Monday, October 30, 2006
Congressional power built on cash
Two things never fail to amaze me about the goings on in our nation's capital. First, the goings on themselves: Outlandish spending, inefficient bureaucracies, corruption, scandal and plain old "scratch your head" decision-making.

But what really amazes me are the answers I get when I ask questions about all these goings on: "That's just the way it's done up here, " I'm told, or, "You don't really know how it works, do you?"

It's with this bewilderment that I took it upon myself to ask a simple question for tonight's "360": Why are so many virtually unopposed and truly unopposed congressmen and women raising so much money for their campaigns?

They certainly do not need it for campaigning. Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, is expected to cruise to reelection. In 2004, he got nearly 100 percent of the vote. This time around, his opponent, a radio DJ, has so little money he can barely get yard signs up. TV ads are out of the question.

And out in Las Vegas, Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, is likely a shoo-in too. Her opponent has raised about $80,000, most of it his own money. Meantime, Rep. Berkley has raised around $2 million and counting.

So why do they need the money? Because in the city where people say -- "You don't really know how it works, do you?" -- the answer is that the city works most of the time with money. These two representatives spread much of their wealth to fellow members of Congress who need it for tight elections. Rep. Price told me it's helping the Republican team.

Rep. Berkley was blunt: "There are major issues that impact my state and it's very important I have friends in Congress." She says that because her state is sparsely populated, she sends excess campaign money to representatives in other states to make sure Nevada's concerns are "heard" when the time comes for a vote.

Vote buying? No, she says, more like access buying. "That's just the way it's done up here," I guess.
Posted By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent: 11:10 AM ET
  29 Comments
I am a voter in the 6th disrict - a Republican who voted for Price in the last election. You should know, though Price has larger signs than Sinton - Sinton has two to one more in the district - and in the poorer areas too - not just the rich ones. I don't need a wealthy Congressman, I need one who listens to me and cares about my family. I am voting for Sinton this time - he knows the issues and supports Stem Cell Research. Price, a Doctor, voted against it 3 times. Know this, even in America, money does not guarantee an election. Do you remember the story of Harry Truman? I hope you eat crow on November 8. One last thing - the ONLY reason Price had almost 100% of the vote in the last election - he ran UPOPPOSED in the general election. This is an uninformed and misleading lead to your story tonight. I hope you give an honest report.
Posted By Anonymous Allison - Marietta, GA : 1:32 PM ET
Unopposed or shoo-in candidates give money to help the party's up-and-coming candidates because there's no law against it. Or, as Mr. Reid has demonstrated, they can just take the money use it for other purposes!
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 1:34 PM ET
Hye Drew, if you look at the nation's capital outlook, you get to realize that the major issues that impact the nation are not those that are being talked in congress. They certanly do not need it for campaining. In this sense, I would actually need a congrasional representative for my own county... Wouldn't that be great???
Posted By Anonymous David, Redwood City : 1:54 PM ET
We no doubt have the best government money can buy.
Posted By Anonymous Van P., Alpharetta, GA : 2:20 PM ET
It's a shame so much money is spent on promoting unopposed candidates when it could be spent on programs that actually help people. That would do more for society than electing a congress member who only works 100 days a year and still doesn't accomplish much for the country.
Posted By Anonymous Despina, Charlotte, NC : 2:22 PM ET
I guess that's politics for you, getting around the system to get things done. I'm surprised by the creative campaign fund raising that you described; makes me wonder what else the public doesn't know. I really don't mind it if ultimately whoever gets elected fulfills their promises. Thanks for the blog. I'll tune in to the show tonight. Take care.
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 2:38 PM ET
Well, political action commitee is another way of saying Politcally Achieved Cash.
Posted By Anonymous Rachel S. , Barrington, Ill. : 2:41 PM ET
Given the results of 109th Congress and the 'money scandals', the system has gotten so 'complicated' that it is only functioning to create an artifical economy of ignorance, greed, and incompetence. Oh, the Aide did it. Let's go play golf.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 2:57 PM ET
Hey, here's a scam- errr... idea ! I think I'll pretend to run for office, then just pocket the money!
Posted By Anonymous Steve , Peoria, Ill. : 2:57 PM ET
American style democracy is nothing more than rule by plutocrats. You can't have a democracy in a country larger than Switzerland. We should just stop kidding ourselves. If you want to be free, work to divide the country into a confederation of Republics.
Posted By Anonymous Duncan, Huntington, New York : 2:59 PM ET
Does anyone actually have the total sum of campaign contributions for the past 12 months? ...and I mean the TOTAL sum. I want to know how much money changed hands this year for the express purpose of electing or re-electing a candidate for public office.
Posted By Anonymous Kenn, Minneapolis, MN : 3:00 PM ET
Of course we have all heard the saying: Money talks. When did politics ever stray away from that policy? Our system makes it impossible for anyone who is not wealthy to have a voice in politics. Most Americans believe this as a simple truth of our "Democratic" system. Modern American politics are a disguised form of the feudal system. It will never, and it has never changed. You will all remember these words when Jeb Bush throws his hat in for the race in 2008.
Posted By Anonymous Kendall West Orange, NJ : 3:01 PM ET
Until we have some real campaign finance legislation passed, money will continue to rule Washington politics and corrupt our politicians.

