Bipartisan Legislation Would Ban Lawmakers From Making Fundraising Calls When Congress Is in Session

Bipartisan Legislation Would Ban Lawmakers From Making Fundraising Calls When Congress Is in Session
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 21, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

Members of Congress would no longer be allowed to make fundraising telephone calls when the Senate and House of Representatives are in session under a new bipartisan piece of legislation.

Introduced on June 15 by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the proposal, H.R. 8089, or the On The Clock Act, would prohibit “Members of Congress from making direct or personal solicitations of campaigns funds while in session.”

The proposal is aimed at reducing the chronic interference of raising vast sums of congressional campaign funds with performing the legislative and representational duties senators and congressmen are elected by voters to do, according to Gallagher.

“Over the years, members of Congress have become increasingly focused on fundraising for their next election instead of doing the work they were elected to [do],“ he told The Epoch Times. ”Proxy voting has only made this problem worse. When members go to Washington, they should go to work, and this commonsense bill ensures members spend more time legislating and less time with special interests.”

A spokesman for Phillips, the original author of the legislation, couldn’t be reached for comment.

To grasp the magnitude of time consumed through fundraising by senators and representatives, an October 2021 study by nonprofit Issue One estimated that the typical senator seeking reelection in 2022 will have to raise on average $13,600 every day of the campaign. The same study found that members of the House of Representatives elected in 2020 had to raise, on average, $6,500 per day in order to mount a winning campaign.

Members of the House face reelection every two years, so the pressure to keep asking for money is unrelenting, but even senators, who only have to ask voters to return them to Congress every six years, must keep their hands out.

Senators who will be up for reelection in 2024 and 2026 are even now having to raise at least $2,100 daily, according to the Issue One analysis.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that senators and representatives are also required by the leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress to devote significant time to “dialing for dollars” sessions at the respective party committee’s offices near the Capitol.

The telephone solicitations on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on the House side and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) don’t necessarily benefit every member making the calls.

That’s because the funds raised by the four campaign committees are typically used during an election cycle to defend vulnerable incumbents and aid challengers who are thought to have credible shots at winning open seats or unseating a member of the opposition party.

Dialing for dollars for the campaign committees is time-consuming, but members in both parties do it because they know they must in order to have reasonable hopes of landing preferred positions in the legislative process, as well as prime media and speaking opportunities that enhance their national exposure.

Campaign strategists in both political parties interviewed by The Epoch Times regarding the On The Clock Act found strong opinions both for and against the proposal.

Robin Biro, a former regional campaign manager for President Barack Obama, thinks the proposal is “brilliant” because it would strike a blow against “the bipartisan swamp of career politicians” in Washington.

“Our elected officials in Congress pretty much fundraise all of the time since their terms are so short, but Americans desperately need for them to focus on their jobs, not just on getting reelected,” Biro told The Epoch Times.

“I am hopeful that this would enjoy bipartisan support, because it would level the playing field, and maybe—just maybe—Congress can get to work and be good stewards of our vote, instead of wallowing in the inertia of fundraising. This is a fantastic way to drain the bipartisan swamp of career politicians who remain in elected office for reasons of ego. [It’s] time for them to knuckle down and get to work or get out.”

But another senior Democratic strategist, Cristina Antelo, principal of Ferox Strategies, expressed fears that such a ban would mean only wealthy individuals would be able to afford the high costs of congressional campaigns.

“Running a campaign is expensive stuff and only getting more and more expensive each cycle. These folks have to raise too much money to take away a bulk of the calendar in their efforts,” she said.

“Something like this idea will necessitate—even more than it does now—that only very wealthy individuals will be able to run for office, which, it is not lost on me, Dean Phillips has the luxury of being. I personally want a diverse Congress with members from all walks of life, so I hope something like this doesn’t come to pass.”

Antelo was referring to Phillips’s successful career as an entrepreneur prior to being elected to Congress. Open Secrets estimates his net worth at $64 million.
On the Republican side, campaign strategist Brian Darling, a legislative veteran and former general counsel for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), sees major problems with the proposal.

“As someone who has attended numerous fundraisers while Congress is in session, I don’t see the merit in this proposal. Criminalizing fundraising by members while in session is a feel-good solution to the perceived problem that incumbents have a built-in advantage,” said Darling, founder and president of Liberty Government Affairs.

“If Congress wants to really take on the issue, they would impose strict term limits and reform the rules to allow more input from backbench members of both parties. Congress needs rules reform to allow more debate and amendments on bills. Right now, Congress is notorious for the leadership crafting legislation behind closed doors then springing it on members, and that has the effect of excluding the American people from the legislative process.”

Similarly, Matt Mackowiak, president of the Washington- and Austin, Texas-based Potomac Strategy Group, is doubtful that the proposal can pass the present Congress.

“Members of Congress undeniably spend far too much time raising money, but this idea strikes me as unconstitutional. I highly doubt it would ever pass. Leadership on both sides will oppose it,” Mackowiak predicted.

Americans for Limited Government President Richard Manning predicted that passage of the proposal into law would mean “a game will be played with multiple adjournments of each House in Congress in order to facilitate fundraising,” referring to the present arcane legislative definitions of when Congress is actually meeting.

“The bottom line is they will find a way to fund their campaigns because their opponents are raising money and unless you are independently wealthy, you need to raise at least $1 million to be able to compete,” Manning said.

Taxpayer Protection Alliance President David Williams lauded the proposal because he believes that “as long as a member is in D.C. on the taxpayer dime, they should be working in the taxpayer interest, not serving their own reelection ambitions.”

“As a full-time employee being paid by the taxpayer, their 9 to 5 [Monday through Friday] should be legislating, regardless of if they’re in D.C. or back home,” Williams said.

Finally, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who was part of the “Contract with America” team assembled by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that swept Republicans into congressional majorities in 1994, observed, somewhat dryly:

“This proposal has the added benefit that Congress would likely respond by having fewer days in session. States where the legislative session is short have fewer stupid laws and lower taxes. That might work with the federal Congress.”

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.