So far, this is how Rep. Rick Nolan’s first week in Congress has gone: Get sworn-in on Thursday, take three votes on Friday, and then adjourn for a week.
In fact, the House is scheduled to be in session only six more days this month. Plus 11 days in February, for a grand total of 17 work days between now and the next “fiscal cliff” deadline on automatic ("sequester") spending cuts.
“We’re not working four or five days a week, like everybody else does in America,” said the Minnesota Democrat. “The fact is, Congress is not governing.”
Nolan, who served three terms in the 1970s, is often asked how Congress has changed over the intervening decades. On Monday, he told Minnesota reporters that the biggest difference is the reduced work schedule – and the amount of time lawmakers spend on the phone begging for campaign cash.
By Nolan’s estimate, the average “call time,” is about 30 hours a week. “The time that people are spending now raising money and campaigning is time Congress used to spend governing,” he said.
Nolan wants to fix this by introducing legislation limiting the time lawmakers can spend campaigning and increasing the transparency requirements around fundraising.
He also mentioned a constitutional amendment to “reverse Citizens United,” the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on political expenditures by corporations and unions (and led to a record $20 million getting pumped by both sides into his race against freshman Republican Chip Cravaack).
Reversing Citizens United has been high on the Democrats’ wish list for a while. But it’s a non-starter in the GOP-controlled House, which Nolan all but concedes.
Meanwhile, he promised, “I’m not going to spend 30 hours a week doing ‘call time,’ I’ll tell you that right now.”
But that doesn’t mean that Nolan is disarming financially. “This is no game,” he said. “It’s serious business, and you’ve got to abide by the rules of the business. You have to have enough money to get your message out… I have no doubt that if I did absolutely nothing, I’d be on the outside looking in.”
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Fresh off an appearance on the top-rated CBS news magazine "Sixty Minutes," Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota showed up at the National Press Club Monday to tout legislation that would prohibit members of Congress from making personal requests for political donations. Nolan was one of the first co-sponsors of the STOP Act introduced in Janurary by Republican Rep. David Jolly of Florida. The bill would outlaw personal fundraising calls by members of Congress. It languishes in committee with little chance of action in this presidential election year. But Jolly and Nolan told reporters gathered at the press club that it is necesary to stop the "scandal" of personal and party fundraising. Both poltiical parties pressure members of the House and Senate to spend time raising money when they should be serving their constituents. Nolan calls the practice "dialing for dollars" that "turns members of Congress into middle-level telemarketers." It takes place while Congress is in session supposedly doing the "people's work," Nolan said. Instead, most politicians feel obliged to spend 20 to 30 hours a week holed up in call centers away from the Capitol begging for cash. Jolly and Nolan acknowledged that outlawing personal soliciations will take time, possibly years, if it is successful at all. Still, they hope to start what they describe as a "movement" using websites, Twitter hashtags and media appearances like the one they made Monday to gain traction. "The way change occurs," said Nolan, "is by people stepping up and calling out what's wrong."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota spoke at the National Press Club Monday to tout legislation that would prohibit members of Congress from making personal requests for political donations.
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