Control of government

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator

MARCH 21, 2012 -- The Congress had a conscience in 1968. George Steinbrenner walked into my Senate office and said: "The Nixon campaign said I had to get $1 million for the campaign or I wouldn't get the money the government owes my company in Tampa. What do you think?" I answered "It doesn't sound right to me. Ask one of these senior Senators."


Hollings

Other senators had similar experiences, so in 1971 and 1973 we limited spending in campaigns so public office couldn't be bought. Strom Thurmond and I were limited to so much per registered voter-a total of $687,000. The Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo equated speech with money, reversing the law, and for 35 years Congresses have attempted in various ways to limit spending in campaigns. But on appeals, the Supreme Court gets worse and worse, recently giving corporations speech or unlimited spending in political campaigns.

Now public office is up for sale. The President, the Congress, Republicans and Democrats-Washington all enjoys it. Washington spends half its time fundraising. We used to hate filibusters. The cots would come out with many a sleepless night. Today in filibusters, one Senator on each side of the aisle holds the floor and the Senate goes to California to fundraise. The media goes to Burning Tree for a round of golf. It's a disgrace.

When I came to the Senate in 1966, six Republicans and six Democrats got together every Wednesday night. The designated wife arranged dinner, ties off, and we became friends-even giving a Senator from the other party a vote. No more. One morning my staff told me about a fundraiser for my opponent downtown: "All the Republicans on your Committee were there except for Senator Stevens."

"The people need to take back their government. Do it the way Congress did in 1973-pass a law limiting spending in campaigns, but first amend the Constitution to get by the Supreme Court. "

-- Hollings

I was surprised. I learned in World War II that if you looked out for your men, they would look out for you. As chairman of the Commerce Committee, if a Republican missed an important vote, I would put the vote again and let the Republican vote. When I heard all the Republicans except Stevens wanted to get rid of me, I wanted to get rid of them. Both sides are constantly raising money against each other. You help Democratic colleagues for five years and they help you when your time is up. You've got to be a horse's ass, not to fall in line and be partisan.

Today the people have lost control of their government to the lobbyists. Instead of Senators from opposite parties getting together once a week, lobbyists drink together every night. Everybody knows everybody's business. Each lobbyist knows the lobbyist who can persuade a certain senator. Important votes are fixed regardless of public sentiment. The special interests control.

The people need to take back their government. Do it the way Congress did in 1973 -- pass a law limiting spending in campaigns, but first amend the Constitution to get by the Supreme Court.

The amendment: "The Congress shall have the power to regulate or control contributions and spending in federal elections." James Madison never thought his freeing of speech would be limited, or speech taken away from the poor. Five of the last six amendments to the Constitution deal with elections. This is more important than any of the five.

As Senator, I introduced this amendment and received a bipartisan majority vote but not the two-thirds required for a Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution. The Governors' Conference called and asked that I add the states to my amendment. The states would easily ratify. This Constitutional amendment does not commit to any solution. It only authorizes a later Congress to determine the limits. The able senator from New Mexico Tom Udall has proposed this amendment but is having trouble getting it considered. Washington doesn't mind the office being for sale because they are in the best position to buy it. Pressure from the public would help.

To be elected the seventh time to the U.S. Senate in 1998, I had to raise and spend $8.5 million. This factors out to raising $30,000 a week, each week, every week for six years. Today it would take millions more. I used to go through the courthouse and fire stations campaigning. Now all I see is supporters at fundraisers.

Today the public servant never gets a feel for the public. When money is limited, the senator will know the public and have time to work for the country instead of the party. When money is limited, partisanship is limited and the office can't be bought. When money is limited, lobbyists are limited and the people regain control of their government.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2012, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

Today, Hollings continues to be influential in public affairs and offers this Web site as a compendium of current and past positions on public issues. Learn more about Fritz Hollings.

NEWS: Hollings receives French honor

France honored retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings on in 2013 by awarding him the Legion of Honor for his World War II service. More.

Receive commentary via The Huffington Post

Please visit Sen. Hollings' section of The Huffington Post where you can get an RSS of his columns, subscribe by email or use social media.

The Hollings legacy

Click here to learn more about Hollings' impressive and distinguished record of public service.

2014 commentaries

Previous commentaries

Read the new book

The University of South Carolina Press in 2008 published Making Government Work, a new book by Sen. Hollings. Learn more.