Thursday, June 02, 2022

Candidates Are Fundraisers Not Legislators

Candidates Are Fundraisers Not Legislators
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 2, 2022, p. A4

Imagine you decide to run for the U.S. House or Senate. Play along with me now.

The first day after your announcement could you raise, as a Democrat, $6849 from your relatives and friends (Senate; or $2778 for a House race)? Might be a stretch, but possible?

Now imagine I tell you that it’s not just for one day. It’s that average every day for six years (Senate) or two years (House). That’s seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Slack off and it’s more per day.

The average total cost for a Democrat’s Senate race is $15 million; $2 million for the House. The top ten Senate races in 2020 ranged from $180 million (Kentucky) to $299 million (North Carolina). It’s even more for Republicans. The combined cost of Iowa’s 2020 U.S. Senate race was $262 million. All for a job that pays $174,000 a year. [Photo source: wikimedia commons.]

If you win, your profession becomes fund raiser, not legislator. Finding thousands of dollars every day can take half an average Senator or House member’s time.

You lunch with one of your “major donors” who requests “a little favor.” Do you spit in their eye? No. As Molly Ivins’ titled a book, “You got to dance with them what brung you.”

This is no “ten cents a dance.”

Major donors’ contributions aren’t your supporters’ “donations,” they’re investments. Investments that return many multiples more than the stock market ever did.

Curious about an industry’s return on this “investment”? I researched it many years ago. It may be worse now. It was then between 1,000 and 2,000 to one. Contribute $1 million, get a return in exchange valued at $1 billion (or more). Examples included industries in milk, mining, timber, real estate, and individual companies like ADM, UPS and Gallo.

The returns can take many forms, such as tax breaks, government contracts, subsidies, tariffs, or access to public lands. It may be the defeat of popular progressive legislation that would have reduced corporate profits by that much, such as restrictions on gun sales, or radical reductions in pharmaceutical prices.

Who pays? We do, either as taxpayers (it’s our money) or as consumers (think milk and gas prices). As Simon and Garfunkel told Mrs. Robinson, “When you've got to choose/Every way you look at this, you lose.”

Are there alternatives? Yes; though House and Senate support is unlikely.
  • Public financing of campaigns might cost one percent of what we now pay.
  • Reduce the weeks of campaigning.
  • Broadcast time averages 50% of campaigns’ budgets. Free time for candidates is fair exchange for use of “the public’s airwaves.” Or, like Norway, ban political broadcast ads.
  • Overturn Citizens United. Millions in dark money isn’t the equivalent of what the founders called “speech.”
  • And many more ideas since the Tillman Act of 1907.
But until we’re able to turn our fundraisers and cult followers into legislators, Lincoln’s 159-year-old prayer for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will continue to be beyond our grasp.

Nicholas Johnson has been involved in campaigns from the presidency to school boards for nearly 70 years. Website Contact

Costs of elections.

Ally J. Levine and Minami Funakoshi, “2020 U.S. Senate Races,” Reuters, Nov. 24, 2020, (“The 2020 U.S. election cost nearly $14 billion . . ..”)

“Open Secrets,”

Eliana Miller, “Nine of the 10 most expensive Senate races of all time happened in 2020,” December 9, 2020,
Iowa’s 2020 U.S. Senate race; candidates spent $262 million Range for top ten races: $180 million (Kentucky) to $299 million (North Carolina)
Karl Evers-Hillstrom, “State of Money in Politics: The price of victory is steep,” Feb. 19, 2019,
(“Average Price of Victory (2018),
Senate Democrats (22) $15 M ($6849/day)
Senate Republicans (11) $19M ($8676/day)
House Democrats (235) $2M ($2778/day)
House Republicans (199) $2M ($2778/day)
Days in six-year term (365 x 6) 2190; x2 720

$174,000 salary. “Senate Salaries (1789 to Present),”

Time spent by Senators/House Members raising money

Brent Ferguson, “Congressional Disclosure of Time Spent Fundraising,” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, vol. 23, Issue 1Fall 2013,

Stacey Selleck, “CONGRESS SPENDS MORE TIME DIALING FOR DOLLARS THAN ON LEGISLATIVE WORK,” U.S. Term Limits, April 26, 2016, (“Fundraising is big business in Washington, D.C. So big, in fact, that your newly elected Congressional representative is expected to spend half of his or her working hours dialing for dollars at a secret phone bank near Capitol Hill.”)

Tim Roemer, “Why Do Congressmen Spend Only Half Their Time Serving Us?” Newsweek, July 29, 2015, (“How much of members' actual time is devoted to "dialing for dollars"? They are generally hard-working, honest, type A personalities, so in a typical 10-hour day, they might dedicate three hours. In election cycles during the heat of battle, it might escalate to more than half of their time. But it doesn't stop there. Members are now additionally "required" to raise money for "the party" and contribute to pools of funds at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC). As a member rises in seniority to committee chair or ranking member, their fundraising responsibilities multiply significantly. So just as they assume more jurisdiction, clout and a heavier legislative workload, they are simultaneously saddled with spending even more time raising even more money.”)

Amisa Ratliff, “The Congressional Fundraising Treadmill, July-September 2021,” Issue One, Oct. 24, 2021, (“Hours spent dialing for dollars are diverted away from lawmakers’ legislative and oversight responsibilities. The political parties reportedly suggest that members of Congress spend about 30 hours per week fundraising in the Republican and Democratic call centers across the street from the Capitol.”)

“You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You” is the title of one of Molly Ivins’ books.

“Ten Cents a Dance,” Wikipedia,

“Dance Halls,”,

The $1000-to-one return on contributions

Nicholas Johnson, “Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000,” Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2, (with citations to 14 sources of support for assertions)

Either way you lose.

Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson,” Song Meanings, “When you've got to choose/Every way you look at this, you lose”


Reid Wilson, “US election spending exceeds GDP of numerous countries,” The Hill, Dec. 7, 2020, (“Americans spend more on politics and political campaigns than any other nation on Earth, and the 2020 election once again rewrote the fundraising record books. . . . The most expensive races attract more dollars than some small nations generate as their annual gross domestic product (GDP).”)

“Public Campaign Financing,” Brennan Center for Justice,

Nick Thompson, “International campaign finance: How do countries compare?” CNN World, March 5, 2012,
(“Norway Krishnan (Chandu Krishnan, executive director of TI UK), citing Scandinavia as a model, believes increased public funding would cut down party dependence on large donations and give the election system more credibility. In Norway, government funding accounted for 74% of political parties’ income in 2010, according to Statistics Norway. And unlike in the U.S. . . . political ads are banned from television and radio.”)
50% goes to TV/radio/media.

Marc Davis, “Where Presidential Candidates Get Campaign Funding,” Investopedia, Aug. 31, 2021,
(“How Money Is Spent “According to, a release of data by the FEC showed that 48.9% (or $354.8 million) of donations go toward media advertisements, with administrative costs coming in second at 24.6%. Campaign expenses such as consulting, events, and surveys make up 12.8%, and 11.8% goes toward fundraising for donations. Less than 2% of expenditures are dedicated to loan payments, contribution refunds, parties, and miscellaneous costs.”)
Campaign Finance Reform

See generally, top 10 from Google search on: campaign finance reform (includes “Campaign Finance; We are building a democracy that works for all of us,” Common Cause,

The Tillman Act, 1907

"The Tillman Act of 1907," wikipedia,

The Gettysburg Address.

“The Gettysburg Address,” Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Nov. 19, 1863, National Park Service, (“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”)

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