A Candidate’s Rude Awakening
Interviewing candidates who wanted to run for political office was always interesting and many times humorous. Part of my job as a Republican Central Committee chairman in Baltimore County was to do just that, including interviewing those who were interested in running for one of the five congressional seats which sliced through my county.
Each prospective candidate was interesting and unique; most, however, were appalled by the cost and complexity of running for office. Typically the interview would start off with the prospective candidate enthusiastically telling me their views and hot button issues. Next would follow a story or two about how friends, family, co-workers, or whoever thought they would make a great representative of the people.
The fatal mistake was always when the interviewee asked me to tell them about the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. Sadly I would then burst their bubble with a huge dose of real world politics.
My first question was always: "What is your plan to raise $250,000, or more, in campaign contributions; which is the amount needed to be competitive in a congressional district?" Nine out of 10 times a blank stare would be returned. Most of the time a short chat about fundraising ideas would happen...but only once did I receive a logical astute realistic answer.
Interestingly, none of the prospective candidates actually realized the cost. None realized that members of Congress continually fundraise and campaign due to their two-year election cycles. None had put together the idea that money is communication, and communication is how you get your message to three-quarters of a million potential voters in your district.
Several of the prospective candidates over my seven-year period as chairman were excellent. They would have made wonderful conservative representatives of the citizens of Baltimore County and beyond, but most didn't even pursue the dream...because it is a rich man's game.
This past week the second quarter campaign finance reports were released by the Federal Election Commission and once again the world got a glimpse at congressional fundraising, a blatant and continual gathering of cash to line the coffers of re-election.
Our Maryland champion, on the House side, this quarter was U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes with $383,686, or $4,263 per day in fundraising – a feverous pitch for a man who resides in what is considered by all a "safe" political district, for a Democrat member of Congress. His fear must be redistricting sending him a competitor from within his party. Who knows?
Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Harris is also working at record breaking speed with $414,461 in the bank to date. He, however, has a different motivation living in a targeted district. Every Democrat with a pencil is gunning to re-district Congressman Harris back to work at Johns Hopkins and out of the halls of Congress. It will take huge money to fight off the opposing party invaders, and he knows it.
Our two entrenched incumbents who win the prize in the House delegation are Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Steny Hoyer with $1,725,862 and $996,921 in the bank, respectively. They are protecting their leadership positions needing a little extra cash to spread some "love" among other members of Congress across the nation. Buying "love" with your donations and receiving favors in return... after all it is why they are leaders.
The practical matter of campaigning for Congress (or any office) is it cost money to communicate with potential voters. Even if you were to mail one piece of literature for voters to read about you, the cost is at least 45 cents – printing, stuffing, folding and postage – even on a discounted basis for massive volume.
Mass media is also very expensive, plus with congressional districts overlapping in the more populated areas there is often times confusion as to who represents whom. Websites cost money to design, maintain and function correctly in information gathering. None of the above costs take into consideration the pure partisan demographics which ultimately decide the race anyway.
It's a shame that some of the potential candidates from my years as a committee chairman didn't have the cash to communicate their issues. Even more of a pity is that we have evolved into a system where only the well-healed, connected, or personally wealthy, can get elected to be our representatives.
Citizens, if they cared, would look past the voice of partisan politics and look at the effect on our pocketbooks of those votes cast in Washington. When elected officials are forced to maintain accounts in excess of $250,000 and spend half their time fighting for re-election, money soon becomes no object and voting patterns reflect that lifestyle.
Senator Ben Cardin's office announced earlier this week that he would be reporting over $1 million raised this quarter. Now that's a lot of money in just 90 days. Hope he spends a few cents to send me a letter asking for my vote!