Subject: Former Senator Hollings on Money in Politics--NYTimes 2/19/06
In September 1997 I delivered the fourth annual W. E. Chilton III
Leadership Lecture in Charleston, W.Va., on the subject "Two of the
Worst Supreme Court Decisions of Recent Decades." A longer version was
published in my booklet entitled "Essays Cold and Hot: A New Year's
Potpourri." One of the two decisions discussed was "Buckley v. Valeo."
Today former Senator Hollings has published an op ed piece deploring the
same decision, and his essay is the more compelling because it recounts
his personal experiences as a Senator of the United States.
Stop the Money Chase
A Constitutional Amendment Could Let Senators Be Senators
By Ernest F. Hollings
Sunday, February 19, 2006; B07
There is a cancer on the body politic: money.
It started with Maurice Stans in the 1968 presidential race, when Stans
was collecting money for his candidate, Richard Nixon. Stans's approach
was direct. He told the textile industry that its "fair share" was
$350,000, and 10 textile executives then raised $35,000 apiece. Millions
were raised, mostly cash, which couldn't be traced. The cry went out:
"The government is up for sale." And Congress reacted in 1974 with
legislation outlawing cash donations in federal elections and limiting
candidates to so much money per registered voter. In South Carolina,
Strom Thurmond and I were limited in a Senate race to spending $637,000
Fast-forward 30 years, taking into account inflation and the larger
number of voters. Today a South Carolina race for the U.S. Senate would
be limited to $3 million -- if the spending limits were still in effect.
But the limits did not survive a court challenge; they were thrown out
in a 1976 Supreme Court decision that has had disastrous consequences.
So in 1998 I had to raise $8.5 million to be elected senator. This meant
I had to collect $30,000 a week, each and every week, for six years. I
could have raised $3 million in South Carolina. But to get $8.5 million
I had to travel to New York, Boston, Chicago, Florida, California, Texas
and elsewhere. During every break Congress took, I had to be out
hustling money. And when I was in Washington, or back home, my mind was
still on money.
When I came to the Senate in 1966, we invariably would have a vote
scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday to be sure that we started the week at work.
And the Senate regularly was voting Friday afternoon. Now you can't find
the Senate until Monday evening, and it's gone again by Thursday night.
We're off raising money. We use every excuse for a "break" to do so. In
February it used to be one day for Washington's birthday and one for
Lincoln's. Now we've combined them so we can take a week off to raise
money. There's Easter week, Memorial Day week, Fourth of July week and
the whole month of August. There's Columbus Day week, Thanksgiving week
and the year-end holidays. While in town, we hold breakfast fundraisers,
lunch fundraisers, and caucuses to raise funds. The late senator Richard
Russell of Georgia said a senator was given a six-year term -- two years
to be a statesman, two to be a politician and two to demagogue. Now we
take all six years to raise money.
There is no time to rest or take it easy. Chairmen and ranking
minority-party members of committees are charged with raising $100,000
for their party campaign committees. Regular members must raise $50,000,
and senators are expected to attend each other's fundraisers, as well as
party fundraisers outside Washington. Political parties now raise money
for senators, exacerbating the politics and the standoff in the Senate.
You don't feel like talking to a senator when he was at a fundraiser
against you the previous evening.
In 2004, my last year in the Senate, we had Thursday policy lunches at
which experts on both sides of a hot topic would make short
presentations and we would hammer out policy. But from the beginning of
the summer of that year until that fall's elections, policy lunches were
canceled so that senators could go to their parties' headquarters and
call all over the country, begging for money.
The result of this nonsense is that almost one-third of a senator's time
is spent fundraising. The Senate schedule calls for morning-long
committee hearings (which many times extend into the afternoon). In the
afternoon, there is debate on the floor and votes. Little time is left
for talking to the staff or to constituents, answering mail, phone
calls, etc. Every evening there is an average of three receptions or
fundraisers, followed by three breakfasts or fundraisers the next
morning. A senator has so many committee assignments that there is no
way to attend all the functions he or she should. He's constantly asking
the staff or a colleague, "What happened?"
The Supreme Court ruling that left us with this mess was Buckley v.
Valeo. The court held in that decision 30 years ago that the limit on
campaign spending constituted a limit on free speech and was thus
unconstitutional. On the other hand, limiting the speech of a
contributor was deemed constitutional. In this decision, the court
frustrated the intent of Congress. We wanted to limit both.
From the beginning, candidates have had to raise money, qualify and
run. It was the candidate's character and policy that attracted
contributions -- the more contributions the merrier. But people resented
the rich buying elections, either as candidates or contributors. What
the court did in 1976 was to give the rich, who don't have to raise
money, a big advantage -- in effect, a greater degree of freedom of
speech than others have. No one can imagine that in drafting the First
Amendment to the Constitution, James Madison thought freedom of speech
would be measured by wealth. The Supreme Court, which has found
constitutional other limits on speech, has rendered Madison's freedom
unequal. Congress must make it equal again.
In efforts to correct the distortions caused by Buckley v. Valeo ,
Congress and the court have for years engaged in various contortions,
without much success. What is needed is a simple one-line amendment to
the Constitution. It would authorize Congress to regulate or control
spending in federal elections.
Since five of the last six amendments to the Constitution deal with
elections, this shouldn't be all that difficult to achieve. I introduced
such an amendment with bipartisan support 20 years ago and got a
majority vote but not the two-thirds vote needed for a joint resolution.
There's no question as to its favor with the people: The states have
demanded that we apply it to their elections as well.
With a limit on election spending, senators could do their jobs again.
They could go back to working for the country instead of for their
Recently the cancer of money has metastasized. The Jack Abramoff scandal
has revealed the poisoning of our democracy. The K Street lobbyists have
become a cottage industry. A legislator who seeks money will do well to
take onto his or her staff someone a lobbyist recommends. The staffer
then arranges the industry fundraisers. And K Street tells you outright
that if you don't have a Republican lobbyist, your legislation is not
The lobbyists don't bother with the senator; they take the staff to
lunch. Legislation is not drafted in the Senate but in the law offices.
Staffs are queried to make sure the senator is favorably disposed and
once there are enough senators so inclined, the measure moves to the
party leadership's staff. The next thing you know, the measure is a
party position and becomes "must" legislation. Sometimes a senator is
on the way to the floor to vote on it, asking his staff, "What's this
all about?" and the staff replies, "You're for this, vote 'aye,' or
you're against this, vote 'nay.' "
The money crowd has the money, and representatives and senators need the
money. But no one wants to touch the reason for the ethical misconduct.
Excise the cancer of money, and most of the misconduct will disappear.
The writer is a former Democratic senator from South Carolina.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company