Blue America PAC Taking A Stand On Campaign Finance Legislation
The country's antiquated campaign finance laws, through which the judicial fallacy of "corporate personhood" puts-- quite purposefully-- the outcome of our elections in the hands of the wealthy and powerful instead of the people, are truly at the root of America's problems. The orgy of campaign donations from Wall Street has left the banking industry virtually unscathed from-- and unchanged in the midst of-- the economic and financial mayhem they have caused the nation. Today we watch a gaggle of grotesquely bribed senators denying their own constituents the health care reform the country is demanding. The financial sector has deployed an obscene $2.3 billion dollars into congressional races since 1990 (and another $3.6 billion for lobbying members since 1998) and the Medical-Industrial Complex has "donated" $851 million in the same time period (plus another $3.5 billion since '98). You wonder why only Bernie Madoff is in prison for the economic collapse? You wonder why credit card companies are still raising interest rates retroactively or why insurance companies kick rate payers off their policies as soon as they get sick? Follow the money.
The Blue America PAC is going to be using support of the Fair Election Now Act (Dick Durbin's S. 752 and John Larson's H.R. 1826) to help us decide on endorsements going forward. Basically, the bills provide public money for campaigns of candidates who choose to participate and qualify to, through a system of matching funds. In order for a House candidate to qualify for public money, he/she must raise $50,000 in small contributions from 1,500 people in their home state. They are not restricted to people living in their CD. The maximum contribution per donor is $100. Upon qualifying, the candidate is given a lump sum for the primary campaign. The candidate can then raise addition contributions, up to $100 per donor, which are matched 4 to 1 by the program. That is, a $100 contribution turns into $500 of campaign money. If the candidate wins the primary, they can again collect small contributions that are again matched 4 to 1 for use in the general election. Additionally, the candidate will receive vouchers for television/radio air time during the general election (but not the primary). PACs and out-of-state contributors are also limited to $100 contributions but their contributions are not matched. All together, a single individual can make up to three $100 contributions during the cycle. The qualifying requirements for Senate candidates are higher adjusted to reflect variations in state populations.
The bills' co-sponsors are listed on the Fair Elections Now website and, ideologically the list spans everything from conservative Republicans (there are two, Walter Jones and Todd Platts) to mangy Blue Dogs like Mike Arcuri, Jim Cooper and Jane Harmon to a long list including most real progressives in Congress, from Alan Grayson, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Edwards and Raul Grijalva to Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Keith Ellison and Marcy Kaptur. House members running for Senate, Joe Sestak, Paul Hodes and Mike Capuano have signed on as co-sponsors. And 5 senators up for re-election in 2010 are also co-sponsors: Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd, Kirsten Gillibrand and Arlen Specter.
Here's a letter that Fair Elections activists Frank Kirkwood and Marc Knezevich helped Blue America draft to send to candidates we are considering endorsing:
In 2006, and again in 2008, the American people voted for change. But, change in Congress has been slow and small. There is a disconnect between the desires of the citizens for change and the persistent resistance to change in Congress. While some of this opposition is ideological, much of it is rooted in our system of privately funded political campaigns.
We currently have a campaign funding system that requires members of Congress to serve two masters; the voters in their district and that small percentage of the population, scattered throughout the country, which provides much of the funding for re-election campaigns.
While the citizens back home want change, the biggest suppliers of campaign money generally want Congress to maintain the status quo and do what it is already inclined to do-- nothing. For many members of Congress, “not rocking the boat” is both politically safe and financially rewarding. Self-interested industries and their lobbyists protect industry interests from changes is the law by providing campaign money to “friendly” members of Congress and ambitious congressional leaders of both parties. This system of private campaign funding reduces the realm of “what is possible” in Washington to a very small set of very small reforms.
Members of Congress, for their part, are in a tough position. They need a reliable source of campaign money. If they refuse to take a lobbyist’s money, they know that their opponent will gladly take it and use it to defeat them. The ability of the few to grant or to withhold campaign money is the source of much of the power of the opponents of change.
Candidates for Congress who are running against an incumbent are in an even tougher position, especially if they are running against an incumbent who is a favorite of the lobbyists. Typically challengers are vastly outspent by the incumbent. Challengers often do not have sufficient funding to even make the public aware of their candidacy.
Members of Congress and candidates for Congress need an alternative source of campaign money; publicly funded election campaigns.
In March of 2009, the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) was introduced in Congress. It establishes a voluntary system for publicly funding of congressional campaigns. Drawing on successful public funding programs at the state and local levels, it combines small citizen campaign donations (of less than $100) with matching public funds. It also provides candidates with vouchers for television and radio advertising.
The “Fair Elections Now Act” will give members of Congress a "safety net," a way to do the right thing for the citizens and still be able to raise the money they need to be competitive in the next election. It was introduced with bi-partisan support and has been written to withstand expected court challenges. President Obama was a co-sponsor of a similar bill when he was in the Senate last session.
