HBO's John Oliver took a break from making fun of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and instead tackled the insanity surrounding congressional fundraising in the latest episode of Last Week Tonight. The 21 minute-long segment pointed out that lawmakers only begin to focus on the needs of constituents after they have reached their fundraising goals.
Oliver began the segment by delivering this statistic: during the 2014 election, congressional candidates for the House and Senate raised an estimated $1.7bn (£770.5m). According to Newsweek, the Sunlight Foundation estimates that members of Congress held over 2,800 fundraisers during that same period.
The late night TV host then played a clip of members of Congress complaining about how much they hate raising funds. Towards the end of the clip, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is seen telling a crowd that it is "an embarrassment" for members of Congress to have to fundraise.
Oliver pointed to a 2011 report by The Hill that estimated that between 25% and 50% of lawmakers' time is spent fundraising. In 2014, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle noted that in the two years leading up to an election, lawmakers can spend around two-thirds of their time soliciting donations.
"In fact, fundraisers are such an integral part of DC's economy some restaurants derive a decent chunk of their income just from hosting them," Oliver said. Highlighting information from the Sunlight Foundation, Oliver noted that some politicians go as far as using personal milestones to fundraise. Republican Representative Andy Barr, for example, used his 41st birthday to fundraise and charged a minimum of $500 per person.
But why are members of Congress spending so much time fundraising? If the politicians are not raising funds for their own re-election campaigns, they are doing so to pay party dues. A leaked PowerPoint presentation from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) revealed that ideally lawmakers will spend four hours soliciting donations over the phone. While a BuzzFeed report showed that dues among Democrats can range from as low as $125,000 to $800,000.
Oliver noted that in 2014 retiring New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy divulged how she was pulled from her first hearing to make fundraising calls.
It is important to note that federal law prohibits members of Congress from soliciting donations or receiving them from their own offices. Therefore, each party has a call centre in its headquarters where lawmakers can make these all important calls. These call centres, which have not been photographed, allegedly have cubicles and headsets that lawmakers can use. Oliver included a clip which also alleged the call centres had "minders" who would make sure lawmakers did not take too much time on each call.
The late night show host pointed out that politicians are typically calling individuals who can make donations of $1,000 or more. "And that's a huge problem," Oliver said. "Because it cannot help but affect the way you see the world."
While members of both parties appear to agree that they hate fundraising, neither side will unilaterally stop the practice.