Follow the money given by big pharmaceutical and oil companies and then look at how those politicians who received this money voted on important votes critical to both industries.

No matter what these people say, money buys votes.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 3:02 PM ET
What happened to the good old days when in America the everyday man had the chance to be in government? THis was one of the admired and envied features of American politics. This amount of money is sickening especially considering the current state of America. Millions of children are uninsured, millions live just below the poverty line, our public school system has been steadily declining and as a country we are indebted in the BILLIONS to other countries, including China and Saudia Arabia. There SHOULD be a law against this kind of corruption and law buying process. Kick all lobbyists out of Washington and create a maximum amount for campaigning. Give ALL candidates EQUAL t.v. time, newspaper space and public debating time. Washington is being run by millionaire egomaniacs who aren't content with sitting home but need to feel important by being in government. Again, I ask....how can a millionaire born into their money even begin to relate to the everyday man who wakes at 5AM to complete a 12hr workday but is still struggling to merely survive? Simply put....THEY CANNOT!!!
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills CA : 3:06 PM ET
In America there is no such thing as a "Free Lunch". An unopposed candidate will not disprove this simple economic principle. These politicians in question are simply paying their dues. Becoming an elected official is a great honor and it comes with great responsibility. It is almost like being a member of the most exclusive country club in the world. Somehow you have to pay for membership, but it is all worth the investment in the end. And for others who join after you, they must make a sacrifice as a condition of entry into this exclusive network. Personally, I believe that you get what you pay for. The more you pay for a politician, the more he/she will be able to get done. I want the Rolls-Royce of politicians, I can't settle for a Honda.
Posted By Anonymous Ken, Parsippany, NJ : 3:12 PM ET
This as with everything else has been created by us. We the American Public have extremely short memories, and beleive everything we here. For these reasons more money = more ads = a win. The more I hear a name and his/her half-truths, the more likely I'll be to vote for him or her.
It's quite an interesting phenomenon, much like an accident that you just can't help but gauk at.
Locally, we have a run away candidate that got into an accident in a State owned vehicle after having a few to many at a private function a few years ago. When I bring up the accident and the fact that it was a State owned vehicle (taxpayers expense), most do not even remember the headlines. (We really are pathetic, and deserve all we don't get)
Posted By Anonymous Renae, Appleton, WI : 3:14 PM ET
America's version of royalty, which is what federal elected officials really consider themselves, are so far removed from mainstream life that there is virtually no chance of us ever having an uncorrputed government by and for the people. This gang of spoiled rich kids sickens me every time I hear about it. Greed is business as usual in Washington, and the Republicans are not the only guilty ones.
We always hear about campaign finance reform. That's never going to happen since it would negatively affect the ones who are in power and they are the ones who would have to enact reform legislation. Who is coaught in the middle of this Catch-22? WHo do you think?
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson, Tucson AZ : 3:33 PM ET
It's so sad that only the ones that can afford to be rich--either personally or through heavy donations (thus, "favors")--can actually be elected.

