Former Democratic Senator Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings shares his views on the stranglehold of money on Washington.
BILL MOYERS: For more on money and politics, let’s go now to a man who saw first hand how the city’s money chase has crippled and corrupted Washington.
His name is Ernest ‘Fritz’ Hollings, and he spent 38 years in the United States Senate – a long and colorful run during which he made a name for himself as a passionate advocate for the hungry, a champion of balanced budgets, and a fighter for jobs in the textile industry. He called it quits four years ago and went home to South Carolina. But he was back in town recently, to see old friends and sign his new book, MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK. I talked with Fritz Hollings at a Senate office building on Capitol Hill just before his book party. Why did you write this book now?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: I wrote the book because I could see what was wrong. I was raising money. I wasn’t running for reelection.
BILL MOYERS: As a senator in your last term.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: As a senator in the last two or three years that’s all I was doing was raising money. And working for the campaign and for the party. The hardest working people in the world are the congressmen and senators. We work from early morning ’til late at night and all weekend and everything else. But we are working now, not for the country, but for the campaign.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: All the time is fundraisers. All the time is money, money, money, money. In 1998, ten years ago, I ran and had to raise 8 an a half million. The record is there. Eight and a half million is 30,000 a week. Every week for six years. Each and every week for six years. Oh Dick Russell of Georgia-
BILL MOYERS: Former senator.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: He says, “Now a senator is given a six year term rather than a two year term. He’s given six years, the first two years to be a statesman. Then the second two years to be a politician. His last two years a demagogue.” We use all six years to raise money. That’s why I wrote the book. To try to get the government off its fanny and cut out all the politics and let’s work for the country for a change.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, it’s not working? You say you can’t get anything done in Washington anymore. What’s not getting done?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Legislation. Anything meaningful. They fill up the tree both sides, it’s nothing wrong with Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell, they’re durn good leaders and they’re doing what the senators want done. And they’re all smart senators and they’re all responsible people. But they’re playing the game and the media hadn’t exposed. That’s why I wrote it. I’m trying to expose-
BILL MOYERS: The game? What’s the game?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: The game is money. I got to get the money to heck with constituents, I gotta get contributors.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: I’ve talked to the senators; you ask ’em, they know they’re not gettin’ anything done. And they grown men and they’re conscientious women and everything else, they’re outstanding. But they know that all they’re doing is on a money treadmill. That’s all it is.
BILL MOYERS: You write, “When I first came to the Senate 40 years ago, Senator Mansfield,” he was the majority leader then.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yessiree.
BILL MOYERS: “Had a vote every Monday morning to make sure”
FRITZ HOLLINGS: To get a quorum.
BILL MOYERS: “To get a quorum. And we worked until five o’clock on Friday every week.”
FRITZ HOLLINGS: That’s right. We didn’t go home on the weekends. We tried to get out Thursday afternoon or night or at least early Friday morning to go to the West Coast for fundraisers. That’s why Hollywood and that’s why Wall Street has got that much influence. I’m not going to South Carolina. They got no money for a Democrat. I have to travel all over the country.
BILL MOYERS: Years ago, you write, “On Washington’s birthday, a freshman senator would read the farewell address at 12 o’clock noon and then we’d have votes in the afternoon.”
FRITZ HOLLINGS: We’d have votes. Now we have merged Lincoln’s birthday with Washington’s Birthday and take ten days off in February for fundraising. We have St. Patrick’s Day, ten day break for fundraising. Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, the month of August, Labor Day, Yom Kippur and Columbus Day that’s ten days gone in October. September, October, is fundraising. Everything is attuned for the campaign, the hell with the country.
BILL MOYERS: A constant permanent campaign.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: That’s exactly what it is.
