First elected to Congress in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina now proudly marches to his own beat. For one thing, the staunch Christian conservative is that rare GOP lawmaker who frequently works with Democrats on campaign finance reform.
Center for Public Integrity: One of the leading presidential candidates right now is Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. And one of his campaign finance bills calls for the elimination of campaign contribution limits. What do you think of that?
Walter Jones: I think Citizens United has already done enough in that area. I don’t think that is the way to go. You’ve got to have some type of reasonable limits to all this. Even PACs don’t feel like they have any influence anymore because the super PACs have taken it.
CPI: How would your day-to-day life be different if you weren't as worried about raising money all the time?
Jones: My consultant would tell you that I’m the worst fundraiser up here. I despise it. I always try to get the majority of my money from the people I represent. I will always have a high number of people from my district or the state of North Carolina who have contributed.
CPI: Why do you focus on that?
Jones: I don’t want to be controlled. I feel like my obligation is to the people back home. Ever since I came out against the Iraq War in 2006 and got criticized badly back in the district about that, I decided that the best thing I can do for the people is to be independent — to vote my conscience.
CPI: What do you hope the next steps for campaign finance reform in Congress will be?
Jones: This place has not done anything since McCain-Feingold in the area of campaign finance reform. We’ve done nothing. Policy is controlled by special interests. Policy should be controlled by the people.
CPI: And how do special interests set the agenda?
Jones: The perception is that the system is controlled by special interests because members in both parties make phone calls and have fundraisers.
CPI: Does that perception ring true to you?
Jones: The policy too many times benefits the few instead of the many. That’s just what I see happening up here too often.
CPI: Can you give an example?
Jones: We had a bill on the floor [last spring] that would have allowed mobile home companies to raise their interest rates. Warren Buffett — he owns [one of the largest] mobile home companies in America. I didn’t vote for the bill.
(Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity, in collaboration with The Seattle Times, last year investigated Buffett’s mobile home empire and detailed the way it preys on the poor. Buffett has defended the company’s lending practices.)
CPI: When people talk about the need for campaign contribution limits, they usually talk about a concern of corruption. Can you say more about that?
Jones: In the Republican Party — and this is in the book “Extortion” — when you become a chairman, you do two things. You’re given a limit to raise money for the RNC [Republican National Committee]. And you are also told on certain votes, you have to vote with leadership. Where are the people? Did you come up here to be a chairman and forget the people you represent? Or do you want to represent your people? That’s where this place is conflicted with money.
CPI: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you do?
Jones: First, I would repeal Citizens United. And second, I would offer an alternative in the form of voluntarily public financing.
CPI: Why are those reforms important?
Jones: Everything has gotten out of hand up here. It’s all about raising money. To me, if you are going to give the government back to the people, then you’ve got to clean your own house up.
This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.