If you walk into any of the 100 Senate offices spread across Capitol Hill, there is one consistent element. Marco Rubio’s furniture won’t be the same as Elizabeth Warren’s and Mark Udall’s landscape photographs won’t match Lindsey Graham’s wall hangings. The ubiquitous fixture of every Senate (and House) office is livelier: the young, sometimes bright-eyed, cohorts of interns that flood the Capitol in the summer.
Across the spectrum of industries, internships have been commonplace for decades, but the unpaid variety has come under close scrutiny only recently, following a number of high-profile incidents challenging the legitimacy of the practice -- long bemoaned by many interns themselves. In June, a federal judge ruled for the first time that Fox Searchlight broke employment laws by not paying interns. Two days later, former interns at Condé Nast, who had been paid at a rate less than $1 an hour, filed suit against the magazine group. Condé Nast has recently revealed it has stopped paying interns altogether. Seeking a more conciliatory approach, interns at The Nation wrote a letter to their editors at the end of July instead of taking legal action, and were later rewarded by a promise of minimum wage. As the case of the unpaid intern garnered national attention, it wouldn’t be long before the national legislature would get its turn. That happened when Jessica Padron, who’s been offered an internship in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, took to Indiegogo to crowdfund her otherwise-unpaid internship.