News & Politics

Party Crashing: Exposing the Big Bash Lifestyle of Capitol Hill

A look at Washington's culture of lobbyists and fundraisers.

When I showed up unannounced--and with a video crew in tow--at a couple dozen Congressional fundraisers on Capitol Hill, I felt as if I were channeling two paragons of contrarian virtue: first, Diogenes the Cynic, the ancient Greek sage who carried a lantern around Athens during the daytime, looking for an honest man; second, the great sociologist Harold Garfinkel, who in the 1960s pioneered the use of what he called "breaching experiments," interactions in which researchers intentionally breach unspoken rules of conduct to reveal hidden features of our social order.  

In my breaching experiment, the unspoken rule was that you do not show up to a Congressional fundraiser with a video crew and ask to speak to a member of Congress or their staff.  Even just for two minutes. Even if you are very polite. Even though all of the money raised is going to be reported to the Federal Elections Commission and posted on their website. You do not ask how much the member of Congress or candidate expects to raise. You do not even inquire about the suggested contribution levels--even though those numbers are also available online, thanks to the hundreds of fundraiser invitations that lobbyists have leaked to the Sunlight Foundation's website Political Partytime

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