It is election season, and both challengers and incumbents need to raise lots of money to compete for our votes. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it.
Several weeks ago, I received a telephone call from an incumbent in the Congress. I prefer not to mention his or her name, or whether s/he was from the House or Senate, or from which party. The person was from another state and had been in a position to influence the level of appropriations received by the National Institutes of Health.
S/he called my office asking for a campaign donation and said, "You have a large amount of NIH-funded grants. I've done a lot for you. I'm in a tough election, and I am hoping you will return the favor by contributing to my campaign." Before this phone call, we had never talked to one another.
I am grateful for the support given to NIH research by many Congresspeople. The intramural and external research carried out under NIH auspices is expanding our knowledge of disease, diagnostics, and therapies. The whole county and the world benefit from the actions of Congress in this arena.
But it just didn't feel right to receive a campaign solicitation in the context delivered by this candidate. The personalization -- "I've done a lot for you" -- suggested that there should be a quid pro quo. This is clearly at variance with the NIH grant application and approval process, which is based on scientific evaluations by peer reviewers.
It also suggested that there was some kind of unwritten contract between this legislator and me, one to which I was an unknowing party. No one likes to be told that they owe someone in this fashion. I found it unpersuasive, and offensive.