April 20, 2014

Former congressman says gov’t shutdown should spark calls for campaign finance reform

Two Iowans who served a combined 66 years in the U.S. House of Representatives say they’re glad to be sitting on the sidelines these days. Ninety-three-year-old Neal Smith, a Democrat from Des Moines, served 36 years in the House, starting when Dwight Eisenhower was president.

“The people I served with, most of them wouldn’t be there today because they wouldn’t stay,” Smith said Friday during taping of an Iowa Public Television program. “…It’s just so different. When I was there we put coalitions together on every bill. We just expected to.”

Former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa City, said he never saw a time as “intense” as this during his 30 year career in the House.

“People didn’t think that dysfunctionality should be a goal or a strategy,” Leach said during the IPTV taping.

Leach was asked by a reporter if he’s happy not to be in congress right now.

“Oh gosh yes. I’m happy to be sitting next to Neal and we’re both happy to be free men.”

Leach and Smith are the guests on this weekend’s “Iowa Press” program which was broadcast Friday evening and will be rebroadcast Sunday at noon on Iowa Public Television. Both lawmakers were known for their low-budget campaigns. Leach refused to accept contributions from political action committees and Leach argued America has become “less democratic” because “power brokers” with deep pockets are calling the shots.

“I always considered myself a moderate in politics, but on one subject I’m terrifically radical and that is I would take both PACs and corporations out of the money game and have partial public financing of elections where small contributions could be matched, up to a point,” Leach said on IPTV.

Smith spent $10,300 on his first race in 1958. By 1994, his last campaign, Smith had hired a fundraiser.

“I never did ask anybody for a contribution,” Smith said. “I just wouldn’t do it…Today, you couldn’t run for congress that way. They have to spend a day or two a week asking people directly for money.”

According to Leach, that’s ridiculous.

“Both parties tell all newly elected members, ‘You have to spend two days a week on telephones raising money,’” Leach said. “Well how many voters think they’ve elected someone to do that? Money is the driving force behind everything in the word politics today. If there’s any reaction to what is happening in this shutdown, it ought to be a demand for reform of that system.”

Leach, who turns 71 next week, is currently a visiting professor at the University of Iowa. The 93-year-old Smith credits his longevity to healthy living, as he never drank liquor or coffee and only smoked for three months when he was in his late teens.