I worked for years on the Hill and on a few Presidential campaigns.

I love government and love civics and I love this country.

I want to answer your questions, but I really want to be a resource for aspiring staffers and for people who share my love for civics.

I can give you much better answers if I'm anonymous. Did a version of this a year ago, and I'm verified by /u/karmanaut here.

Comments: 270 • Responses: 90  • Date: 

GrandMasterT22 karma

Which real life politician most closely resembles (personality wise) Frank Underwood in the show House of Cards?

somehillguy71 karma

I can't think of a single one that is that competent.

hvonn17 karma

Damn. I don't know whether to be relieved or let down.

somehillguy25 karma

I've yet to meet a truly evil fuck like that.

Shelia Jackson Lee, maybe.

Durbee8 karma

That woman is an utter nutter. She just steamrolls everyone in her path with her next-level crazy.

somehillguy3 karma

I think she's utterly insane.

AlphaWookie1 karma

If you had a time machine would you work for Jefferson or Adams, this is if they would have you?

somehillguy4 karma

Jefferson -- no question!

fredtheotherfish17 karma

Does the influence of lobbyists turn congress away from what is best for the American people? I guess a better way of asking is do lobbyist convince congress to support things that are are not in the best interest of Americans?

somehillguy61 karma

Man you guys won't like to hear this, because I do read Reddit and know lobbying is a big concern.

Lobbyist influence really gets overstated. They represent clients to government in the same way that lawyers represent clients to a court. They pay to go to fundraisers and get to tell their bosses "hey I met with Paul Ryan today," but in all my years --and I mean this sincerely-- I never saw a member or a staffer vote a way that was inconsistent with their personal beliefs.

When they break the law, like Jack Abrahmoff, they are prosecuted. And damn right they should be. But the House and Senate both have very strict Ethics committees that watch closely. I had to fill out financial disclosure forms, couldn't let a lobbyist buy me a burger, and even had to report the engagement right I got for my fiancé because she worked in a different office. It's that strict.

Honestly, I never saw an overly pushy lobbyist either. Most come in, sit down and explain their position and policy impacts of certain bills on their business, then get up and leave. I used them as intelligence sources, because different lobbyists had insights into different areas of government.

Sorry, I know you probably wanted me to fry them. But can only give my honest take. Full disclosure I am NOT a lobbyist now, and never have been :)

FrickenHamster11 karma

Thats pretty much consistent with what I learned int he one Political Science class I've taken. They said that lobbyists were a lot of times like extended staff. But people would rather believe the drama.

somehillguy9 karma

I saw a few occasions where lobbyists went up against Professional Staff (the wise old men of Congress), and just got their asses handed to them.

Also voting a certain way doesn't mean you get a top dollar lobbying job. I had a good friend who went to lobby for a very large firm at a very high salary because they respected how well he fought against them.

irondeepbicycle7 karma

I wish people realized how essential lobbyists were. Do we want a country without Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, or the Sierra Club? They all lobby.

somehillguy13 karma

Right many people just don't know that businesses aren't the only ones who lobby -- many special interest groups do too, and they represent the interests of large subsections of the population. The problem is not everyone agrees!

horatio_jr3 karma

couldn't let a lobbyist buy me a burger,

could they hire the congressman or staff member later for tons of money? Do you care more about a free "burger" or a high paid job in the future?

somehillguy9 karma

Sure -- most firms hire from the Hill, that only makes sense.

But you'll see from my other posts -- who they hire has nothing to do with votes. Lobbying jobs aren't hard to get, there's a higher demand for Hill staffers than the jobs themselves, so it's not like anyone could reasonably dangle that out as an incentive. If a firm said "vote this way and we'll hire you," they'd probably first get laughed at and then promptly reported to ethics.

Tai153 karma

I get what you're saying, but let me give you an alternative example: the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been lobbying for years to get changes to the historic preservation tax credit. Some banks in New York (I think BoA but don't quote me on that) decided they wanted the tax credit to be changed so that it could be used to pay the alternative minimum tax so their lobbyists started campaigning on it. It was done that session.

A lot of what lobbyists do is just small incremental changes that Congressmen don't full understand the effects of, but cumulatively have a large impact. And the people that are able to get the most incremental changes are the players like the big banks that have the most money.

Lobbying is a huge issue.

somehillguy10 karma

that's cool man. Like I said I can only give my opinion based on my experience. You have to make up your mind the best you can.

bm03223 karma

So you're saying that congressmen actually believe in shit like opposing net neutrality, and keeping marijuana illegal? Damn

somehillguy10 karma

I think realistically, most don't know all that much about net neutrality. I can't think of the last time the House voted on marijuana legalization, but as Colorado and Washington have demonstrated, the states don't really need Congressional approval there.

bm03222 karma

I was referring to H.R.499 - Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 which didn't have enough support to even be voted on.

somehillguy5 karma

well there you go. Personally I'm for decriminalization but think it's perfectly appropriate to let states decide these things for themselves.

dimplejuice12 karma

Decades ago, younger senators took office in their 30s (i.e. Ted Kennedy, Byrd, etc.). Now, younger people are not really represented in the House or Senate compared to the age composition in prior generations. Will we have generational warfare?

somehillguy11 karma

Well I hope not. I know the Arkansas race has a young guy in his 30s running on the GOP ticket and the tea party wave in 2010 brought in a fewer younger guys like Mike Lee of Utah.

I think if there's an age issues divide, it will be over things like student loan debt and social security rather than representation in Congress, y'know?

fredtheotherfish11 karma

Ok, say a thirty year old guy with a master's degree in a subject unrelated to political science wants to move to DC and make a living working somehow connected to congress, what first step should he take?

somehillguy27 karma

Well it depends. At 30, you're already a little behind the curve. Most political guys want experience, not education. In fact college campuses are probably the most disconnected from political reality that I've ever seen and so people who have spent too much time there aren't trusted.

