In an exit interview on “Full Measure” with Sharyl Attkisson, broadcast to millions of homes nationwide, U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) lambasted the fundraising virus that plagues our elected representatives. Chaffetz, who was first elected to the House in 2008 and has served as chair of the Oversight Committee since 2015, announced he will leave Congress at the end of next week.
When asked if his leaving meant he would get to stop fundraising, Chaffetz replied, “Oh, I love that part of it.” He also confirmed that his position as a committee chair increases the pressure: “Look, as a position, as a chairman of a, of a committee, plus what I have to do with my own campaign, I have to raise about $1 million a year, maximum individual contribution is $2,700.” Issue One documented as much in our report, “The Price of Power,” which details the embedded dues system established by both political parties to reward top fundraisers for the DCCC and NRCC with plum committee chairmanships.
“Good representatives are leaving because the fundraising demands on members of Congress are unsustainable. It’s a problem that must be addressed,” said former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), co-chair of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus.
With the “dues” expectations weighing heavily on their shoulders, committee chairs often turn to raising money from the same industries and interests they oversee. For instance, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) raised 50 percent of his campaign money from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors, while Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, raised more than one-third of his campaign money from the same sectors. The result is the buying and selling of valuable access to industries, often at the expense of the consumers of those services and products. And when the ability to raise money, rather than expertise, determines chairmanships, Americans are often left with bad policy.
The need to raise funds for the parties has become incredibly time-consuming, tearing away legislators from the actual task of legislation. “That’s a lot of phone calls, and a lot of travel,” said Chaffetz. “You’re putting in literally 16-hour days, and then it’s the weekend, and guess what you’ve got to do? Get on a plane and fly to North Carolina or Texas or California or New York, and go raise and beg for money, and the next thing you know, you’ve got to be back. As a chairman, I’ve got to be back Sunday night and then you’ve been at home for maybe five or six hours.”
Chaffetz isn’t alone in wishing he had more time for legislating. “They are diverting precious time to fundraising when they need to be applying expertise to hearings, solving our nation’s problems and conducting the arduous job of shepherding bills through Congress,” said former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN), who serves as co-chair of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus. Americans deserve a full-time Congress, not one preoccupied with fundraising demands that distract them from the work they were elected to pursue.