Nancy texted me again the other day.
That’s Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, writing to me from the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“I’m livid, Charles,” she wrote.
The speaker of the House knows my name. Nancy Pelosi writes to me at my personal email address, shares deep thoughts and calls me Charles.
Never mind that my late aunt Thora, named for the Norse god and invested with nearly as much authority, was about the only person who called me Charles. Froze me every time, even when she was smiling.
Nancy – I assume I can call her Nancy – wanted to talk with me about the Senate hearings with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. She is upset – livid, she said – that the Republican-controlled Senate is proceeding with those hearings just days before the presidential election.
She asked me to help in the fight. “Will you rush in $1 before my final FEC deadline to elect Democrats and make these hearings backfire?”
Just a few days earlier, Nancy had urged me to send in $1 – or $50, or $250, or whatever I could spare which she personally guaranteed to triple through pledged matches, like (she didn’t say this) on a PBS fund drive.
“Don’t delay, Charles,” she wrote.
I know. I understand the suffocating, festering role that money plays in our politics. I understand the desperate need that candidates and parties and their supporters have to raise funds for all those suppurating TV ads and mailers.
I hate the whole money in politics business. But I do tend to favor one party and most of its candidates, and I have made small – not $1, but small – donations to one presidential candidate and a few state and local candidates.
But the hunger for cash is great, and the drive to identify and work potentially open wallets is fierce.
Somehow, my name – including the little-used given name Charles – got spread around, along with my email address and my apparent willingness to wire a few dollars to a campaign. And I mean spread around.
That’s why I heard this week from Sen. Cory Booker: “So Charles, I need you to pitch in $5 right now …”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who led the impeachment effort against President Trump, also asked for a dollar or five to help him hold the party’s House majority. “That’s why I’m coming to you right now, Charles.”
I’ve also heard from Stephen Daniel, running for Congress in Texas; Jaime Harrison, running against Lindsey Graham in South Carolina; Theresa Greenfield, trying to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa; Carroll Foy, seeking the Virginia governorship; M.J. Hegar opposing Sen. John Cornyn in Texas; Phil Arballo seeking to retire Rep. Devin Nunes in California.
They all want a dollar. As a modestly fixed retiree, I might paraphrase the late Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois: A dollar here, a dollar there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. (Everett was talking billions.)
Sara Gideon in Maine sent me this “personal message” on Tuesday: “Charles, I have a very important debate against Senator Susan Collins.” She started higher than a dollar, asking for $25.
And Nancy isn’t the only top-name Democrat trying to work me by using my first name. Scott Fairchild, executive director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, sort of scolded me a little in an email recently because I had not responded to “personal” emails from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.
Again, I get it. Parties and candidates need money like never before. You can blame the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, which freed labor unions and corporations to spend freely for – or against – certain candidates and issues. You can blame the “dark money” groups – on both sides – that have spent many, many millions on political ads during this election cycle while keeping their donors secret.
Nobody can afford a funding gap, so candidates reach out to the rank and file, building numbers of donors and piles of cash to show they’re winning the cash race.
That is, the candidates’ people reach out. It offends me, a little, that Nancy, Chuck and Adam (and presumably their counterparts in the Republican leadership) think I’d be flattered to receive a “Hey, Charles!” note from them, bearing their signatures. (“Hey, Chuck!” would be better, but not much.)
This has been an awful political year, made worse by a malignant virus that has forced us – me, anyway – to endure inane TV ads and relentless email pitches.
I gave a few bucks where I thought it might help. I gave a few bucks where I knew it wouldn’t help except to send a message that two parties are better than one.
And I voted. Enthusiastically. Reverently. That’s my big deal, my donation, my contribution – to democracy.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.