There is a deep suspicion of people who have thought too much and accomplished too little -- you'd be amazed just how disconnected from reality that Political Science professor you had was. For example, my friend with a PhD from UVA's renowned political science department was passed over for a campaign job by a 25 year old with no masters but experience working on 3 campaigns.

My advice is to work your way into think-tank world, or work a 501(c)3 or (c)4, or any job that does government relations. Once you build a network in DC, it's much easier to find work. Not too late, hope I didn't depress you! It can be done!

crazybay3 karma

Most political guys want experience, not education

my friend with a PhD from UVA's renowned political science department was passed over for a campaign job by a 25 year old with no masters but experience working on 3 campaigns.

I wouldn't hire a Political Scientist either. After all, their "expertise" is not to be political figures, but to observe objectively the surrounding reality and look at those situations under the framework of social and political theory. I wouldn't say that they are "disconnected" from political reality anymore than politicians are disconnected from reality in in general. Very few politicians represent the majority view. Politicians are still humans, operating from their own personal experiences and upbringing. The documentaries "The Fog of War" (features Robert McNamara) and "This is What Winning Looks Like" (Vice Media) illustrate this point perfectly. I saw the experienced the same disconnect while serving as Grunt in Iraq 5 years ago. The White House, and every other politician for that matter, and a lot of higher up Generals, hadn't the fuckest ideal what was actually going on there.

-Yes, I turned a common curse word into a new adjective.

somehillguy12 karma

I remember going back to my old college, which was in a swing state, during one of my presidential campaigns. I met with one of my favorite professors, a guy who -when I was 20- I thought was just the smartest, most insightful person I've ever met.

8 years later, I listened to him talk about the current race --which I was involved in-- and was just blown away by how disconnected he was. It was like he existed in a parallel universe. Difference between knowledge and experience, I guess.

Eternally658 karma

So what did you guys do to get banned from editing Wikipedia? Collective trolling?

somehillguy16 karma

Actually I edited Wiki once myself. The problem was that an issues group hijacked an annual bill and completely misrepresented what it did. It was a disservice to everyone.

So we called up Wiki and said "look, we are not looking for a puff piece. We know there are criticisms about this bill. But the entire wikipage is about 3 lines out of a 2000 page bill. We need you guys to help us."

To wikipedias credit, they did. You have to remember that for everyone Congressional staffer editing wiki, there are special interests group doing the exact same thing. Some staffers are being scumbags, some are just playing honest defense and setting the record straight.

JustDoc8 karma

Which do you prefer- District office casework or DC office legislative work?

somehillguy23 karma

Legislative work is much more fun. Writing, passing laws -- really exciting.

Case work is responding to the crazy lady in San Fransisco who wants to disband the entire US military or the redneck in Missouri who wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act. Those people already know everything and cannot be reasoned with.

That part isn't fun.

RennisDeynolds7 karma

What's the thing that chocked you the most when you found out about it about your business?

somehillguy16 karma

how benign it all was. You think you're going into the halls of power, you think you're entering a den of corruption, or money -- in reality it's just a bunch of average joes passing laws. Congress has the same faults and same shortcomings as everyday Americans. It's just average people with an above-average job.

crossingthebat6 karma

Hamburgers or hot dogs?

somehillguy30 karma

haha, Apple pie. #murica

fresha_wake6 karma

have you seen Veep and if so, would you say the level of cynicism in the show towards our politics is accurate?

how much does Congress cater to the sensationalist, fearmongering bullshit that is the media? do they spend a lot of their time worrying about that crap or is most of the job just actually figuring things out? Basically is it more about public perception or actually doing things

edit: there's definitely people going through this thread downvoting everything, doesn't make sense that almost everyone is at 1 or 2 upvotes.

somehillguy20 karma

That show is a stone.cold.documentary. For every character, I can think of 3-4 real life Hill/campaign people that are dead ringers for the show.

As for sensationalist garbage, man I'm with you. The worst part of the job for me was the mudslinging. The answer is, that garbage journalism exists because we create a market for it and the complete distortions that go along with.

Does, for example, Barack Obama "hate small businesses?" Of course not, that's idiotic. But people believe it.

Do, for example, Republicans really "hate birth control" despite controlling the House, Senate, and White House from 2001-2007, a time when birth control use increased? Of course not, but people believe it.

I just read a story from Facebook (of course) about how Michelle Obama's nutritional agenda was going to "shut down Chik-fil-a." Are you kidding me? Michelle Obama's doing the nutrition stuff because many poor people don't know how to properly feed themselves. It's a totally innocent thing -- but garbage journalism turns it into some giant boogieman, and people go for it.

It stops when we get smart about good sources vs. bad sources.

AmberHeartsDisney6 karma

Was the pay well?

somehillguy14 karma

No. Pay sucks. Especially as a young staffer and especially on campaigns.

In the good old days, pre-Jack Abramoff, hill staffers would tell the legendary tales about trade associations renting out theme parks for the staff and 23 year olds taking home lobsters and Kobe steaks.

Now rules are ultra strict. So the benefits you got, the ones that offset the shitty pay, are gone too. You really have to love what you do and love civics. Fortunately, I did and that's where I got my job satisfaction :)

SinisterPaige3 karma

I guess the "benefit" you get now is that it looks good on your resume.

somehillguy10 karma

no that's true, having Hill experience is a huge plus on the resume. It's a gateway to everything -- top law schools, MBA programs, corporate jobs, etc.

You just have to suck it up and do your time in the mud before moving on to greener pastures.

nh_giant6 karma

Do you think lifting the ban on earmarks could bring back some semblance of bi-partisanship?

Also, I'm interested to hear your take on Primaries, do you think the California model is going to make any significant difference.

Thanks for doing this AMA!

somehillguy7 karma

you're welcome!

Hey earmarks are the grease that Congress runs on. It's not perfect, but throwing a little money to a district is an ironclad way to knock down gridlock.

Because the House did away with them, there are now members who will vote NO on everything. And so nothing gets done.

Like I said, earmarks aren't pretty -- but they were effective.

I actually worked for a California member -- i'm not sure how that primary system will pan out. It is weird to have a Democrat running against a Democrat in the general!

