In February, when Rep. David Jolly introduced his quixotic plan to ban members of Congress from soliciting campaign contributions, the Florida Republican had only six co-sponsors.
Then, three weeks ago, “60 Minutes” reported on Jolly’s idea, giving national attention to the scandal of lawmakers spending 30 or more hours a week dialing for dollars.
The number of co-sponsors on Jolly’s bill jumped from six all the way to – eight. No senator has presented similar legislation.
Jolly, appearing Monday at the National Press Club with his lead Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota, was not surprised. “We’ve got six more co-sponsors than I thought we might have,” he said. It’s “a heartbreaking reflection on what the priorities of the Congress are. … A member’s political survival depends on raising money – that’s the reality.”
Jolly speaks the truth. Lawmakers know how to clean up the corrupt system – but nothing happens.
Democrats talk about overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on politics. But that ultimate fix isn’t happening soon. In the House, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., has recruited 160 co-sponsors for his system of public financing of elections – another good idea – but so far he has only one Republican, gadfly Walter Jones (N.C.). Republicans remain reflexively opposed to reform.
This is why Jolly’s idea deserves a look. He calls it congressional reform, not campaign-finance reform. The goal: to get lawmakers to spend more time lawmaking.
The Republican Party is predictably opposed. The National Republican Congressional Committee, in a letter to CBS after the “60 Minutes” segment, accused Jolly of peddling “fiction” when he said party officials told him he had to raise $18,000 a day.
Unfortunately, liberals have piled on. Campaign-finance reformer Fred Wertheimer told me the idea “is not going to solve the problem,” because those working for the members could still solicit funds. Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, wrote an Orlando Sentinel piece calling Jolly’s bill a “cynical example of fraudulent reform.”
But while Jolly can be accused of election-year gimmickry, he voluntarily refused to solicit contributions for his Senate run. And though the bill wouldn’t by itself solve the campaign-finance mess, it could help to improve the woeful political culture in other ways.
Jolly’s Democratic sidekick, Nolan, said when he first served in Congress in the 1970s, lawmakers worked full weeks, giving them time to develop respect for one another and find common ground.
“We’re looking at the last couple of sessions of the Congress of the United States as being the most unproductive in the history of the country,” he said. “Why? Well, if everybody’s busy campaigning and raising money, there’s no time for governing.”
Jolly, a former lobbyist and longtime staffer to the late congressman C.W. Bill Young, continues to agitate. He said he’s not paying his $400,000 in dues to the NRCC, and he said “I don’t buy the notion” that he needs more sponsors before House leadership grants a hearing on his bill.
Jolly is a potential ally of Democrats on campaign-finance reform, saying that Citizens United “could be revisited” and that “we can do better.” Until then, surely more lawmakers on both sides can see the virtue of his cause.
“You think you get elected to represent 700,000 people,” he said. “But you actually got elected to be one more marble on our side of the aisle to keep the majority, and to do that you’ve got to go raise $2 million – and that makes members angry.”
Or at least it should.