This 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