AnguirelCM5 karma

How did you select the candidates for whom you would work?

Did you ever see a politician knowingly tank their career over an important issue (e.g. go against their party because it wasn't in their constituent's interest, go against what their local electorate would have wanted because it was bad for the country)?

In your opinion, what percentage of politicians would vote against their own personal best interest for something that was best for proper governance (e.g. laws to eliminate gerrymandering even when they mainly won because of a gerrymandered district, laws to implement alternative voting systems such as preferential/ranked voting that encourage third parties even when they mainly won because of a split vote)?

Do politicians actually believe the insane things they say?

Did you ever witness a politician putting on a public face that was significantly different from their regular business face?

somehillguy13 karma

When a Presidential campaign calls, they select you -- not you selecting them. And when they call, you drop whatever you are doing and you go for work them. The jobs I worked on the campaign were specialized, but still had over 150 people apply for them.

Both campaigns I worked on were not for my 1st choice candidates. But when the party calls, many of us see it as our duty to answer. We drop what we're doing and move to campaign Headquarters and accept a much lower salary to do it.

I think most politicians generally try to do the right thing in the way that they believe. Paul Ryan, for example, generally does believe that the best way to help the poor is by smaller government. Harry Reid really does believe the best way to help them is by increasing the minimum wage.

You guys can duke it out over which answer is right, that's just the different way they see the same issue.

Do politicians believe this stuff? Well not all of it is insane. I worked for a guy who would read, verbatim, everything that I wrote for him -- talking points, speeches, etc. I don't know if he believed it or not (I hope he did!).

ALL politicians adopt a different public persona. It's because opposition researchers and agenda journalists will take any little infraction and spin it way out of proportion, so being "disciplined" is actually a must-have characteristic. That's politicians just adopting to political reality, rather than being outwardly dishonest.

lvclix5 karma

This is hands down the most insightful IAmA I've ever read. It's heartening to know that staffers as "real" as you are, are behind the robotic sentiment of house members who often just feel like empty suits with a pre-recorded message and no passion. Awesome job. In that vein, what's your background as far as money is concerned? You keep reiterating that staffers often initially work for very little pay or for free. During this career launch period, does your wealthy(ish) family keep you afloat? I can't imagine a young talented person from a poor family having a chance at all in this system. Again, thanks for doing this and I appreciate your candidness.

somehillguy6 karma

I can't imagine a young talented person from a poor family having a chance at all in this system.

My dad was a sailor and my mom was a librarian :)

Lots of rich kids on the Hill. Lots who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps too.

imcorrecto4 karma

How close to reality is House of Cards in your opinion?

somehillguy20 karma

If you go into the Majority Whips office, it was dead on. The dynamic in season 1 of old media vs. new media etc, VERY accurate.

When Kevin Spacey started pushing people in front of Green Line trains is when it went Hollywood.

Throwawayqw1234 karma

I haven't looked at the thread, but is it as cutthroat as I think it is? A lot of people going "I'm not allowed to be wrong and if you prove me wrong you'll regret it!"

somehillguy5 karma

Yes the first rule in Washington is watch your back. The second rule is, "if you want a friend, get a dog."

Aken424 karma

In your experience what order of importance do you think politicians place between constituency beliefs, party beliefs and person beliefs when making decisions?

somehillguy8 karma

My experience is constituency first, then personal beliefs or party beliefs.

For example, deficit hawks rarely complain when they have money coming into their districts. Their job is to represent their constituents first, and that's what they do.

Party or personal politics depends. Ted Cruz on the Republican side puts personal politics first. He will jam up Republican efforts if it isn't ideologically consistent with what he wants.

On the other hand, the House members that advance to become Chairmen are usually good soldiers for the Party leadership. They pinch their nose and vote the right way, even when it goes against their beliefs. They're rewarded for that later in their careers when it comes time to pick leadership jobs.

benicebitch4 karma

I have a feeling there are some things that you would really like to share and are waiting for the right question to do so. So I will toss a soft ball: What would surprise us most to find out that only you and your cohorts know?

somehillguy19 karma

Good Q. I was amazed at the level of bullshit in the national discourse. There is so much bad information out there, it is staggering. We live in a time when people can shop for the news they want to hear. Want to hear Republicans are evil? Just go to Alternet. Want to hear Democrats hate America? Just go to The Blaze.

This is all really unhealthy for the country and it really worries me. I think DC people who have worked on laws and understand the motives of the people who pass them are a little shocked at just how out-of-hand the discourse can get.

On the other hand, the DC communicators who are constantly electioneering are partially responsible for that dynamic. I wish everyone took sourcing a little more seriously. It'd be much better for the country.

benicebitch6 karma

Great answer! Thanks for doing this. I hope you get some more good questions and people are not dicks.

somehillguy9 karma

that's why I haven't revealed my political party :)

Either way I'd be cooked!

dgentz4 karma

Over your career, how much more has bi-partisanship in our politics grown with each passing year or election cycle in your opinion? As far as I'm concerned, as a fairly well-educated citizen, we just keep digging ourselves deeper and deeper into almost irreparable holes because of this problem. Agree/disagree? General thoughts?

somehillguy12 karma

It's gotten worse and worse. Now look, it has been MUCH worse in the past. 1960s, Civil War, etc. But I worked in a rare spot on the Hill, a bipartisan oasis, and some of my best friends were from the other party.

Bill Clinton reportedly just total got a high off getting people in a room and working out differences, same with Reagan. Having experienced the satisfaction you get from negotiating a successful deal, I'm with them.

We love to point to the Tea Party as the current crazies, but it happened on the Left during the Bush years too. The party in the minority tends to have the more vocal activists -- but, as my friend said, the difference is that the Tea Party is actually competent at jamming things up.

Ikari_Shinji_kun_014 karma

Thanks for doing this. I hope you don't mind answering this, but in your opinion who on CH are some of the most and least trustworthy? Anyone who you think has no business anywhere near DC?

somehillguy11 karma

Most trustworthy -- Ron Wyden(D) from Oregon and Paul Ryan (R) from Wisconsin. Both are highly thought of on the hill, by both parties, and both try to reach compromises at the risk of pissing off their own base. They put country first and I respect them for it.

