From servants to candidates

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator


SEPT. 18, 2014 -- People are always confronting me saying: "Nothing gets done in Washington anymore. What has happened?" Responding, I tell how Republicans and Democrats partied together; visited in each other's homes; and I never had better friends than Republicans Bill Saxby of Ohio and Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Leader Mansfield had a rule requiring that every trip overseas be bipartisan. No Senator would ever visit another Senator's state without checking with the Senator that it was ok. In the Nixon campaign for President in 1968, Maurice Stans, the Finance Chairman, operated on a "cash and carry" basis. Horrified, Republicans and Democrats in Congress limited spending in elections in 1971 and 1973 for fear that the office had to be bought. President Nixon signed the law but the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo set the law aside, finding that limiting spending in elections was free speech in violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. Senator's took issue: hiring a campaign manager; renting a campaign headquarters; having a poll taken; traveling by car or plane is all spending - not free speech. Tell the telephone company or the TV station that your time on the phone or TV is free - boloney!

Congress has tried for 30 years to correct the Supreme Courts mistake; first with McCain-Feingold; then public financing -- each time the court reversed. In 1988, I tried to amend the Constitution: "Empowering the Congress to limit spending in federal elections." The Governor's Conference called and I added "state elections." The Joint Resolution got a bipartisan majority vote but not the two thirds required.

Then in the late 80's and early 90's, Senators started raising money against each other. Republican and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committees took over the fundraising and partisanship set in. When the Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell filibustered every Democratic initiative so Democrats couldn't get a vote, the Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid countered by filling up any bill called for consideration with amendments so Republicans couldn't get a vote on their issues. Gridlock!

Today Congress enjoys the gridlock; enjoys not getting anything done; enjoys not voting. Voting gets the senator in trouble or at least a senator up for reelection. The majority and minority leaders protect these senators by not calling the measure for a vote or filibustering it. Hence, we have no votes on gun control, immigration, climate change, etc. Even the budget is sent to the White House for a total amount with the President filling in certain amounts not agreed to. That way, the President takes the blame and the senator doesn't have to explain his vote.

In 1973 when Congress limited spending, Strom Thurmond and I were limited to so much per registered voter or about $687,000. In 1998, my seventh time to be elected to the Senate, we raised and spent $8.5 million. Today a contested race in South Carolina for the U.S. Senate would take at least $12-$15 million. This is outrageous. At best, we ought to be limiting spending in South Carolina to $5 or $6 million.

The Campaign Committees in Washington check to see that the candidate is electable or has at least raised half of the amount required. They will come in and help raise the other half. But this puts the Senator constantly fundraising morning, noon and night. It's easily accomplished because of the 10,000 lobbyists in Washington and the Senator has five offices at home. There are fundraising breaks every month and even policy meetings have been cancelled on Thursdays so that the Senator can go to party headquarters for two hours and call for money. The New Yorker (8/25/15, pg 24) tells: "Last year, the Democratic National Campaign Committee advised freshman members of Congress to spend four hours on the phone each day raising money." Ridiculous!

Senators have their mind on getting reelected, not taking care of the country. They've morphed from public servants to candidates for reelection; constantly fundraising for this is the best way to get reelected.

Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2014, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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