After taking the week off for Easter, Last Week Tonight returned in spectacular fashion - taking on the topic of political fundraising. Instead of focusing on presidential campaigns, which host John Oliver accurately pointed out you can read more about on literally any one of your "annoying friends' Facebook posts", the show honed in on the soul-sucking task of congressional fundraising.
Before launching into their main segment, Oliver opened the show by discussing nuclear weapons, specifically the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington. Nearly all world leaders attended, with the notable exception of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who announced he was going to skip the summit in 2014 - sixteen months before the summit was held. One topic of discussion was Republican frontrunner and notably politically unaware individual, Donald Trump - specifically his recent comments about which countries should become nuclear powers. These countries include Japan, South Korea and "absolutely" Saudi Arabia. Trump also made comments stating he'd be perfectly comfortable using nuclear weapons in Europe because it's "a big place", which is a terrible excuse for using nuclear weapons. Thankfully, President Obama used the summit as an opportunity to provide some clarifications about Trump's remarks, calling him someone who "doesn't know much about foreign policy, or nuclear policy, or the Korean peninsula, or the world generally".
Next up, was a discussion of the start of the baseball season. In particular, Oliver discussed the outlandish snobbery that the Yankees have consistently demonstrated, saying that they have become "the biggest elitist assholes in all of sports", and after watching the rest of the segment, it's hard to disagree. The focus of the bit was on the Legends club, an elite club reserved for the wealthiest of baseball "fans", and while the perks seem pretty awesome (premier seating, fancy food, concierge service), in reality it really just translates to a lot of the prime seating in the stadium being left empty for most games. Their COO even made comments degenerating the "less affluent Yankees fans", basically saying that wealthy Yankee fans "couldn't bear" to share a section with fans who aren't as rich. In true Last Week Tonight fashion, they came up with a small, short-term solution to this problem. They purchased tickets in the Legends section, for the first three games of the season, and will sell them to lucky fans for only 25 cents. All fans have to do, is take a picture of themselves in what they would wear to the games, tweet it out to Last Week Tonight using the hashtag "#IHaveNeverSatInAPremiumLocation" along with the date of the game you wish to see. Best of luck to the Yankees fans who entered!
The main segment dealt with congressional fundraising for re-election campaigns. Many congresspeople have said that they despise being required to raise that kind of money, with some calling it "painful" and "an embarrassment" to have to sit in a room and basically beg for cash. Some senators estimate that they spend nearly "two-thirds" of their last term with fundraising - taking a lot of time away from doing their actual jobs.
Part of that time spent fundraising happens at actual fundraisers - usually held in "shitty DC bars, restaurants, or townhouses". One organization, the Sunlight Foundation, conducted a study and found that there were 2,810 fundraisers for Congress alone in the 2013-2014 election cycle. Many representatives actually revolve their entire day around fundraisers - with one holding one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Oliver highlighted one particular restaurant, Johnny's Half Shell, that derives a ton of revenue from fundraisers alone. Other fundraisers have been held in honor of anniversaries, birthdays, or even a Taylor Swift concert.
However time-wasting those fundraisers can be, even worse is when a Congressperson must fundraise over the phone. Some members of Congress are expected to spend four hours a day on fundraising calls, and will even pull rookie Congresspeople out of hearings in order to fulfill those hours. A new Congressperson needs to be sitting in those hearings to learn how things are done, in order to best represent his or her constituents, not spending the time begging for cash.
Federal law prohibits members of Congress from soliciting or receiving donations while in the House, which means that many of them are forced to go into small, cramped, cubicle style offices to make those calls. Often, it is just the member of Congress, an aide or assistant, and a minder who is there to ensure the calls get made. The offices are tiny, and tend to smell terribly. Here, the member of Congress is forced to make call after call, soliciting cash and donations from "jerks [they've] never met".
To further illustrate the horrible way members of Congress are forced to demean themselves by asking for donations, Oliver sat down with outgoing member of Congress, Steve Israel, who has spoken out against this practice and is retiring from politics, in part because he said he doesn't "think [he] can spend another day in another call room making another call begging for money".
You can watch the entire segment, including Oliver's interview with Israel below. Last Week Tonight returns next Sunday at 11:00 on HBO with another new episode.