The seafood fork is to the right of the checkbook.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Fundraising-Free February?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Florida Democrat Ted Deutch has a challenge for his colleagues in the House of Representatives: “Fundraising Free February.”

In February, Republicans and Democrats come back from their respective retreats enthusiastic about getting things done. If there is any common ground for us to find, we have a far better chance of finding it if we spent a bit more time talking to each other and a bit less talking to donors. I invite all Members to join me for Fundraising Free February - a simple pledge that for the shortest month of the year, we put the permanent campaign on hold when we are in Washington and Congress is in session. We will use that time instead to get to know each other better, build bipartisan relationships, and do the work we were elected to do.

I love this idea. It isn't because I think campaign money is corrupting. I don't. Nor do I think the House would suddenly become a bipartisan paradise if only members got to know one another better.

But it's time for a revolt of the politicians against the parties, the campaign professionals and others who have encouraged them to act as if the whole point of winning election to Congress is to get to run for re-election.

We’re hearing too many horror stories about how much time House members are “expected” to spend raising money. The truth is legislators don’t have to do as much fundraising as they are “supposed” to.

House majority leader Eric Cantor didn’t lose to his Republican primary challenger because he didn’t have enough money to spend. Generally, incumbent spending has significant diminishing returns, the research shows, so after a certain point, the rest of campaign spending is likely wasted.

So why do they "have" to do it? The party campaign committees, entirely dedicated to winning House and Senate seats, don’t care if those phone calls are only slightly effective. Campaign consultants and staffers also have professional incentives to win regardless of whether the winners have time to do anything else but keep campaigning.

And it wouldn't be too surprising if Congressional leaders were happy to have their rank and file busy dialing for dollars. After all, the leadership is strengthened when the rest of the caucus merely shows up for votes and leaves everything else to the leaders.

All this makes for a much less functional Congress. A strength of the American system is that individual members of Congress can make a difference. They can't legislate (or perform executive-branch oversight) if they fill their Washington schedules with donor calls and receptions.

It’s about time some of them started fighting back. So let's hope Deutch's gimmick starts a real House revolution.    

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