The Senate last week, as part of a Democratic bill to overhaul congressional campaign-finance laws, voted to ban senators from accepting honoraria for personal use from special interest groups. Here are excerpts from the debate, as published in the Congressional Record:
Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.): In the last five years, $12 million has come in to the members of this body who accept honoraria -- $12 million. Let us not kid ourselves, we know how it happens. I have done it. I literally showed up on one occasion in this town; I was there for 15 minutes. I had a cup of coffee and a Caesar salad for two grand.
I am not alone in that. That is before I stopped receiving honoraria a couple of years ago. But that is how it happens. Sometimes you go someplace and you spend a weekend and you give a long speech. I am not suggesting they are all like that. But even the people who pay the honoraria do not like the system. They will tell you it bothers them.
We are not being invited to speak because of our forensic abilities or because we are Ciceros or because we have some fantastical insights to offer. We are being invited because we sit on a committee that involves legislation that affects those interests. That is all. There should be no illusions about this.
I think every one of us knows that we would prefer to be getting paid and compensated by the taxpayers as members of the U.S. Senate. We should not be out hustling. That is not our job. And when a significant percentage of our salaries comes from hustling, and that is what it amounts to, then I think we denigrate ourselves and the institution, and it ought to stop.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.): I know that it requires, on the average, about $12,500 a week, 52 weeks a year, six years in a senatorial term, for a member of the Senate to prepare himself for reelection if he wishes to continue this public service. Most of us have to at least be prepared, as the Boy Scout motto ironically suggests. I know how frustrating it is to senators. I know how frustrating it is to the leaders of this body when they have to be concerned about the problems facing their colleagues, and the need for their colleagues to get out and chase money all over the country, hold their hats in their hands and ask for money.
"Give me, give me, give me more of your money." Not "Give me more, more, more of your kisses," but "give me more, more, more of your money."
As a general rule, they are talking to people who are not their own constituents. I have had to do that myself. And along with that, we have this problem of honoraria. These are the things that I have said many times are undermining the trust and confidence of the people in this institution.