Dismantling the country's overblown campaign finance system is a cornerstone of Bernie Sanders' platform, and for good reason. A lot of money flows through Washington, but not for the reasons you think. On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver unravels congressional fundraising and how much time elected leaders spend to keep themselves in power.
Politicians have long complained how much they hate raising money, but it sure doesn't seem like it based on how much cash is flowing through Washington. For the 2014 election, the Federal Election Commission found that House and Senate candidates raised $1.7 billion, "more than it costs to buy 230 million tubes of hemorrhoidal cooling gel and it's somehow even more upsetting."
Oliver points to reports that say members are estimated to spend anywhere from a quarter to half of their time in elected office fundraising for dough — and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle once speculated it's as much as two-thirds. In the years and months leading up to an election year, you can bet they're amping up their reach-outs. And these politicos have gotten creative. They might be at Johnny's Half Shell in Washington, which hosted 948 fundraisers in the last decade, or at a Taylor Swift concert, hoping you to write a sizable figure on the "blank space" of your check.
A 2014 BuzzFeed report found that Democrats in from 2013 to 2014 had dues goals that ranged from $125,000 to $800,000 each. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised a staggering $31 million herself, blasting past her personal $800,000 target. With those kinds of goals, "Is it any wonder that politicians are hitting up their customer base harder than a Girl Scout with gambling debts?" Oliver asks. "'Oh, two, two boxes of Samoas? No, no, fuck that, fuck that. Four boxes, four boxes, or I walk.'"
It's no secret that the political finance system is fucked up — just look at how Citizens United birthed the Super PAC — but when this country's most powerful leaders are primarily hitting up this country's richest people for donations, you've got to wonder where exactly their interests will lie when it's voting time. I'm betting a lot of them are with whoever's got the deepest pockets.
Enter a very Oliver-esque sit-down with New York Rep. Steve Israel, who was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2010-2014 as well as once hosted his own Long Island Wine and Cigar Tasting fundraiser. Every time you hear someone say "I'm sick of fundraising," feel free to take a long sip from your Long Island Wine bag of chardonnay.
Check out the full Last Week Tonight segment and interview below and see if you really knew how much those donation checks mattered.
Images: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver/HBO