To help inform Issue One’s landmark report, “The Price of Power,” we interviewed several members of our bipartisan ReFormers Caucus at-length about their experiences with fundraising and concerns with the “committee tax” imposed on lawmakers.
Every Tuesday and Thursday over the next few weeks, we will release edited excerpts of those conversations with these former lawmakers to supplement and expand on the disturbing picture the report painted: that of a broken democracy, which Congress itself must act to fix.
Mike Castle, a member of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, is a Republican who represented Delaware’s At-Large Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1993 until January 2011. He previously served as governor of Delaware from January 1985 until December 1992.
What was your experience with the role of fundraising and committee assignments?
I was never a full committee chair or in party leadership, so few fundraising requirements were placed on me. Of course, I have observed the donation demands made on leadership and committee chairs and heard complaints from other members of Congress of the burden of fundraising.
Do you recall ever being asked to raise a certain amount for the NRCC or pay any sort of “party dues”?
At some point, the party wanted you to make a contribution. If you became chairman of a full committee, that was raised substantially. And if you’re a member of the leadership, that was raised substantially.
Why do the parties lean on people in leadership or chairs of committees to raise higher sums for the party?
If you are the chair of a significant committee — an ‘A’ committee, or depending on the subject matter, perhaps a different committee — that person is in a decision-making situation. They clearly have the ability to contact people and raise dollars that the average member might not be able to.
What kind of decision-making power?
There are different levels of influence as to whether legislation goes forward, as to whether amendments are considered. Leadership can make a decision as to what’s going to go to the floor or not. A sponsor of legislation can stop the legislation from going forward or work hard to advance it. A chairman of a committee can do the same thing. I don’t doubt that there are people out there who contribute to parties or contribute to individual candidates who have some interest in influencing where legislation is going to go.
Do you think incumbents have a fundraising advantage in the current system?
An incumbent member of Congress has a tremendous advantage in terms of fundraising over somebody who’s not in office at the present time. Individuals who are contributing to candidates are often people who want to influence decision-making, and so they’re more likely to support somebody who is an office holder than they are somebody who is trying to achieve that office.
Do you think donors are more likely to say yes to a fundraising request from an incumbent?
If they’re going to deal with the member of Congress, it’s probably easier to write out a check for whatever amount of money that’s being requested than it is to say ‘no’ and then having to deal with that office after you said ‘no’ to them.
What are the expectations of people who contribute?
The vast majority of people who contributed to me — and I’m sure to most members of Congress — support you because they support what you believe in and stand for, and they don’t have any requests or demands or whatever. But there’s always a percentage that contributes and expects that they’ll be able to talk to you or perhaps even try to influence you in some way or another.
If you had to estimate, how much time would you say was spent raising money or “dialing for dollars”?
Some members of Congress felt the need to do this more than others. Some enjoyed it more than others. I guess there’s some enjoyment in calling somebody and asking for a thousand dollars and getting it.
My situation was quite different than that of most members of Congress. I had held positions before and done fundraising before, starting with my election for lieutenant governor of Delaware in 1980 and two terms as governor. We’d send out mail. We’d have a few receptions. That kind of thing. I rarely called anybody about contributing.
When I ran in 2010 in a primary for the United States Senate, we hired a fundraiser in Washington in addition to our fundraising in Delaware. And I was told to make phone calls, which I did a little bit, but not a lot — nor was I very good at it, I might say.
Were you ever asked to raise money by the Republican Party?
From time to time. I made calls about contributing to the party from lists they provided.
What was call time like?
They would offer you the ability to call from lists and the ability to use the phone operations at the Republican headquarters. The rooms were not spacious, for sure. We got a desk and a phone, and that was about all that was in there. You would have your own list or you would be given a list of people you could call. There was nothing very luxurious about it.
What’s your take on super PACs?
What super PACs are doing today is probably as problematic as anything in the financing of campaigns out there. Wealthy people on both sides organize these PACs and fund the heck out of them — they make more substantial contributions than they could individually. That’s a problem.
What else concerns you about super PAC spending?
It’s hard for me to believe that there’s no coordination with the campaigns. I know there is not supposed to be, but I wonder about that.
Former Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) is a member of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, the largest bipartisan coalition ever assembled on behalf of political reform and government ethics. Read more about “The Price of Power” here.