Per DC business- not sure what you mean?

Ikari_Shinji_kun_013 karma

Anyone, say, running for Congress, maybe -ahem- President in two years who you think shouldn't?

somehillguy10 karma

oh, not really. Look -- you have your tiers of Presidential candidates.

Tier 1 - people who really have a shot. Rubio or Hillary.

Tier 2 - people who don't have a great shot but could the next time around. Romney, '08. Rand Paul. Andrew Cuomo.

Tier 3 - the Clown Car. People who do it for the national spotlight. Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Dennis Kuchinich, etc.

mka6965 karma

Then you have Tier 4 - People who have money and like to make fun of politics. Stephen Colbert.

somehillguy3 karma

hah I loved the bit when he did his SuperPac.

awsomeman11164 karma

Do internships working for congressmen and women (paid or unpiad) look good on a resume? Also are internships with think tanks in Washington D.C a good idea to do?

somehillguy7 karma

YES. Don't go into debt to get a higher degree. Intern, volunteer, and GET EXPERIENCE.

The hard reality is that no one in politics cares about your masters or PhD.

Think-Tank or 501(c)3/4 internships are VERY helpful. Do those if you can. Work hard. Get experience. Also get published if you can -- I know many talented bloggers who ended up in communications on the Hill.

vipergirl2 karma

I'm not sure what I should do at this point. I have 3 Louisiana campaigns under my belt working for incumbents but it hasn't gone anywhere to a staff position (mostly because incumbents already have staff). I'm in my late 30s and headed to the UK for a MSc political communication on "almost" full scholarship. I'm too burnt out and jaded to join another congressional or local campaign. Hoping to find employment with an issue campaign (infrastructure , transit, economic development). Any suggestions?

somehillguy2 karma

PM me with a little more details about you. Maybe I can help.

volkmasterblood3 karma

I have no problem networking and making friends. I have no problem visiting places with hardships and mystery to them. One thing that concerns me though is how expensive it is to live in DC and surrounding areas. When you say that you have to take low-paying jobs for campaigns and then move to DC to take another low paying job, how do you afford to live? Is there an alternate source of income that you or others have come across?

My other question is about job availability. I know it is quite competitive to get a job in DC, but it seems like employers in DC are all asking for different requirements. Some require high GPAs, some require Masters degrees, some require experiences of some sort. When you completed your job as a staffer, how was the mobility in finding other jobs in DC? Were you already hooked up? Or was it just as difficult to find a job when you first started?

Also, some general job advice wouldn't hurt (other than the things you have already said).

somehillguy4 karma

Yes it sucks -- you have to live in an expensive area and accept little or no pay if you go in cold. I've seen it done. It's not easy, but I know a guy who did that, got an internship which turned into a legislative correspondent, which turns into a legislative assistant, and now he's a legislative director. That all happened in the past 3 years.

RoKPhish3 karma

In your estimation, what percentage of congress critters are out & out crooks?

somehillguy12 karma

Well it's an elected body that represents the American people. So you have some upstanding citizens, some outright criminals, some idiots, some brilliant, some liars, some honest.

You can't break the good and bad down into Republican or Democrat -- both sides have their short bus, and both sides have their A-students at the front of the class.

HomelySapien3 karma

Can you explain the disconnect between the issues that matter to ordinary people and the issues on which elected officials actually spend their time?

An example: a huge majority of Americans are concerned about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the soon-to-be-poor (who we used to call the "middle class"). In contrast, the deficit is what gets the most play in the media and from elected officials.

Many argue that this is a symptom of the wealthy having their interests prioritized by the political class. Is it really that simple?

somehillguy11 karma

Well I think that Democrats tend to emphasize things like rich vs. poor gaps and income inequality etc where GOP emphasizes the debt. What gets the most media play? Well if Harry Reid pushes a minimum wage bill to the Senate floor, that will get attention. If John Boehner gets a big deficit reduction plan to the floor, that will get attention. It's really a matter of the news cycle.

optiplex90003 karma

How much influence does a PAC have over a sitting politician?

somehillguy7 karma

Well politicians usually set up their own PACs. It's kind of a what came first, chicken or egg kind of thing. Did the PAC find the member, or did the member find the PAC?

For example, the Club for Growth just had a big victory Tues with Justin Amash's win in Michigan. That's an example of the PAC finding a member because the member already votes for their issues.

The opposite would be his challenger, Brian Ellis, who created PACs to support his campaign.

I find that most PACs just do fundraisers. Pay $5000 a plate, get to sit at a table with So and So. It's not perfect, but I think the role of money in politics gets overstated somewhat.

There's an old Republican saying from the turn of the 20th century -- "the two most important things in politics are money, and I forgot what the second was." This was well before all the campaign laws were passed starting in the 1970s.

dimplejuice3 karma

Do staffers consider themselves experts on certain topics after reading about it online for 1-2 hours? That is the impression I get when I have met with staffers or politicians who were fed information by staffers.

somehillguy7 karma

Some do. The real experts are on the Professional Committee Staffs. Those are the more senior people that have a decade or so working one very specific area. Some personal office staff have specialized experience, but even those guys rely on their Committee Staff or Executive Agency (FDA, DoD, etc) for the right info.

And some are just dicks.

Eternally653 karma

Are all advance men total dicks, or is that just my experience?

somehillguy9 karma

haha, on my two campaigns we had one guy who was just spectacular at what he did. Understood that people were suspicious of him being a self-important dick and worked so well with people.

On another, we had a massive self-important cockbag who was the son of a major donor. The difference is absolutely staggering. Humility counts in this business.

Tempehrary3 karma

I'm about to interview for a Field Organizing position, after interning for several months on a campaign. Any advice?

somehillguy8 karma

You did the right thing by interning first! Campaigns want people who will work. And work hard. Tell them you'll work long hours and do whatever it takes to get your guy elected.

