Nolan details congressional dysfunction in Boston Globe

Rick Nolan, from my MN-8 interview series last year.

Northern Minnesota congressman Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) was profiled this weekend in the Boston Globe. As we’ve covered here, Nolan is in the unique position as a guy who was in Congress 30 years ago, left, and then came back. He’s shared specific details about the institution’s obvious partisan dysfunction since arriving last winter.

The Globe‘s Matt Viser picks up on this:

Nolan compares himself to an uncle who notices that his nephew has changed significantly in the years since the last visit, identifying things a parent might miss.

Nolan began talking about one aspect of the change in Congress almost immediately upon arriving, and it should be a source of bipartisan outrage:

One of the biggest differences, Nolan says, is the money. During his last campaign, in 1978, he and his opponent combined spent about $255,000, or around $900,000 when adjusted for inflation, according to Federal Election Commission records. There were no outside groups involved in running ads.

The 2012 campaign could not have been more different. Nearly $13 million was spent on the race, only about one-fourth of which was spent by Nolan and Chip Cravaack, the Republican incumbent. The rest of the money came from well-funded outside groups. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its Republican counterpart each put in about $2 million. A conservative group, the American Action Network, poured about $1.7 million into the district, while a liberal group, House Majority PAC, put in $1.5 million.

Almost immediately after new members got into office, Nolan says, the DCCC began coaching them on fund-raising. A schedule from that session showed that they should spend four hours each day asking for money – more time than any other activity and more than twice the amount of time they should be spending debating issues on the House floor or hammering out legislation in committees.

Nolan says he understood the impulse — the candidate with the most amount of money typically wins — but he was taken aback. He says he’s been reprimanded by Democratic leadership for not raising enough money. He says he has not set foot in a call center that the DCCC set up near Congress, where cubicles are lined up so that congressmen can come in and dial their donors without using congressional resources.

“It helps dictate the ultimate decisions around here. We have a saying out in the country, ‘Who pays the fiddler gets to pick the tune,’ ” Nolan says. “Not only does it take away time from governance, but it has an equally adverse tendency to corrupt and pervert the public policy process.”

Nolan says he holds around one fund-raiser each week, but still has no plans to use the DCCC’s call center.

“I find it distasteful,” he says.

The Republicans certainly have a similar operation, which means all of Congress is spending half of every work day raising money to keep their jobs. Most of them do. Nevertheless, billions of additional dollars are raised and spent by powerful, nebulous outside groups trying to influence the few swing districts where control of Congress is determined. By any definition, this is an insane recipe for disaster. And while that might be old news, Nolan’s description of these changes is an important reminder that we really ought to do something about this.

Oh, we don’t have to. But it would seem nothing gets better until we do.

Check out the full story in the Boston Globe.

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