By Daniel Diorio
Anyone who wants to run for office—whether local, state or federal—will probably have to spend a significant amount of time fundraising. And it seems as if the fundraising never stops.
So how do legislators today balance their roles as policymakers with the need to accept—and occasionally decline—campaign donations? And then there is the issue of complying with a complex web of campaign finance disclosure requirements and ethics laws. Also, the question arises of whether fundraising influences the legislative process.
NCSL gathered four legislators, two Republicans and two Democrats, at the NCSL Capitol Forum last week to discuss how they approach their dual roles as lawmakers and candidates. Here’s what they had to say:
“The political reality is that to get re-elected we have to raise money,” said Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-Md.). “The tough part of this is the perception that all politicians are sleazy. It’s a reality we have to address but we can all take responsibility for the perception and keep our profession in a good light. I believe in getting a little bit of money from a whole lot of people.”
“There are fewer people to solicit from in the small districts in North Dakota,” according to Senator Judy Lee (R-N.D.). “I don’t support anything until I’ve heard from both sides. You have to separate the issue from the individual that gave you the donation and you do not have to pay to talk to your legislator.”
Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) described how recent events have influenced legislators in the Ocean State: “Our former speaker of the house is in prison for corruption and bribery. We made some changes to increase campaign finance disclosure and tighten ethics laws. Our ethics commission is like a fourth branch of government. We’ve tried to make this a much more open process.”
“Pay to play doesn’t work,” said NCSL President Senator Curt Bramble (R-Utah). “If you do your job and do it effectively, people will support you and will be willing to contribute. I probably raise more money than any other legislator in Utah, but I’ve never held a fundraiser. Don’t fundraise for the wrong reasons and focus on the wrong things. Money doesn’t buy influence—some of my strongest allies understand that.”
Daniel Diorio is a policy specialist in NCSL's elections program.