On the presidential campaigns, I averaged 80 hour weeks and it was brutal. Be a worker and you'll kick ass.

ShittySprayPainter3 karma

Which campaign did you feel was the most 'noble'.

One that you truly wanted to win the most because of the ideals he/she had?

somehillguy6 karma

For me it was more of a job than anything. We all think we're doing best by our country, liberal or conservative, and we work for the political party that advances those interests.

All I can say is, in both presidential campaigns, I felt much better about my guy than the opponent :)

mvg2103 karma

Does anyone over there know anything about bitcoin?

500 bits /u/changetip

somehillguy7 karma

oh yeah, bitcoin has a very effective lobby right now. I think the Hill is still trying to figure it out.

mvg2103 karma

Cool hopefully they let it grow organically like the internet and not stifle innovation

somehillguy5 karma

me too! Sometimes the best thing Congress can do is stay out of the way.

boomsday3 karma

Do any of the congressman care about their approval rating? And if so what do they do to try and lift their approval rating? Do they ever feel any remorse or sadness that even in their own district people think they are pathetic? I personally couldn't live thinking everyone hates me, do they have really thick skin, are they egotistical or is it something else?

somehillguy6 karma

Yes they definitely do. Bad approval ratings means the RNC or DNC will start throwing money at your opponent to get your seat.

I think most Members understand the nature of politics. Everyone disagrees, and even in a strong R or D district you are going to have people who don't like what you stand for. You do have to have a very thick skin, and you have to be able to work very long hours.

I had a few bosses who would get up at 6, work straight through a late night fundraiser, do it all week, then fly 4 hours home to be in their district for the weekend. It is a brutal schedule and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Studmickmuffin2 karma

What's your overall opinion on the quality of men and women of congress? are they competent?

Following that, as a young man with aspirations to one day run for office (Congress, possibly even senate) do you have any advice that could help me on my way to achieving such goals?

Thank you for your time, by the way.

somehillguy2 karma

well I think so, especially on the Professional Staffs.

Best thing you could do is serve in the military. These days, being something other than a white male also helps -- everyone's looking for minority and women candidates, both Republicans and Democrats.

Get involved in local politics as much as you can -- that'll prep you better than anything.

chiwawa0902 karma

what was the toughest part about your job?

somehillguy17 karma

I love this country and the design of our government. Being there on the House floor when bills are being debated and voted on is positively electric!

But I hate the lying and the personal attacks. I worked many places, but the best was a bipartisan committee where the Republicans and Democrats -staff and members- got along great.

In the Presidential campaigns, the personal attacks really drained me. Negative energy just sucks it out of you.

2feetorless2 karma

What percentage of politicians are faithful to their spouses?

somehillguy7 karma

Most of them -- but there are some real scumbags out there. You've seen the stories. But let's be honest -- unfaithfulness is not something that's unique to Congress :)

WadeWilsonforPope2 karma

How much of a campaign is an act? Ever have a politician all smiles then as soon as the door closes he pours a whiskey and lights up a cigar mumbling about all the ugly babies he had to kiss?

somehillguy8 karma

it's not so much an act as it is a discipline. You have to be extremely disciplined to run. People will distort what you say, lie, cheat -- do anything they can to run your name through the mud and sully your character.

The trick, for politicians, is to staying disciplined enough on message that you don't open the door to those nasty tricks.

SRD_Grafter2 karma

Any really good stories you can share? Any really bad ones? If you had to pick someone that you would like the people that don't work to know about your job and what you do, what is it?

Do you think it would help if there were more non-lawyers in the senate? As it seems like a number of the politicians are lawyers and while it is a republic, I'm not so sure about just having them be the majority of representatives (as it isn't a representive slice of the population), and people in other professions may have different takes on the various issues.

Does being a donor get you better access to the politicians? Even if as you note, if you attempt to lobby them, they may not listen or vote that way (unless they also support the position presented).

somehillguy5 karma

Good stories. Coolest thing I ever did, fly on the military jet on a multi-country tour of another continent. Writing speeches with your boss on the plane, riding in a motorcade through a place that people pay thousands to visit.

Consoling a member on a very personal level who just lost a really important vote. Writing language for a bill that became law. It's been a total high, at times. Surreal, even.

Politics are pay to play. Remember Romney's 47% comment? That was a room full of donors who paid like $50k a plate to be at a dinner with him. President Obama just got off a similar fundraising trip.

Mostly though, politicians just listen. Rich people think that having money means they get to influence things. Mostly we just take their money, listen to their stupid ideas, and forget about them the next morning.

_PM_YOUR_NUDES_2 karma

How much sex really goes on behind closed doors?

somehillguy7 karma

Most of the Hill is staffed by 22-28 year olds. You do the math :)

_PM_YOUR_NUDES_2 karma

Interesting, so would you say it mostly happens between the 22-28 year olds or do the congressmen notably engage in it with them?

somehillguy6 karma

there's 500 or so members out of thousands and thousands of staff, so members are kind of like deities. It's very easy for them to take advantage of an ambitious young twenty something, and many girls in particular find the power appealing. Added to that mix, there's a lot of beautiful women on the Hill.

So it happens. Some get caught, some don't. I never was put in a position where I had carnal knowledge on an affair. Wish I had something juicier, sorry!

_PM_YOUR_NUDES_2 karma

Since you have first hand experience, how much can/do the bulge bracket banks influence a particular congressman's decision? I know their presence is somewhat ubiquitous when it comes to economic policy but I suppose I want more detail/insight.

somehillguy5 karma

I don't know much about finance. I do know that Dodd-Frank came at the objection of the big banks, but it's still law.

No_Nrg2 karma

Hey /u/somehillguy! Thanks for doing this AMA! I am currently doing my masters in public administration. I worked on a city council campaign and I am on the local county child abuse council. I am also interning for a Association of Governments in my region. I am seriously in love with policy. If I could do one thing today to get me to The Hill as a staffer what would that be? Internships for Senators and Congressmen and women are hard to come by. Is there a step below the job/intern level that can help bring my intents to the attention of public representatives on the hill?

