Retiring GOP Congressman: Fundraising Is "The Main Business" of Congress

| Thu Aug. 8, 2013 10:02 AM EDT

On Tuesday, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 2002 and then switched to the GOP in 2004, announced he wouldn't run again. In an interview with the Norman News Star, Alexander said he'd done all he could do in Congress, and he looked forward to life beyond the gilded halls of Capitol Hill.

The most interesting part of Alexander's interview, though, was his description of how fundraising dominates the life of a member of Congress. Here's what he said:

But the time has come for someone else to advance that cause now. I made that decision when one stops aggressively raising money, well then people start to ask questions. And that's an unfortunate part of the business that we're in. But it's the main business, and it's 24 hours a day raising money. It's not fair. It's not fair for the member, not fair for constituency to have to be approached every day or two or week ore two about campaign contributions. So it's just a grueling business and I'm ready for another part of my life.

"Twenty-four hours a day" is hyperbole, of course, but it's nonetheless a eye-opening statement. In making these comments he joins a list of outgoing lawmakers who, freed from the burdens of fundraising, have embraced their inner Bulworth and vented about the exhausting fundraising hamster wheel. In January, after announcing his forthcoming retirement, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that Congress barely functions because members spend too much time buckraking. "The time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns, that you don't have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time," he said. "So in that way, fun, I don't know, there needs to be more time for senators to establish personal relationships than what we are able to do at this point in time."

Why is Congress fundraising so much? Because the cost of elections keeps rising. In 1986, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, it cost $753,274 to win a House race and $6.4 million to win a Senate race (in 2012 dollars). Last year, those figures were, respectively, $1.6 million and $10.3 million. And the cost to win is only climbing.

It takes a whole lot of phone calls, breakfasts at the Capitol Hill Club, skeet shootings, beer bashes, ski trips, and Star Wars-themed fundraisers to raise that much money. For Rep. Alexander, it was all too much.