John Oliver on political fundraising
Political fundraising has been a big topic of the 2016 presidential campaign. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, to name two, have attacked their rivals over taking big donations from wealthy fundraisers. However, on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver set out to prove that congressional funding is somehow even more ridiculous than the more famous presidential equivalent. To prove this, Oliver pointed to testimony from present and former congressmen saying that sometimes they spend as much as two-thirds of their time fundraising.
“If two-thirds of the work you do is strictly about the money, you’re not a legislator; you’re Robert De Niro at that point,” Oliver quipped.
Oliver then looked at what political fundraisers actually entail. Hilariously, he found that many such events occurred at the same Washington, D.C., seafood restaurant, Johnny’s Half Shell. Johnny’s has hosted at least 948 political fundraisers over the last decade, meaning that every congressional representative has inevitably spent some time there. Other strange fundraisers included representatives’ wedding anniversary parties and even Taylor Swift concerts.
Aside from fundraisers, politicians also spend several hours a day on the phone with constituents, asking for donations. Oliver again found clips from congressmen detesting the practice.
“If you want to get money out of a bunch of jerks you’ve never heard of before, you shouldn’t have to call them on the phone when you could simply open a vape shop,” Oliver said.
More disturbing is the confession Oliver found from Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), saying that he only calls constituents who could conceivably donate “at least $1,000.” This inevitably ends up narrowing politicians’ priorities, as both Murphy and Oliver pointed out.
“It cannot help but affect how you see the world, if you’re only calling donors rich enough that their main concerns are estate taxes or which Belgian kimono their cat will wear that day,” Oliver said.
To get even more answers about fundraising, Oliver sat down with retiring Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY). Israel cited fundraising fatigue in his retirement announcement, so Oliver asked about his experience with it. Obviously, he immediately wanted to know about Johnny’s Half Shell.
“I know it well,” Israel said. “It’s like any restaurant in America. The difference is you have candidates and members of Congress and supporters who are contributing $1,000 for the privilege of eating some shellfish.”
Many of Israel’s fundraisers over the years involved Long Island wine, so Oliver drank some with the congressman to toast the end of his career. This didn’t stop Israel from soberly reflecting on the dreariness of fundraising, however.
“It is, in my view, a form of torture,” Israel said. “And the real victims of this torture have become the American people, because they believe they don’t have a voice in this system.”
Watch the full clip below.