Thank you.

somehillguy7 karma

Yes volunteer on a campaign until you're part of one that wins. Knock on doors, get an internship no matter what. Get to DC however you can. When in DC, be willing to accept a couple of months with little or no pay while you work the hill. Get a job at a think-tank or 501(c)3/4 that does government work. Build a network and good things will happen!

indigobirdsong2 karma

What is the best way constituents can establish meaningful dialogue with their members of congress? It is so easy to send in email petitions and other pre-packaged materials, but I feel like that isn't the best way to make our voices heard. Thoughts?

somehillguy4 karma

Show up to a Town Hall. Call the office and you'll just get a staffer thanking you for the call.

JewishAccountant2 karma

What qualities do you think make a candidate successful? What is your opinion on anon campaign contributions? To me, it seems like no successful presidential candidate ever runs on their own beliefs of fairness and equality and just plays to their side, why do you think that an independent candidate hasn't become president since Washington?

somehillguy5 karma

Two things, money and personal appeal. Reagan and Clinton were incredible at what they did because they had charisma and huge fundraising networks.

notdaba2 karma

How did you get your foot into the door of congress?

somehillguy5 karma

Some of my writing attracted attention just at the right moment. Writing is a huge door opener on the Hill. I also had military service, which is something that's really attractive to member offices.

ragazor1 karma

What should one write? :) Political commentary books and such? Blogs? Youtube comments?

somehillguy6 karma

Man I've seen a lot of bloggers do very well for themselves. They end up on campaigns or on the Hill doing social media stuff. There's a modest market for them right now.

ragazor1 karma

Dammit! Nobody thought to ask what your military service was. Not that it's relevant... but where did you serve and what did you do?

somehillguy4 karma

USAF, I flew a chair! zoom zoom

ragazor1 karma

haha, cracked me up. Since you are still answering, I'll ask you another question: What made you leave the hill? Is it just what everyone does, to go on and have the "hill work" on your resumé and get a new, well paying job?

somehillguy1 karma

It's a fair question. It's like many jobs, I felt like my time was up and I should move aside to let other people have the experience.

It wasn't a completely noble decision, either. A lucrative job offer made leaving pretty easy :)

Imperator422 karma

What is the funniest event you've witnessed on the Hill?

Also I'm going to be in College in DC in a couple pf weeks. What are things I have to do or places I have to go?

somehillguy5 karma

Probably Corrine Brown's famous Gator speech. I was on the floor when it happened and had to shove a fist in my mouth to keep from laughing.

I don't want to seem like I'm picking on the Congressional Black Caucus, but I was also in the Hearing Room for the Hank Johnson (who I like very much) "Guam tipping over" soliloquy and I had to leave because I was snickering uncontrollably.

Imperator421 karma

Those are both hilarious. I live in Jacksonville and it never ceases to amaze me Corrine Brown was elected. Remember the atrocities of the genocide in freedonia?

somehillguy1 karma

I mean -- I don't want to pick on her but oy, I was dying during that Gator speech.

Jux_2 karma

Can you convince me the system is not run to keep the rich and powerful among the rich and powerful?

somehillguy13 karma

Probably not, but it's just not a dynamic we considered when writing laws. When I worked on the defense/national security side, I had heard all the evil stuff about the "military industrial complex" and how rich people were just trying to start wars for profit... etc etc, you've heard it before.

Much to my surprise, I found a group of dedicated professionals, many of them veterans, who never took a cent from private money in their lives, and honestly just wanted to do what was best for the troops in harms way.

I'm not saying that the rich don't have a voice -- they do. I had to brief a group of Goldman Sachs investors when I was on the presidential campaign. But what exactly happened? They flew me to New York, I explained the candidates positions, and flew home. They could have gotten the exact same thing by just reading our website.

So I don't know how to answer your question the right way -- all I have is anecdotal experience that's mostly been positive.

C3SR2 karma

I love government

What exactly do you like about government?

somehillguy7 karma

Negotiating, passing laws, the challenge of getting your issue through, the high you get from being on the floor. Sometimes I'd walk to my car, see the Capitol Dome and just get shivers from the sheer history of the place.

I fell in love with America a long time ago. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at the responsibility I had working for this great place we call home.

PandasFriend2 karma

How many dead hooker or drug incidents have you helped cover up? How often do cover-ups happen? Don't lie, my friend told me it happens all the time and he's a campaign manager in Florida. How many dead hookers have you heard of?

somehillguy7 karma

Don't lie.

Ok, good advice :)

my friend told me it happens all the time and he's a campaign manager in Florida

Well, there you go. Florida.

I feel like the two bastions of corrupt politics are Chicago and the South.

As campaign manager, he's probably tried to cover up some things in a candidate's past. But the people who do recruiting have gotten pretty good about vetting potential candidates. You don't want to dump a million into a race just to find out a guy has another family with a one-legged hooker name Tiffany a week before the election.

LogicalRandomness2 karma

I don't know if you're still answering, but what's up with recruiting candidates? Do the parties actually have to go looking for people and convince them to run for congress? I figured it would be the other way around.

somehillguy4 karma

Yes like in 2004, when Democrats lost to Bush, they had a party wide introspection. One of the things they did was resolve to recruit more veteran candidates so they wouldn't get crushed on the military/nat sec vote.

Likewise Republicans are now searching for more women and minority candidates to recruit into office, after the thumping they took in '12.

LogicalRandomness2 karma

Huh. How do they go about actually recruiting candidates? Do they just pick a major donor or local figure, have someone call the person and go "Hey, you wanna be in congress" or is it more of a process where you have to make it known you want to run and then be 'asked' as a formality before starting a campaign? Maybe it's because I want to run for office one day myself, but I have trouble understanding how national committees aren't swamped with people looking to be candidates every election cycle.

somehillguy4 karma

It's kind of a word of mouth thing. Sometimes they get recruited at the local level, sometimes they just know the right people, sometimes its a matter of just shaking the right hand.

