Friday, March 05, 2010

Heather Beaven Explains Why Fighting For Campaign Finance Reform Is Really Fighting For Middle Class Americans


A few days ago I had a long discussion with one of the most impressive House candidates I've met so far this cycle, Heather Beaven, who's running against right-wing ideologue John Mica in a Florida district that includes St Augustine, Daytona Beach, Deltona and the Seminole County suburbs around Orlando. A Navy vet-- and a mother-- her knowledge of policy was astonishing and inspiring. As with all candidates Blue America considers endorsing, I asked her about co-sponsoring John Larson's Fair Elections Now Act. I got more than I bargained for-- mostly because of her well-considered perspective.

Most candidates-- and incumbents-- I ask about getting big money out of elections jump right to what a wasteful pain in the butt it is to spend so much time that could be spent working on America's real problems, on the phone, dialing for dollars and kissing up to big donors. Heather immediately headed off in a different direction. She talked ruefully about how the two major parties aren't recruiting ordinary Americans from all walks of life who are truly representative of this country and how, instead, Washington has turned into it's own little world of millionaires wealthy enough to compete. Over the years we've seen the DCCC, especially since callous corporatists like Rahm Emanuel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have taken over, shove normal Americans out of the way so they can recruit wealthy, conservative corporate shills. Rahm, famously, axed school teacher Dave Lutrin in another Florida district and brought in a lifelong Republican, Tim Mahoney, who was elected, voted with the Republicans over and over and over and then, true to his Republicaness, was caught up in a sex scandal and lost his seat. More recently, the female Rahm, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has been working her magic on bolstering a reactionary candidate on the other side of the state, Lori Edwards (a corporate shill and self-admitted Blue Dog), in order to ax grassroots progressive Doug Tudor.

I wasn't taping my conversation with Heather but afterwards she sent me a blog post she had written on the subject, A Mile In Your Shoes, and gave me permission to republish it here.
So I have blogged before about the awkwardness that comes with asking friends and family to contribute to your campaign. The professionals retort-- if friends and family won’t give to you, why should anyone else? I have blogged about the mind numbing inefficiency of “call time.” The professionals quip – it’s purely a matter of numbers. No one, I am told, is serving in Congress who hasn’t raised $100,000 from their personal network and didn’t spend the better part of year “dialing for dollars” a minimum of 40 hours per week. Most double that.

Here is the new skinny. The only way to climb the legislative body career ladder? Raise money. So rising stars are expected to raise money. Big money. $10,000 a day kind of money. Even if they don’t have much of a race back home. They give it away to those who do. Well, “give” it is probably the wrong word.

A few days ago I spoke to a woman who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates and incumbents every election cycle. She told me that she and her husband would not be giving any more. Why? Because their “little bit of money” couldn’t compete with big lobbying money. It surprised me. I understand the why bother mentality from my fellow $100.00 givers but from a power broker?

She was right.

She was so very right and still we wonder why we have crap policy coming out of our legislative bodies.

We have crap (and by crap I mean ill-thought out, ineffective and expensive) policy spewing from legislators at every level because we have no diversity in the membership of those bodies. Diversity? You ask. Yes, diversity of life perspective.

Interesting, smart working people can’t get the job of legislator because they can’t afford to be a candidate. We already established that being a candidate is a full time job. And it doesn’t pay. Working dads-- can’t do it. They can’t take the pay cut. Mid career professionals-- can’t do it. They have too much seniority at stake. Single moms-- can’t do it. They don’t have the rolodex. Teachers, cops, firefighters, military members, park rangers… are generally forbidden by a law, a policy, a statute or a regulation.

No, the vast majority of our legislators don’t fight for the middle class because they don’t know what it is to fight to get into-- much less stay in-- that class. 

As long as we have campaigns that rely on raising an embarrassment of riches. As long as only about 2% of America’s contribute to candidates that they believe in. As long as we continue to have a huge divide between registered and unregistered citizens. As long as we continue to equate the ability to raise money with the ability to govern, we will continue to live under policy that assumes we are all the same.

If you feel so moved, please consider making a donation to Heather's campaign. I also want to remind you that tomorrow Blue America will be endorsing another "ordinary" American, a public school teacher of 35 years, Bill Hedrick. Bill will be live blogging with us at Crooks and Liars at 11am (PT) and I hope you'll keep it in mind and come over and meet him.

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