Thursday, November 18, 2004

Hollings: Money Is a Cancer on the Body Politic

The U.S. Senate is not the most democratic institution in our system of government. With its six-year terms, antidemocratic filibuster, and disproportionate representation, the Senate and its members have a rap for being elitist, aloof, and insensitive to the needs and problems of everyday working Americans.

Retiring Senator Fritz Hollings is an exception to this perception, at least on the issue of money in politics. For years now, Hollings has decried the pervasive negative influence of big money in politics, and advocated spending limits as one solution to the problem, often in stark contrast to other Senators. Along with Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Hollings has consistently sponsored a federal constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo decision and allow for mandatory limits on campaign spending. His efforts have at times found support from a majority of senators, but not yet the needed two-thirds vote.

He will be missed.

An excerpt from his farewell address to the Senate:

"But the main culprit, the cancer on the body politic, is money: Money, money, money. When I ran 6 years ago, in 1998, I raised $8.5 million. That $8.5 million is $30,000 a week, every week, for 6 years. If you miss Christmas week, you miss New Years week, you are $100,000 in the hole and don't you think we don't know it and we start to work harder at raising money.

As a result, the Senate doesn't work on Mondays and Fridays. We have longer holidays. The policy committee is adjourned and we go over to the campaign building because you can't call for money in the office. So we go over to the building and call for money and obviously we only can give attention to that. We don't have time for each other. We don't have time for constituents, except for the givers. Somebody ought to tell the truth about that.

Unless and until we excise this cancer, the Congress and Government is going to languish alone because it has to be done.

When I helped write the Federal Election Campaign Practices Act in 1973, we said each Senator would be limited to so much per registered voter. That meant that Strom Thurmond and I were limited to $637,000. Fast forward 25 years, add in inflation, and give me $2.5 million. Quadruple it, $2.5 million but not $8.5 or $10 million that you have to spend because all your time is on the campaign and not the country. I can tell you right now we are in real, real trouble.

I worked with John McCain and Russell Feingold on the McCain-Feingold. I worked with Senator Biden on public finance. What really needs to be done, and I tried 20 years ago, is to put in a constitutional amendment that Congress is hereby empowered to regulate or control spending in Federal elections. Then we can go back to the 1973 act: So much per registered voter. When you are limited to $2.5 million, you have limited the campaign. You have limited the time of the campaign; you have limited the expenditures of the campaign. Then you have time for constituents. Then you have time for problems.

When I came here, Mike Mansfield would have a vote at 9 o'clock just about every Monday morning and we would work to Friday at 5 o'clock. We all stayed here on the weekends and we didn't have all of these long holidays we have now.

But if you want to limit campaigning and if you want to change -- as Abe Lincoln said -- disenthrall ourselves of the dogmas of the quiet past that are inadequate for the stormy present of money grubbing, then we have to think anew and act anew. We need to disenthrall ourselves from this money grubbing and go to work finally for the country instead of the campaign.

That is our situation. I have watched it. I have studied it. I have seen it. They don’t have me going to meetings. They have me going to the telephone and calling and calling, traveling all over the country for money. Money is a cancer on the body politic."

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