For example, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) lost both her legs in Iraq flying Blackhawks. She went to work at the VA, and a smart Democratic operative saw her as a great opportunity to steal a Republican seat. They prepped her and ran her, now she's in her second term.

LogicalRandomness2 karma

Fascinating. Thank you.

somehillguy2 karma

you're welcome!

CheesewithWhine2 karma

What do you think of the revolving door phenomenon, the corrupting effect of congressmen spending 20 hours a week on the phone soliciting donations from special interest groups, and the movement to amend the constitution to publicly finance elections?

somehillguy4 karma

Congressmen spend 20 hours a week on the phone? Yikes that's the first I've heard that number. Most can't find 10 minutes out of their day to grab a sandwich.

Look, politicians will always try to raise money. Lyndon Johnson famously sat his staff down the day after he was elected to Congress and said "Ok, what are we doing to win two years from now?" The member's role is to raise the money, the staff's role is to work the member on the hard nose policy.

I saw all the noise about Citizens United when that case came out, but many of the big money PACs got their clocks cleaned by smaller dollar candidates post-Supreme Court decision. Justin Amash's win this Tues is a good example of that dynamic.

Per amending the constitution. Why would you try for the most legislatively difficult thing to do, when you could just try to get a normal law through?

EchoSixHotel2 karma

What was the most frustrating part of the job?

somehillguy8 karma

Dealing with self-righteous constituents. Some of these people are like teenagers, they always know what's best if only someone would listen.

When people get an idea in their head, and really believe it, they get self-righteous. That means they are the absolute moral authority on everything and anyone who disagrees with them isn't just wrong, they are stupid -- or downright evil.

There's a really good example of it going on in this thread. Click through /u/horatio_jr comments to me. You'll notice I've been careful to refrain from my opinions in this AMA and just focus on my honest experiences.

He took some of that experience, which he disagreed with, as an opportunity to call me names, and then attack my character. You deal with this all the time on the Hill. Best thing you can do is just put on the kid gloves, be respectful, and pretend like their opinion is important.

It's cynical, I know. But the nature of the job kind of draws it out of you.

TotallyNotMarkHamill2 karma

Dude thank you for doing this.

I'm a former state leg. staffer and state/local/congressional campaign hack, and reading some of the BS that reddit believes about American politics is sometimes downright infuriating.

You're totally spot on that everyone considers themselves an expert in politics-- what I've started telling people is that, yeah, you have a vote, but so does everyone else. It wouldn't be a democracy if only your vote counted.

Intertrons polibrofist

Since I've got to ask a question, what was your favorite crazy person phone call you received?

somehillguy2 karma

Thanks man! I got a call from a very, very angry African American woman. She went on a 5 minute rant that was so aggressive, I don't think she stopped for air.

Finally after it wound down, I told her the truth. "Ma'am, you have the wrong number."

Shouldbeworking222 karma

Favorite President?

somehillguy15 karma

oh GREAT question. Toss up between Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln.

Look, I know. Lincoln. What a cliche. But I just read one of his many bios and it blew me away.

EchoSixHotel2 karma

Do you read /r/politics and /r/worldnews? How accurate are they?

somehillguy25 karma

Let's do an experiment. Go over to /r/politics or /r/worldnews right now. Scan the comments. Done? Ok.

How many question marks did you see? Probably none, right?

That's my problem with those subs and politics on the internet in general. Everyone has an answer, no one has a question.

When I did legislative work, I had my biases of course. But every new amendment or law, the very first thing I did was call every smart person I knew on the subject to learn as much about it as I could. I asked questions from every angle I could think of.

Even when I agree with the sentiment there, there is very little curiosity at /r/politics. And thanks to Google, everyone acts like an expert. It is a good place if you want the entertainment value of political drama, but it is not a good place to learn about policy.

I_Cut_Shoes1 karma

Hi, this AMA is awesome! Definitely one of the most insightful ones I've read.

A few questions:

If you could change anything about the congressional and presidential election systems, what would it be?

Do you think we'll ever get out of our bipartisan system and end up with more major parties?

In your opinion, what country does democracy "right"?

If you were a staffer during the government shutdown, what was the atmosphere like at the time?

What's the most "extreme" thing that's happened (screaming, chain throwing, etc.)

Why do you think politicians often flip-flop on their early on campaign promises? Is is due to monetary influence or additional knowledge gained once in the position?

Thanks for doing this!

somehillguy4 karma

  1. Term limits. I actually like the electoral college.
  2. If we do, it probably won't happen in my lifetime.
  3. Well America's done it since 1776, surviving a civil war, a great depression and two world wars. And we were doing Democracy before it was cool.
  4. Shutdown was hardly noticeable. There were fewer capitol hill police and I think they closed one of the cafeterias.
  5. I once saw Nancy Pelosi chase a Republican member around the Floor.
  6. Gaining knowledge. Why do you think Gitmo is still open? No one hates Gitmo more than the Obama Administration, and he signed that executive order on day 1 to close it. And yet, still it stands. Money, not really. Money goes to candidates who already have positions that donors like.

xwjitftu1 karma

What's your opinion on politics as a career path? Is it possible to behave in an ethical manner and still be successful?

somehillguy3 karma

Oh, yeah. I'm uptight like an Orthodox monk. I find that integrity actually gets you farther in politics. Loyalty and trustworthiness go very, very far in Washington.

QTheory1 karma

Many think the country is headed to hell. As someone who is on the inside, who sees behind all the drama and showboating, what is your outlook?

somehillguy3 karma

Well I imagine the worry was greater in 1776, 1812, 1860, 1929, 1941, and throughout the Cold War. We've been in worse spots. America is pretty resilient.

I think we'll be fine, but I'm an optimist.

Paradoxlogos1 karma


somehillguy2 karma

The issue there is that staff are the ones who really write the laws and make the policy.

Some people don't believe me when I say lobbyists' bark are worse than their bite. I have no reason to defend them -- just can only report on what I experienced.