BILL MOYERS: Commercial television is the big winner in this because that’s where so much of the money goes.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: That’s right; the rich have got all the speech they want. The poor got lockjaw. He can’t articulate out onto the television. And-
BILL MOYERS: The poor can’t. They have no voice.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah, and that’s the trouble. They tell you, don’t go waste time and don’t go see people and everything. Get on television and get a little tricky television and everything else like that. All these artists have got all kinds of different ways and different things like that to bring up and tricks to play.
BILL MOYERS: The clear message is money has a stranglehold on our democracy.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: You gotta untie that money knot and then begin the government will begin to work.
BILL MOYERS: So, you conclude therefore, if we limit the money, Congress will have time to work for the country, rather than —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: The campaign. That’s exactly right. They can talk to each other, they can deliberate. There’s no, you fill up the tree with amendments; the leaders know — legislation is made down on K Street. They tell you when to vote, when they got the votes.
BILL MOYERS: Lobbyists.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: The leader brings it up, he knows where it’s going. And it’s not going anywhere, but he’s goin’ to get a vote, to make ’em embarrassed about immigration, or about energy or about sub-prime mortgages. The votes are made for the campaign. It’s not to get anything done, bah humbug. You can forget about that. They’re not doing anything up here. And the senators and congressmen know it.
BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact, as you point out in your book, three days before the first presidential primary in Iowa; The New York Times listed the positions of all the candidates on eight important issues. Not one of them on trade or outsourcing of jobs.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: That’s right. And they came way out. We had, in South Carolina, since President George W. Bush has been in; we have lost 94,500 manufacturing a net loss. We’re getting some more jobs in BMW in Spartanburg, but a net loss. And they never mentioned it in the early Democratic primaries. They’re-
BILL MOYERS: Why?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Because they gotta get the money.
BILL MOYERS: And who gives them the money?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Wall Street, the banks, and business
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you say presidents negotiate trade agreements not to open markets, but to protect corporate America’s foreign investment. That’s how you see it.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Well, I know it. I mean look at the Congress. Under article one, section 8, the Congress shall regulate. Not free-
BILL MOYERS: Regulate —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Congress regulates trade both domestic and foreign.
BILL MOYERS: And you say in your book that Congress is not doing that.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: They can’t do it because they’ve gotta get the money. You put in a trade bill and down on your head comes THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and the big banks and The Business Round Table and The National Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufactures they’re not for domestic. They’re for Chinese and Indian manufacturer even The National Chamber of Commerce is not worried about Main Street, Peoria, Illinois; Main Street, Shanghai.
You see, Henry Ford built up the middle class along with organized labor. He said I want the fellow making the car to be able to buy the car. So, he doubled the minimum wage. He put in health care and retirement costs and everything else of that kind, benefits. And so we had a good working relationship between labor and that — now, all of these trade agreements for the investors to protect their investment in China and India, but, uh-uh forget about labor.
BILL MOYERS: You write —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Your country and mine, that’s the United States of America, is going out of business?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Oh yeah. What hasn’t been outsourced is being bought with that cheap dollar. Vodophone is gone to the Germans. Bell Labs is gone to the French with all their research and everything else. Westinghouse Nuclear with all of their research and technology and everything, is going to Toshiba, Japan. And Anheuser-Busch, the Belgians. Anheuser-Busch is beholden to the stockholders but nobody’s beholden to the people other than the congressmen and senators. And they’re not doing their job.
BILL MOYERS: But they’re voting for NAFTA. They’re voting for these trade agreements.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah, we’ve gone to an outright trade war and globalization and that’s were we’re AWOL. The way to get free trade is raise a barrier to a barrier and remove them both. Then you got free trade.
BILL MOYERS: But when you were chairman of this very powerful Commerce Committee, here in the Senate, you’d make these cases.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: They would call you protectionist, they would call you —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah, I am a protectionist. You — you got Social Security to protect you from the ravages of old age, Medicare to protect you from ill health. You got food and drugs and clean air, the water we drink, the food we eat, antitrust to protect the openness of the market and everything else. Before I open up Moyer Manufactory, you gotta have clean air, clean water, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, plant closing notice, parental leave, safe working place, safe machinery, antitrust. You can go to China for 58 cents an hour. They’d get you the plant, they own the workers, and you don’t have any investments so you don’t have to worry about it.