Campaign finance reform is practically a four-letter word on the 'hill.
Posted By Anonymous Jake, Wheeling IL : 3:34 PM ET
The amount of money spent on political campaigns is quite appalling. It really bothers me that so much money is being used in negative ads to slander opponents using distortions and half truths. Something really need to be done about this.
Posted By Anonymous Cathy, Minneapolis, Minnesota : 3:59 PM ET
Politicians should be given the same amount of exposure. No fund raising not hard contributions and soft contributions just an equal amount of face time. Make your point or get out of the spotlight. TV networks could offer time slots throughout the election season and each candidate has a limited number of chances to make his or her argument and if they cant thats all the more reason not to vote for them.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Morgantown WV : 4:28 PM ET
Let's just vote ALL of the incumbents out of office, folks. Do not allow one to be re-elected. That will send a LOUD message to Washington that politics as usual is not going to work anymore. Anyone who votes for an incumbent deserves what they get, a Congress of do-nothings!
Posted By Anonymous Mari Fernandez, Salt Lake City, Utah : 5:12 PM ET
Will Rogers said "We have the best Congress money can buy." If he were alive today, he'd say those who vote aren't getting much for the money, but those paying it get whatever they want. Spread democracy in the Middle East? What about spreading some around North America?
Posted By Anonymous Gerald Miller, Muskogee, OK : 5:23 PM ET
For an online questionarre I took recently inquiring about my political views, I simply wrote "apathetic". Call me a pessimist, but I no longer see the distinction between democrats and republicans. To me they're all just...politicians.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan, Lynchburg, Va : 5:25 PM ET
I think "the way it's done" needs to change for both parties. In a time when our country is in debt all congress wants to do is raise money for itself.
Posted By Anonymous Whitney Blake, Wynne, Arkansas : 5:35 PM ET
The parties actually expect each elected representative and senator to raise money "for the party". The more they raise, the more likely they will be able to have an influencial position within the party ranks.

The pressure to raise money is a big part of the reason that congress works as little as they do. They don't have time to attend meetings and discuss the nation's problems and needs because they are literally required to court corporations and other wealthy friends for as much money as they can get.

And, for this money they "sell" their votes and influence.

The middle class is left out of the loop because we cannot afford to pay already wealthy politicians our hard-earned cash.
Posted By Anonymous Deb, Richmond VA : 6:38 PM ET
Drew: So if I understand you correctly, Rep. Berkley raised $2M to "buy" friends in Congress to make sure concerns are "heard" when it's time for a vote...and this is not vote buying but rather access buying...so that's "how it works" eh? If that isn't a play on words...it's totally clear to me???????
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 8:57 PM ET
I applaud blogger Chris fr. Morgantown WVa. -

that's a great idea; each candidate gets a set amount of air time to speak their peace, but NO ads. Think of all the other ways we could use that campaign money to improve our lives and our country ! No, wait - that idea makes too much sense.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 9:28 PM ET
That's their story, and their sticking to it, but I don't buy it.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Boulder, Colorado : 2:24 PM ET
I think it's time more Americans woke up to the fact there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats, but there is a difference among the candidates. Check their history of action/voting and then vote for the candidate of your choice, not the party.

Some people want such a turn around in the government, they will vote straight tickets no matter who did what.

I hope more people remember there are good, mostly reliabe candidates in both parties, give them a chance to work together. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Posted By Anonymous Elaine Suhre, Alhambra IL : 2:46 PM ET
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