SinisterPaige1 karma

1)How does a "freshman" member of congress go about picking their staff?

2)Are there people there to show them the ropes?

3)How closely do you work with your elected official?

4)I'm guessing this is based on your position and experience, but what is the pay like?

somehillguy2 karma

1) It depends. Some pick existing hill staff, some pluck from their campaign team.

2) Yes you get all kinds of briefings as a Freshman. Most of Nov-Jan is spent learning how Congress works.

3) I worked very closely with several, including two Presidential candidates.

4) The pay sucks! It gets better, like everything, as you get more senior.

SinisterPaige1 karma

4) The pay sucks! It gets better, like everything, as you get more senior.

I actual know someone that is a Chief of Staff for someone in state government. Guys been doing it for awhile and actually makes more than his boss.

somehillguy2 karma

Yeah no doubt. It also depends on the Chief, at least up on the Hill. Every office has a fixed budget. Some chiefs max out their own salaries and pay the staff the bare minimum. Some are genuinely good dudes and spread it around.

Many have no problem paying staff jobs shit, and going through staffers like toilet paper.

SinisterPaige1 karma

I can just imagine. But I'm sure an "Ace" Chief must be worth their weight in gold.

somehillguy4 karma

yeah but frankly, I'd much rather have a rock solid comms director and equally solid Legislative Director. Those two can keep even the biggest idiot out of trouble. Come of think of it, Todd Akin had both when he was still in Congress.

MuffinShit1 karma

What would you change about our government if you had the chance?

somehillguy5 karma

I've spent years embedded in the current one, so like a crotchety old man, the idea of change scares me!

Seriously though, I kind of let the system do its thing. My sense is a shrug and resignation to the fact that if people want change, they'll make it happen.

Sorry that's a really bad answer -- just how I honestly feel.

whileromeburns881 karma

I read an article recently talking about the drastic reduction in the number of independent congressional researchers on Capitol Hill since the 1980s. These were people on the congressional payroll whose job was to research the issues Congress was voting on so that members could have unbiased analysis from multiple viewpoints.

These positions have disappeared since Congress has defunded them and the end result has been members getting more information about bills from lobbyists and from political advocacy groups masquerading as think tanks.

Do you feel like members have access to nonpartisan, independent policy analysis, or is most of it coming in the form of watered down talking points from lobbyists, trade groups and think tanks?

somehillguy4 karma

eh, I don't think so. We still have the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office who do the nonpartisan research gig very, very well.

cerebrum1 karma

Why has Israel all this political support in the US?

somehillguy6 karma

If I explain it, will you fight me on it? I'm not looking for a debate, I can just give you the reasons. Deal?

Congress supports Israel for a few reasons:

1) Sympathy for the our own troubles fighting terrorists while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Sometimes we're not the best at it either.

2) Understanding that Hamas, a terrorist organization, deliberately places civilians in harm's way as a military tactic.

3) Commitment to the one democratic ally in the Middle East.

I see people yell AIPAC! all the time, but c'mon. You don't get 400+ votes in the House on pro-Israel resolutions like Iron Dome funding just because of a single lobby. SEIU is way more powerful than AIPAC and can't come close to getting votes through by that margin.

Ok remember you asked, I answered. There is something about Israel-Palestine that makes people insane and I really don't like arguing on the internet.

[deleted]1 karma


somehillguy3 karma

your classes/major don't matter. Look at Kristi Noem. She just finished her undergrad while she was still in school. Karl Rove dropped out of school before getting his degree.

What does matter is that you plug yourself into political machinery early. That means college Republicans/Democrats, it means volunteering for every campaign you can --at every level, from local to presidential-- and it means learning the ropes early.

If you see a good opportunity in your mid-20s to run for a local seat, do it.

eaglejacket1 karma

I'm currently an intern on K Street, and I'm liking it but I feel as if the only things I get are assignments and small-potatoes stuff. I haven't been able to show initiative or display my full potential/expertise. Any advice on breaking through that barrier?

What's your opinion on DC's whole lack of Congressional representation issue?

I don't know if this has been asked, but how many hours do you usually work in a day?

Why did Nancy Pelosi chase a Republican member around the floor?

How much more power do Senators have compared to Representatives?

somehillguy2 karma

You're an intern, so your job is to do the mundane stuff to the absolute best of your ability. You work hard, keep your mouth shut and ears open, and play the long game -- and you'll kick ass. Someone in your shop should be able to help place you, especially since we're in an election year.

DC statehood? The heart says yes but the brain says no.

Something he said to the Speaker.

Considerable -- there's fewer of them so their vote goes farther.

SanDiegoTexas1 karma

Thanks so much for an incredible iama. You had mentioned in an answer before that most congressmen would have trouble fitting ten minutes into their schedules (paraphrased, for sure). When you get a minute, could you go through "a day in the life of a congressman/woman?" That would be so interesting.

somehillguy3 karma

0600-0700 - wake up, shower, transit 0730 - fundraising breakfast 0830 - review days schedule 0900 - Meet with staff 0930 - Committee Hearing 1100 - Votes 1200 - lunch 1210 - 1530 - meet with constituents, GOP or Dem Conference, possibly afternoon hearing 1530-1700 - second vote series 1700-1730 - transit to cocktail reception 1730-1830 - cocktail reception 1830 - 2030 - Fundraising dinner 2030-2100 - transit home 2100-2200 - Get ready for bed, catch up on emails, prep for the next day.

Obviously this varies when they have travel and whether or not they are in their districts. This is a fairly typical DC day.

Spectre501 karma

Have you seen West Wing and how would you compare it to your work?

somehillguy3 karma

Every episode.

I love the West Wing. It romanticized Hill and White House work so much, it was very easy to get laid for a while. Esp when I was a speechwriter.

everyonegrababroom1 karma

So... what percentage of married officials have mistresses?

Edit: or whatever the masculine version of mistress is.

somehillguy1 karma

oh who knows? Some do, most don't. Some get caught, most probably don't.

Congress is a microcosm of America -- that includes all the faults that go along with :)