Dialing for dollars


Congress comes back to DC this week after its August recess, which was packed with overseas travel, some constituent meetings and lots of hours spent “dialing for dollars.” The first two tasks are self explanatory. The third might need a bit of “splaining.” It goes like this: Many senior members of Congress and Leadership types are expected to spend a certain number of hours a week dialing the phone to ask their friends, want-to-be-friends and industry and labor leaders for campaign contributions. They talk about the agenda they have pushed or stopped on their behalf and assure them of more of the same, as long as the campaign donations continue to flow.

The Speaker of the House was dialing for dollars over the recess too, but her sway on the phone was a bit different. She was able to ask for donations in exchange for a possible House floor vote on a particular issue that might be helpful to the potential donor. If this sounds a bit like something taken from former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s playbook, you might be right. However, in the world of Washington fundraising, this isn’t selling a House vote for campaign contributions. This is a common practice.

Outside the beltway, this is looked upon as a bit suspect and clearly something that wouldn’t pass the ethics smell test. However, inside the beltway, this practice is not unusual. Asking contributors what they would like to see Congress do in exchange for their donations might be called “focus-grouping,” if that were a legitimate verb. However, this focus-grouping is the crème de la crème of focus-grouping, the likes of which even Frank Luntz hasn’t seen.  It is also said to be a quite lucrative fundraising tactic.

So how much do you want to bet that Congress will have a message vote or two during this brief September session of Congress?  While these votes will likely not be attached to any legislation that is expected to be signed into law, you can bet they will be the result of the dialing for dollars exercise that occurred during the recess. It will be interesting to see the results of the ultimate focus group, the American electorate. Stay tuned to see if the American electorate agrees with Nancy Pelosi’s focus group when the votes are tallied after the November elections.

Elizabeth Letchworth is the Owner-Founder of GradeGov.com, four times elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority/Minority, U. S. Senate-retired, presently senior legislative advisor at Covington & Burling, LLC.

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