Should candidates forfeit their salary for time spent campaigning?

The title question may sound a bit facetious, but it’s the one being posed by Ken Frydman at the New York Daily News this weekend. There are more than two dozen elected officials – current officeholders – running for President at the moment. They spend a vast amount of time in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and at state Democratic conventions and galas across the nation. So much so in fact that they rarely find time to make it back to their home states, districts, and cities, or even to their full-time jobs in Washington. In a glaring example of this phenomenon, when the vote was held to approve billions of dollars of humanitarian relief for the southern border, not one of the seven Senate Democrats running for the nomination showed up to vote on behalf of their constituents.

With that in mind, Frydman poses the obvious question. How are these people still drawing a full salary?

Bill de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand owe me money,

Bernie Sanders owes money to my wife’s cousins in Waitsfield, Vt., Elizabeth Warren owes money to my in-laws on Martha’s Vineyard and Kamala Harris owes a refund to my other in-laws in San Francisco.

In fact, everyone running for president while already holding elective office should be required to reimburse the taxpayers of their cities and states for every day they’ve spent campaigning in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire or debating in Miami, instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do. Not to mention reimbursing their constituents for the cost of taxpayer-funded security and Secret Service details.

Now, this really doesn’t sound like a practical proposition, but for the average worker observing this, Frydman’s point probably rings true. Could you imagine, he asks, going into your boss’ office and telling them that for the next sixteen months you’ll be on the road and only showing up to work occasionally, but you’d like to keep collecting your full salary for the entire time? Think that would fly? Of course not, but then you’re not part of the elite class of elected officials in Washington.

And this seems particularly true of some of the real long-shots in the field. There are probably five… okay let’s be generous and say possibly eight Democrats who appear to have a shot at the nomination. But there are at least a dozen (such as Kirsten Gillibrand) who aren’t attracting enough support to be elected dog catcher in their home counties. They are almost certainly wasting their time and their donors’ dollars while not showing up for work in the offices they actually won.

The author isn’t just pinging Democrats. He includes President Trump in the list of guilty parties because of all the campaign rallies he holds when he’s theoretically supposed to be doing the work of the leader of the free world. (Dinging Trump is a bit off the mark in this case, of course, because he already gives back his entire salary.)

Unfortunately, as I hinted at above, this is a complaint that may get some people hot under the collar, but there’s no practical solution that immediately comes to mind. If we demand that every elected official give back their pay for time spent campaigning, we would be eliminating a lot of people from the talent pool. Only those wealthy enough to forgo most of their salary for a year and a half could manage it. (Or just wealthy people from the private sector.)

And this question doesn’t just touch on candidates for the presidency. If you ask any member from the House of Representatives, the vast majority will tell you that one of the things they hate most about their jobs is the fact that as soon as one election is over they have to start dialing for dollars and building up their war chest for the next one. It isn’t quite as bad for Senators because they have six years between races, but Senate races cost a lot more to run, so they probably only really get about a two-year break between taking office and starting the campaign and fundraising cycle again.

Following Frydman’s theory, we should be docking the members of Congress for all of the time they spend on the phone doing fundraising and every day spent heading out to campaign rallies. Again, we would quickly narrow the pool of candidates to the independently wealthy.

In other words, it’s a valid complaint Frydman is bringing and it will no doubt annoy many people to consider it. But that’s the political system that’s evolved in our country and we appear to be stuck with it.