BILL MOYERS: You say all we need to do to make the country work, is follow the lead of the forefathers to compete in globalization. To build the country’s economy Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison, made sure the first bill to pass the Congress in its history on July 4th 1789 —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Seventeen eighty nine.
BILL MOYERS: Was a —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Protectionist bill, tariff bill on 60 articles. We financed the country’s development with tariffs. That’s how we — that’s the Treasurer’s Building is the best building here in Washington. The best building in Charleston is the custom house. The best building in Brooklyn is the custom house. Treasury had the money. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Thank God I am not a free trader.” Oh, Lincoln, everybody says, I’m either for Roosevelt, I’m a Lincoln Republican. He was a big protectionist. Oh, he raised tariffs. They were gonna build a transcontinental railroad on the Abraham Lincoln. And they said we could get the steel cheap from England. He said, ah – wait a minute, we’re gonna build our own steel mills, and then we’ll have not only a steel capacity, but we’ll have the railroad. And so he was a builder. Everybody was a builder. Eisenhower, he protected oil. Jack Kennedy, I went to him, and he protected textiles. Ronald Reagan, he protected computers and Harley Davidson. He saved it. I saw George W. the other day about three weeks or a month ago, he was at the Harley Davidson plant, but protectionism saved it. That’s why they were making money at Harley Davidson. Oh, he got —
BILL MOYERS: That’s because of —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Voluntarily restraint. Reagan got on steel, computers, machine tools, and automobiles. He got voluntary restraint and that’s the only way to do it. Sober up—
BILL MOYERS: Do you take any hope on this issue on money in politics? From McCain and Obama? Are they saying anything that or doing anything that —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: I happened to hear and I don’t know, but the finance chairman for Obama was just told to get up 300 million for the rest of the campaign till November. Also, get up millions for the Denver convention. And that’s all they’re doing is raising money.
BILL MOYERS: You and John McCain sat on the same committee. You were chairman of the Commerce Committee —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Oh yeah
BILL MOYERS: He was a member of the committee —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: We were good friends. And I love him.
BILL MOYERS: And how does he —
FRITZ HOLLINGS: I know him, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: And he used to be thought of as being an advocate of campaign finance reform.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Exactly right. And he was an advocate against these tax cuts. But now they’ve taken the maverick McCain and trying to make him the Christian right and the money raiser and everything else like that. They’re trying to make him an ordinary Republican. And you can tell he’s ill at ease. He, John McCain is not happy campaigning right now. I can tell you that. He’s — the media loves him. He had a room up there by the commerce committee with donuts and coffee and all and the press wouldn’t go to the press gallery. They’d go to McCain because they could get a statement out of him. And he was honest. He’d tell you how he felt. So, the press loves him and everything else. But they’re disappointed in him now, because they’re trying to change him over to qualify him as a Republican.
BILL MOYERS: What would you do about the power of the press in our society today?
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Tell them that by gosh, tell the truth. You know the debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey. And Walter Lippman said, what we oughta do is get the experts in finance and defense, and education and the various elements of government, and let them determine the company’s the country’s needs, and give it to the Congress and let ’em pass it. John Dewey, the educator said, no, no, let the free press report the truth to the American people and the needs will be reflected, to the congressmen and senators in Washington. And he was right. But they’re not telling the truth anymore. They all were doing the headlines rather than headway. They’re all getting by with perceptions; they’re all getting by with pollster politics. They’re not talking about the needs. The country is ready, willing, and able to work, the government’s not working.
BILL MOYERS: And the book is, MAKING GOVERNMENT WORK. Senator Fritz Hollings, it’s been good to see you again.
FRITZ HOLLINGS: Good to be with you, always.
This transcript was entered on May 26, 2015.