A new report from the Huffington Post spells out something Washington insiders have known for decades–members of Congress spend just four hours a day doing the work their constituents elected them to do. The rest of their 10 hour work days are spent on the phone or shaking hands with the well-heeled donors who command an outsized influence in the corridors of the Capitol Building.
“The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington,” the Huffington Post reported based on a leaked PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for new members. “Of that, four hours are to be spent in ‘call time’ and another hour is blocked off for ‘strategic outreach,’ which includes fundraisers and press work. An hour is walled off to ‘recharge,’ and three to four hours are designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress–hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents. If the constituents are donors, all the better.”
All told, a member of Congress spends the majority of their day in business solely of pleasing donors. This raises the question as to whether the job of a Congressman is simply to raise money for his or her party or actually spend time representing their constituents. The congressional training seminar sends a pretty clear message about what they think. Aside from neglecting their constitutionally prescribed duties, this dependence on donor money raises another ugly specter of money in politics, as the article explains.
“It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising,” the article quotes retired Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) as saying. “You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically. It’s a fairly disturbing suggested schedule. You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.”
The depth of political corruption exposed by the leaked presentation highlights the double-standard that politicians live under. Any average citizen who spent over half their workday neglecting the job they were hired to do would be shown the door in short order. Congressmen and women, in their endless lust for political money, actually get “promoted” by giving higher preference to partisan goals and political bribery than focusing on statesmanship and doing the job taxpayers actually pay them to do.
With inauguration day in recent memory, it’s worth remembering the promise of then candidate Barack Obama in 2007, who proclaimed in a speech that “[he was] in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” While passing years have seen an explosion of corrupting money in politics, they’ve also given birth to a real movement to end business as usual in Washington D.C. The Represent.Us campaign along with many other good government groups are working to change the lopsided schedules of elected officials to get money out and voters back in.