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25 Secrets Your Congressperson Won’t Tell You

From campaign contributions to the secrets behind lobbyists, we got the dirt on what Washington insiders don't talk about.

“One thing that surprised me was how much walking is involved."

If I have a vote, it’s a quarter mile over to the floor and a quarter mile back. When I’m invited to meetings hosted by senators, it’s three quarters of a mile there and three quarters of a mile back. For the first few weeks, my feet were absolutely killing me. Then I noticed everyone was wearing Rockports or other soft-soled shoes, not dress shoes. That’s what you have to wear.

Rep. John Carney (D-DE)

“Like a lot of congresspeople, I sleep in my office."

I'm either on the floor on a blow-up mattress or my couch. I cook in a little place across the hall that’s for storage, and I’ve got a deep-dish electric skillet, a Crock-Pot, a blender, a fridge, and a microwave. I do the dishes in the bathroom sink.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

“We get invited to a lot of receptions sponsored by lobbyists, but ethics rules say that you can’t sit down and you can’t have a fork."

So the caterers set up standing tables and serve every food you can think of that you can stick with a toothpick.

Former representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), who served from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011

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"It’s against ethics regulations to make fund-raising calls from a congressional office."

Members go to some office off the Hill and sit there for hours calling potential contributors. It’s time when they could be in committee hearings or taking part in debates or writing their own legislation. They may not be on federal property, but we’re still paying them to do this.

Mike Lofgren, GOP congressional staffer for 28 years and author of The Party Is Over

“It’s a constant juggling act with your family."

My daughter addressed a school assembly not long ago. I wanted to be there because she worked really hard on the speech, but we had a vote that went late, and I missed it. She has had to sit through God-knows-how-many of my speeches, so that one really hit home.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)

"The first time you go into the Cabinet room for a meeting with the president, it's extremely exhilarating."

Regardless of your party, regardless of your ideology or how much you agree with him on policy, being with the president of the United States—the leader of the free world—it just doesn't get any better than that.

Former representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who served from 1995 to 2011

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"I spend exactly a third of my time in Washington, a third of my time in Iowa, and a third of my time traveling."

How do I know that? At one point, I bought three packages of deodorant: one for D.C., one for Iowa, and one for my traveling kit. They all ran out the same week.

Rep. Steve King

“It used to be that members of Congress would buy a place in Washington when they got elected."

Now they all get on a plane and head to their districts. That’s part of the reason there’s more partisanship.

Former representative Marty Meehan (D-MA), who served from 1993 to 2007 and is now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell

“We’re supposed to be a representative democracy—but our Congress is not very representative."

The average age in the House is 57; the average age in the Senate is even higher, and it’s mostly wealthy white men. There’s no one under 30, yet almost all the people giving blood for our freedoms are under 30.

Former representative Zach Wamp

These answers to the political questions you've been too embarrassed to ask will explain how voting in a representative democracy works.

“Never, ever indicate that you are disappointed to be meeting with a staff person."

People get fixated on meeting with a member of Congress, but even if you do, it’s going to be a grip-and-grin. Having a good relationship with a staff person can make or break your cause.

Stephanie Vance, former Capitol Hill chief of staff and author of  The Influence Game: 50 Insider Tactics from the Washington, D.C., Lobbying World That Will Get You to Yes

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest