Last Week Tonight is still riding high after new numbers revealed that its “Donald Drumpf” segment became HBO’s most popular clip ever on YouTube and social media. So what better way to celebrate than for host John Oliver to give viewers one of the show’s longest and most detailed deep dives in recent memory? Clocking in at 21 minutes and 24 seconds, Last Week Tonight‘s study of congressional fundraising hopes to teach the audience all about the rigors of raising money for political campaigns. That, and convince an elected representative to chug from a bag of wine on cable television.
“Before you roll your eyes, this is not going to be about how money corrupts presidential candidates,” Oliver stresses at the beginning. “For that you can read much more on your most annoying friend’s Facebook posts.” Instead, the story is all about the nature of congressional fundraising itself — how it’s done, how much time it takes away from the apparent duties of elected officials, and how detrimental it is to American politics as a whole.
Oliver begins with fundraisers, or “sh*tty parties in D.C. bars, restaurants or townhouses.” A great deal of time and space is dedicated to these events on a daily basis in the nation’s capital (2,810 during the 2013-14 congressional year), and many businesses make most of their money on hosting them. Places like the Johnny’s Half Shell seafood restaurant, where Oliver suspects almost every elected representative in recent history has held or attended a fundraiser.
What’s more is, the Republican and Democratic party headquarters both play host to cubicle-ridden call centers. Why? Because fundraising and campaign calling aren’t allowed on government property, so members of congress must leave their offices to sit in tiny cubicles and take orders from “assistants” who make them call current and potential donors for several hours a day.
To shed light on the seedy underbelly of congressional fundraising, Oliver ends the segment with Congressman Steve Israel (D-New York) of Long Island. Israel is retiring from politics after 16 years in office, so Oliver and the Last Week Tonight team figured he’d be willing to talk about (and do) almost anything. They were right, for not only does Israel speak freely about just how much he hates congressional fundraising, but he also toasts his time in office and his impending retirement with a drink from a bag of Palmer Vineyards wine.