Dirty Money, Dysfunction and Disappointment: Retiring Members Dish on the Congress They Leave Behind


All four members said they felt somewhat brutalized by the current political climate, which they blame on the increasing influence of special interest money and the "stove piping" of news.

Shea-Porter said watching the growing influence of special interest money had been her biggest disappointment, calling it "awful for democracy."

"I think it's strangling us," she said. "They're in the halls of Congress everywhere, and it means, for example, that you sit on a committee and you say something about concern about Chinese influence or something, you don't even know if in the next election, somehow or another, they manage to send some money to some group that now doesn't even have to say where they got it."

Impact of Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Finances

Edwards agreed, pointing to the Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance as a major game changer in the way campaigns and Congress run. Edwards said the ruling left lawmakers worrying about more than their constituents.

"In the future, you're going to have to think before you cast a vote against an individual drug company. They can run a $2 million television campaign against you in central Texas or in Delaware, and take you out under the guise of being something they're not," Edwards said. "Congress has to find a solution to that within the limits of the new Supreme Court decision."

Each member made a point to emphasize the bipartisan work they had taken part in during their time in Congress. However, each pointed out that the more cooperative interaction among members doesn't hit the media radar as much as the conflicts.

Shea-Porter said the media focused too much on the negativity in Congress.

"I have listened to people on television say things like, 'Well, everybody's on the take in Washington,' as if that's a given fact. I think it just makes people more cynical about the whole process," Shea-Porter said.

Edwards blamed a misinformed public. "I think people are getting their news from stovepipe sources of information -- where people are basically getting the news they want to hear. Whether it's Fox on the right or MSNBC on the left, it's making it hard for centrist Democrats. It's making it hard to elect centrists, who I think are critical to the functioning of our checks and balances form of democracy."

Castle, who complained that conservative talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, misrepresented him during his primary campaign, echoed Edwards' complaints, saying, "People are listening to what they want to listen to, and not hearing any other point of view at all. That, I think, is a huge problem affecting politics in America today."

All agreed that despite the challenges and setbacks they have endured throughout their years in Congress, and most recently, in their failed attempts at re-election, there is life after Congress. Or as one put it, at least a nice, long break.

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