THEY SAY time is money, and the adage rings especially true for members of Congress: Many of them — according to Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) — spend almost as much of the workweek fundraising as they do debating laws or helping constituents. Mr. Jolly, with a Democratic colleague, Rep. Rick Nolan (Minn.), has introduced a bill to fix that. Their legislation does not purport to solve all of the country’s fundraising woes, but this is a case in which some change would be better than none.
Mr. Jolly estimates that Senate and House lawmakers spend an average of 30 hours a week at networking events and call centers instead of in the Capitol working for the people they were elected to represent. Under his bill, called the Stop Act, these representatives could not personally solicit campaign contributions — whether or not Congress is in session.
During a conversation with House leadership at the National Republican Congressional Committee early in his term, Mr. Jolly said, he was instructed to raise $18,000 every day to fill his reelection campaign coffers. But if a congressman’s top priority is to raise money to get him back into Congress, and once he is back, the most important job is still to raise money to keep him there, when does the actual legislating take place?
Mr. Jolly, now running for the Senate seat that fellow Republican Marco Rubio has said he will vacate, has taken a pledge to practice what he preaches — and has less than $600,000 in campaign cash to show for it. Maybe that helps explain why the Stop Act has only 10 co-sponsors. Locally, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said he would support a gavel-to-gavel ban on fundraising but has not decided whether to support one that applies out of session as well. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) knocked the Stop Act as a distraction from what he considers the real campaign-finance reforms the country needs. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) agreed.
That’s a false choice. Both Mr. Nolan and Mr. Jolly support other reform efforts, and there is no reason their bill should come at the cost of those — such as proposals to overturn Citizens United, or small-donor-empowerment programs similar to the one proposed by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). And though the Stop Act would not eliminate big-money fundraising altogether, cutting the candidate out of the conversation would help reduce impropriety: A fundraising plea from the congressman with committee jurisdiction over a constituent’s livelihood carries more pressure than a call from a member of his volunteer committee.
In the NRCC meeting, Mr. Jolly told us, one member of the House leadership turned to Mr. Jolly’s deputy chief of staff. “Your problem,” he said, “is that you have a new congressman who’s going to want to . . . do all these things for his constituents. But his first job is to raise money.” The problem, in other words, was that a freshman representative wanted and expected to do his job. The Stop Act could help all of Congress to start doing theirs.