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John Oliver takes a deep, terrifying look at the role of money in Congress

What do members of Congress spend most of their day doing? It's not necessarily making laws, research, committee work, or talking to everyday constituents. Instead, as much as two-thirds of their time — and typically about 25 to 50 percent — goes to congressional fundraising.

In a long, revealing segment on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver detailed the arduous process of fundraising in Congress, explaining how we got to a point where candidates for the House and Senate raised $1.7 billion in the 2014 election cycle.

Why is this such a problem? Sen. Chris Murphy explained, in a video played by Oliver: "For a Senate race, I'm not calling anybody who doesn't have the chance of giving me at least $1,000. … So you got to imagine that the people I'm calling are folks that are making half a million to a million dollars, and they have fundamentally different problems than everybody else."

"That is a huge problem," Oliver said, "because it cannot help but affect the way 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."

Yet it's what members of Congress spend a lot of their day doing, whether it's by making phone calls in cubicles maintained by their political parties or hosting breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and other events — all in one day. One member of Congress even leveraged her 30th wedding anniversary to solicit contributions.

"A 30th wedding anniversary should not be about raising political capital," Oliver said. He joked, "It should be about eating a largely silent dinner, killing two bottles of wine, forgetting to have sex, and falling asleep to a Friends rerun. Honor the anniversary, and do it right!"

But what's perhaps most surprising is the people who appear to dislike all of this the most are the members of Congress themselves. As part of the segment, Rep. Steve Israel told Oliver in an interview that congressional fundraising is "a form of torture" that ultimately hurts the American people by robbing them of a voice. (Israel announced his retirement earlier this year, telling the New York Times, "I don't think I can spend another day in another call room making another call begging for money. I always knew the system was dysfunctional. Now it is beyond broken.")

"While both sides agree they hate this," Oliver said, "neither wants to unilaterally back down first." So the system stays in place, and many members of Congress continue to spend a bulk of their day trying to get money from rich people instead of lawmaking for everyone else.


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