Senator By Day, Telemarketer By Night | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Senator By Day, Telemarketer By Night

Play associated audio

This is the first story in a Planet Money series on money in politics. We'll have more this afternoon on All Things Considered, and this weekend on This American Life.

We think of lawmakers having one job: making laws. But there's a second job most lawmakers have to do. And it's a big job.

"I think most Americans would be shocked — not surprised, but shocked — if they knew how much time a United States senator spends raising money," says Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. "And how much time we spend talking about raising money, and thinking about raising money, and planning to raise money."

And this second job — the raising-money job — doesn't happen in the nice congressional offices, with the rugs on the floor and landscape paintings on the wall. That would be against the rules.

So senators and congressmen go across the street to private rooms in nongovernmental buildings, where they make call after call, asking people for money.

In other words, most of our lawmakers are moonlighting as telemarketers.

"If you walked in there, you would say, 'Boy, this is the about the worst looking, most abusive looking call center situation I've seen in my life,'" says Rep. Peter Defazio, a Democrat from Oregon. "These people don't have any workspace, the other person is virtually touching them."

There are stacks of names in front of each lawmaker. They go through the list, making calls and asking people for money.

The fundraising never stops, because everyone needs money to run for re-election. In the House, the candidate with more money wins in 9 out of 10 races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. In the Senate, it's 8 out of 10.

It's not uncommon for congressmen to average three or four hours moonlighting as telemarketers. One lawmaker told me if it was the end of the quarter and he really needed to make his numbers, he'd be there all day long.

There's not always time to do both jobs. And often, the fundraising wins out over the lawmaking.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Oct. 20

You can see a rock musical about a family dealing with mental illness. A local nonprofit celebrates its 20th anniversary with an artsy party.
NPR

Chef Ottolenghi Makes The Case For 'Plenty More' Vegetables

Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi talks with Rachel Martin about the difference between supermarket hummus and Middle Eastern hummus and why he doesn't like to call his cookbooks "vegetarian."
NPR

Turf Shifts In Culture Wars As Support For Gay Marriage Rises

Campaigning against gay marriage used to help Republicans win elections — but now GOP candidates in tight races are backing away from mentioning social issues on the stump.
NPR

Will Apple's Mobile Wallet Replace Your Leather Wallet?

Many have tried and failed with this kind of payment option before. But Apple's launch is bigger, with more financial institutions' support, and consumers may be more security-conscious.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.