relative advantage at one level or another. If it’s evenly spent across all candidates, then some other way of gaining advantage will be sought, found, exploited.
    The real weapons are more likely going to be: disclosure, outside groups and oppo researchers who comb the archives and tie together the knots, limits on the revolving door, enough of a pension for staffers that they aren’t tempted or forced to go into industry too soon (think of the skill set — what would YOU do?), and a political scientist’s understanding of the ties between votes and district interests, between votes and ideology, between votes and re-election cravings, between votes and incentives to take action that might be costly, between votes and money…..
    The research has to go beyond the anecdotal. Sure it’s a drag to ask for money. We can hope that all the rich people who are sick of giving money just drop out (thus opening up a slot for a competitor to take over (exactly what capitalism doesn’t allow)). We can hope that candidates will discover that they can campaign for the price of shoe leather, especially in large states like California with multiple tv markets! Just walk the state!!
    Or we can realize that, in fact, the money really is necessary, that raising money can (but does not necessarily) show some sort of coalition, that the money is here to stay, but can be monitored, must be monitored.
    I recommend that the candidates keep making their phone calls. If the system collapses of its own weight, it’ll be replaced by something fairly similar.


  7. kc-tex says:

    All credibility of this article was lost the moment Sen. Hollings said Ted Stevens was his hero…the most corrupted of all U.S. senators.


  8. Paul Windels says:

    Perhaps the proposed amendment to the first amendment should also restrict congressional and senatorial staffs to ten, constitutionalize the old Hatch Amendment prohibiting dfederal employees from working on campaigns, take away the congressional frank (mainly used to pump out campaign literature disguised as newsletters), and also restrict news organs from the amount of commentary they can make. After all, if it costs $X to run a one minute ad on CNN, isn’t ony minute of commentary by some talking head about a political race the equivalent of a campaign contribution by that individual?
    Everybody would say that’s absurd, but that would have to be done in order to make all players equal — to give challengers the same real chance as incumbents and to give ordinary individuals the same chance to express their opinions as Sumner Redstone (owner of Viacom) or Bill Gates (owner of Microsoft, which is a joint venture partner in MSNBC).
    I think the more speech the better, and with the internet all kinds of new speech and dynamics are affecting the face of politics. I like the fact, Steve, that your blog is there, whether I agree or disagree with you on any particular point, as I do the other blogs I read. I don’t want to see you restricted in what you can and can’t say within 60 days of an election, I want you to say everything you want, and for anyone else who can put together a blog to do the same.
    Let the debate be full and open and let the people decide.


  9. nadine says:

    Not to worry, Wigwag, filibusters will change from “shenanigans” to “principled stands” once the Congress goes Republican.


  10. WigWag says:

    Like Don Quixote, Fritz Hollings is tilting at windmills. Buckley v Valeo is the law of the land and it won’t be revisited anytime soon, if ever. It may have been decided by a 5 to 4 margin but the Court is far more conservative now than it was in 1976. In those days, justices like Blackmun, Brennan, White and Marshall were on the Court; today we have Alito, Roberts and Scalia. If the case ever came up again, it would be decided the same way but by an even greater margin. Just look at the recent case of Citizens United v. FEC if you need proof. The chances that a constitutional amendment will pass to overturn the Court’s ruling in Buckley v Valeo is near zero.
    The sad truth is that what Hollings really objects to is the First Amendment itself. If candidates are forbidden from spending as much of their own money as they want to promulgate their political positions, and if others are forbidden from spending money to object to, or endorse, those positions, what good is the First Amendment’s protection for political speech? The bottom line is that the First Amendment is a wonderful thing but it cuts both ways; if you like it when it protects your speech you can’t object when other people spend their own money to make sure their positions are disbursed as widely as possible.
    I actually attended a fundraiser for Senator Hollings once. It was during the late 1990s and the Senator was getting ready for his race against Bob Inglis. It was generally acknowledged that Senator Hollings was in trouble because South Carolina was becoming increasingly conservative and increasingly Republican.
    The fundraiser was in the Rye, New York home of a wealthy contributor (now deceased) to Senator Hollings, Anita Saltz; perhaps the Senator remembers her. Also in attendance that night was Ms Saltz’s brother, Robert Belfer. Robert Belfer is famous for endowing Steve Walt’s chair at Harvard (another brother, Lawrence Belfer is listed as a $25 thousand donor to the New America Foundation).
    Hollings, made a few rather lame jokes about being the junior Senator from South Carolina despite his advanced age and long years of service in the Senate (of course Strom Thurmond was the “senior” Senator from South Carolina). If I remember correctly, Hollings also recycled one of his oft repeated quips about an opponent who challenged him to take a drug test. Hollings supposedly replied, “I’ll take a drug test if you take an IQ test.”
    Several years later when the Enron scandal broke Hollings famously told a joke at George W. Bush’s expense. Riffing on Bill Clinton’s comments about Monica Lewinsky, Hollings joked that Bush said, “I did not have political relations with that man, Ken Lay.”
    At the time I remember thinking that Holling’s comments were quite hypocritical. After all, there he was accepting political donations from the Belfer/Saltz family. Where did that family make all its money? By selling the family oil company, Belfer Petroleum to Enron. In fact, Robert Belfer was on the Board of Directors of Enron when the scandal hit, although to be fair to Belfer, Saltz and Hollings, none of the Belfers was ever implicated in the scandal.
    Nevertheless, it struck me as ironic that while Hollings was making fun of the Bush-Enron connection, he never revealed that he was running fundraisers in the home of a family who made hundreds of millions of dollars through their connection with Enron.
    As a person just a few years younger than Senator Hollings I never attended very many political fundraisers where a person as important as Senator Hollings was actually present. It was a special treat for me to attend and I listened very carefully to everything that the Senator said that night to the donors and potential donors who were there. As a result, I can personally attest that there is little reason for anyone to worry that politicians sell themselves to the highest bidder.
    Hollings made alot of promises that evening. After he was reelected with 53 percent of the vote, he went on to break almost every single one.


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