Rep. Nolan: ‘The future of democracy’ depends on stopping ‘dialing for dollars’

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., speaks at an event at the National Press Club. (Photo credit: Libby Watson/Sunlight Foundation)

At the National Press Club Monday morning, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., had a dire warning: “The future of our democracy depends on passage” of legislation to prevent members of Congress from soliciting campaign contributions.

The Stop Act, introduced by Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., currently has eight co-sponsors, five Republicans and three Democrats. The bill would “prohibit individuals holding Federal office from directly soliciting contributions to or on behalf of any political committee.” It’s intended to allow members of Congress to focus on lawmaking rather than raising money. Jolly was interviewed in a recent 60 Minutes segment, featuring footage from a hidden camera in the National Republican Congressional Committee building, in which he claimed he was told to raise as much as $18,000 a day.

Despite the ominous warning, Nolan was optimistic that there would be “growing support” for this bill and was “convinced” that it would pass. Jolly said that his colleagues were “begging for some breathing room” to allow them to work on their policy priorities, and described the fact that lawmakers dedicate so much time to fundraising rather than lawmaking as “the great scandal of our time.”

Both Nolan and Jolly expressed frustration with the broader campaign finance system, too, including the role of super PACs. Nolan, who supports Bernie Sanders for president, said he attributed Congress’ lack of action on a number of issues, from immigration reform to tax reform,  to the current state of our campaign finance system.

Jolly said he would be “happy to work on broad-based campaign finance reform” alongside the Stop Act. He claimed he hadn’t personally seen the growth of money in politics have an impact on “setting the agenda,” but did acknowledge the influence of “the scorecard community” — groups like the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation, who grade candidates based on their positions, which can dramatically impact a member of Congress’ votes or positions on an issue.

Jolly also noted that “if we’re not already in the cycle where a candidate committee means very little, we’re quickly going to get there,” pointing to the amount of money raised by Jeb Bush’s super PAC as opposed to his campaign committee.