A Penny For Your Thoughts? Better Make It $35

"Pay-to-say meetings?" Want to ask a question of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)? That'll be $15. Maybe you want to ask freshman Congressman Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) about his stance on the deficit reduction committee? I hope you've got $35 to spare. That's right, during this congressional summer recess when our elected representatives head back to their districts to presumably meet with constituents, these Members, and countless others like them, are holding town hall meetings. But you've got to pony up to get in.

From the Politico story: "The House Budget Committee chairman isn’t holding any face-to-face open-to-the-public town hall meetings during the recess, but like several of his colleagues he will speak only for residents willing to open their wallets."

Much was made about the heat Ryan took during town halls in April when he attempted to explain his budget proposal, so maybe he's just a little gun shy. Or maybe he and Quayle are just looking for a nice, friendly audience. Quayle certainly found one with his next event.

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the host of Quayle's event, Snell & Wilmer Law Firm, has contributed $6,800 to his campaigns, including $4,000 from the firm's chairman. If that's not a friendly audience, I don't know what is.

And Ryan, according to the Politico report, instead of holding ANY face-to-face town halls during this recess, will be doing a series of "business tours." So, rather than face concerned constituents who continue to struggle in a bad economy, Ryan will make the rounds with business people and others who are willing (and able) to pay to see him. This isn't the first time that Ryan has had a cozy meeting, and looking at the August schedule, certainly not the last.

Forcing people to pay to question their elected leaders flies in the face of what our democracy should look like. We know that lobbyists and big money donors buy access to politicians in Washington, D.C. all the time. But to make regular folks back home do the same is just wrong. The approval rating for Congress is down to 13 percent, according to recent polling. Americans don't think members of Congress are concerned about them, and with events like this it's easy to see why. I'm thinking the approval rating for Ryan (and others like him) is significantly higher among big donors and business elites. You could ask, but you'd have to pay to get into the room.

In light of this news, Public Campaign Action Fund has sent a letter to Rep. Ryan urging him to release the full list of the names and locations of, and scheduled visits to, these businesses he's meeting with.