We are asking candidates for Congress who wish to be endorsed by Blue America to review the Fair Elections Now Act and pledge to become a sponsor of the Act in the next Congress. Blue America endorsed candidates have demonstrated that a good candidate can raise small donations from many supporters. But the cost of a campaign, especially in a competitive district, can be huge. The Fair Elections Now Act allows a candidate to combine the support demonstrated by many small contributors with the provision of campaign funds in amounts large enough to finance a viable campaign.
A democracy that requires its elected officials to serve two masters (one legitimate and the other not) is a system that is guaranteed to produce the public distrust and cynicism that we see growing around us every day. A candidate for Congress who does not pledge to fix this democracy, while a fix is still possible, deserves no support from us.
Of the 14 members of the House Blue America endorsed and raised money for last year 11 are already co-sponsors: Steve Cohen (D-TN), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jim Himes (D-CT), Eric Massa (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Tom Periello (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). Virtually all of the candidates Blue America has been talking to for 2010 have already told us that they strongly support campaign finance reform and that they would sign on as co-sponsors to H.R. 1826. Marcy Winograd is running for the seat currently held by untrustworthy Blue Dog Jane Harmon. Marcy told us she's an unabashed supporter of reform:
I support the Fair Election Now Act, just as I have strongly supported the Clean Money campaign for years in California. To raise $50,000 in small contributions from 1500 people in one's home state would require some grassroots organizing, a refreshing alternative to corporations subsidizing congressional seats. People want their representatives to represent them, not Bank of America or Chevron. Let's put Congress back in the hands of the people. That's what democracy is all about.
Down in Florida, Doug Tudor is also running against a reactionary quasi-Democrat, Lori Edwards, the only non-incumbent to be endorsed-- and financed-- by the Blue Dog Caucus so far this year. Like Marcy, Doug is a strong and unwavering supporter of campaign finance reform.
I fully support the Fair Elections Now Act, and, if elected and if needed, will cosponsor the bill in the next Congress. I truly hope that I will never get a chance to vote on this legislation, as it needs to be passed by the current Congress. It is the only way a non-millionaire is able to effectively fun for federal office. It is the only way we can give a $100 donor the same voice as a mega-donor. I learned in my 2008 campaign that campaign fundraising is the ultimate expression of a “Catch 22.” One has to have obscene amounts of money to win, but to get the big money donors to contribute, you already have to have lots and lots of money. This Catch-22 is perpetuated by the national parties. Trust me when I tell you, every time I talked to a party insider about my campaign the very first question was always “How much have you raised?” My 2008 opponent, Adam Putnam, spent $2,300,000.00 to my $108,000 to get a $174,000 job, and yet he claimed the mantle of “Fiscal Conservative.” All reasonable people know that money has corrupted our electoral system. The Fair Elections Now Act will take a significant step toward halting that corruption. It has my full support.
Sound like the messages you want to hear from members of Congress? Give Marcy and Doug a hand; they're the only candidates on our BadDogs page, one we expect will grow with time.
UPDATE: Two More Progressive Candidates For Reform
DWT readers are already familiar with Savannah state Senator Regina Thomas, who took on corrupt corporate shill and reactionary Blue Dog John Barrow last year. We're hoping she'll do it again next year. Anyone who remembers her from the last campaign-- and everyone who is familiar with her reformist record in Georgia state politics-- will be anything but surprised how strongly she feels about this issue. "I am all for Campaign Finance Reform," she told us today, "because incumbency literally buys the election. The little guy who is not willing to be bought will have a hard fight to get elected. The American people deserve better; they deserve persons elected to say/do what they say they will do and mean it. They deserve an opportunity to see/hear from the candidates-- candidates who don't spend all their time and energy courting wealthy vested interests eager to preserve the status quo. Our elected officials should be working for the best interests of the citizens who elect them, not to protect the special interests of their big campaign donors. The system has become dysfunctional and needs a major overhaul."
Pat Meagher, out in the Inland Empire in a new candidate for many of us. He's taking on the House's most corrupt member, Jerry Lewis, and he's thought a lot about campaign finance reform and has made it an integral part of his campaign platform.
I want reform to achieve three goals:
We must foster an informed voting public by enabling all candidates equal access to “getting their message out.” A political campaign should be a discussion and evaluation by the voters of the relative merit of candidates’ positions. An adequately informed voter is at the essence of this great democracy.
We must deemphasize the power of wealth to influence legislators and legislation. The ability to contribute large sums far too often determines the relative importance of constituent needs. To truly be a democracy, all citizens in this country, regardless of wealth, should have access to representation.
Congressional representatives should spend far less time on raising money, and far more time on discussing issues with their constituents and enacting legislation based on their constituents needs and desires.
With those ends in mind I endorse H.R. 1826-- the Fair Elections Now Act, and would sign on as a cosponsor when elected to the House of Representatives.
Both Regina Thomas' perspective opponent, Blue Dog John Barrow, and Pat Meagher's opponent, Jerry Lewis, are dead set against this kind of reform and dead set on encouraging more voter participation or more widespread accountability from elected representatives. This is the kind of issue that separates the wheat from the chaff. Sen. Thomas isn't accepting campaign contributions yet but you can donate to Jerry Meagher here.