WASHINGTON (AP) – Florida Rep. David Jolly promises not to ask for money.
The Republican, who is running in one of the year’s most competitive – and expensive – Senate races, says that as of this month he personally has sworn off fundraising. He’s leaving that duty to his professional campaign fundraisers, vowing not to spend a single second of his own time wooing donors.
The unusual proclamation is born out of frustration, he says. For two years, he has seen firsthand how the chore of buck-raking has overtaken the business of legislating.
“You come to Washington thinking you can change the system, and then all of a sudden you get hijacked by the system,” said Jolly, who was elected to the House two years ago.
In effect, Jolly is adopting the playbook of popular presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – hoping to tap voter anger about money in politics even if it means handicapping his own fundraising potential.
Trump, a billionaire who can afford to finance his own Republican presidential bid, has called political fundraising a “broken system.” Sanders, meanwhile, has made getting big money out of politics a platform of his Democratic campaign. Both have won plaudits from voters who see them as speaking the truth.
There are signs that tactic is trickling down the ballot, with talk in Congress of a “campaign finance caucus” that can devote time to the issue. The federal lawmakers speaking out against money in politics sound a bit self-loathing as they do so.
Earlier this month, New York Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat, wrote in a New York Times column that his upcoming retirement makes him feel “liberated from a fundraising regime that’s never been more dangerous to our democracy.” By his calculation, he’d spent more than 4,200 hours on it over a decade and a half.
Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Md., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., share almost no policy objectives – save for campaign finance reform. They’d both like to see congressional races funded by taxpayer rather than donor money, and their legislative proposal to achieve that goal has gone precisely nowhere in its years of existence.
“I’m trying to be part of the solution, but I tell people all of the time, `I’m part of the problem,’ ” Jones said.
Jones said Trump and Sanders have correctly identified money in politics as an issue that resonates with voters. “The frustration is deep,” he said. “Most people understand that money does drive Washington. It’s getting worse.”
Jolly’s self-imposed personal fundraising ban comes as he faces a competitive Republican primary in August and, if he succeeds, a tough general election fight in November for the open Senate seat now held by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio.
He described how his plan would work in an interview with The Associated Press. He won’t make phone calls to donors, sign his name to any fundraising requests or hold meetings to ask for money – all things that typically define a good portion of a candidate’s day.
What’s more, he’s not fundraising for anyone else, including the Republican Party, which helped elect him to office in the first place.
Leo Govoni, the finance co-chairman of Jolly’s Senate campaign, said that although the candidate’s decision to take himself out of fundraising makes his own job tougher, it’s worth it.
“David gets it that people are fed up with lawmakers raising money instead of working,” Govoni said. “It takes courage to buck the system, and I think that will resonate with voters. I personally think this could be a movement.”
On Tuesday, Jolly plans to introduce a bill that would make his voluntary abstention the law of the land for all members of Congress. He’s hopeful, but not optimistic, that it’ll catch on.
It’s based loosely on bans that many states have on state legislators and judges raising money while they’re working.
“We have a part-time Congress in a full-time world,” he said. And that’s because of fundraising.
A few years ago, a PowerPoint presentation to incoming lawmakers by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommended that they devote four hours every day to calling for donations. Another hour, the party group said, should be spent on “strategic outreach,” such as meeting potential donors.
Things are about as bleak on the Republican side, Jones and Jolly said.
But Jolly said he owes his congressional seat to the Republican Party and outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They spent millions – as did the Democratic Party and their outside groups – in a hard-fought 2014 battle.
When he arrived in Congress, he felt a debt of gratitude, and though he was surprised by the amount of time he was asked to raise money for his future elections and the party, he didn’t much care for it.
“There’s a quiet anger that develops when you are continually being told to do something you don’t want to do,” he said.