Post-2006: Money and politics

Matt has graciously asked me to post some ideas, strategic suggestions, and framing advice on the issue of money and politics, particularly as to how it relates to his #7 below ("K Street Finds its Sea Legs").

First off, I'm a little "d" democrat. I work for Public Campaign Action Fund (but these posts are my own), and I direct our Campaign Money Watch committee (we took on DeLay in his district in 2004, and educated voters in Ralph Reed's run for lieutenant governor, to list a few campaigns). I believe, in a democracy, citizens need more control over what happens in government than what they have today, and that the GOP Congress has placed power and its accumulation ahead of serving the public interest. If the Democrats take the House, and/or the Senate, the challenges may no where be greater than trying to pass a serious corrective measure on how far out of whack government is skewed to powerful interests and away from the needs of voters.

Certainly, there are examples where a Democratically-controlled Congress will "take on the special interests" like trying to correct what Big Pharma and the GOP Congress did to Medicare, and to refocus our nation's energy policy away from subsidizes Big Oil towards more renewable energy.

WaPo's Jeff Birnbaum describes the winners and losers if the House or Senate, or both, go Democratic:

Pharmaceutical and oil companies had better beware if Democrats make major gains in the upcoming elections.

If Democrats win control of one or both chambers of Congress as many analysts expect, those and other industries could lose a raft of the legislative goodies they've garnered in recent years and also find themselves under congressional investigation.

But the issue of money and politics is not limited to whether the next Congress takes on particular industries, whether members take or don't take lobbyist-funded trips, or whether a lobbyist has the ability to get someone fired.

Someone's missing in the back and forth about winners and losers. What about the voters?

And that's the real question that ought to guide us on reform. Voters want elected officials to be accountable to the people.

That's why, as necessary as it is, lobbying reform doesn't solve the problems early enough. By the time the lobbyists get to our elected officials, the fix is mostly in because they've been raising money from their clients to get people elected in the first place.

We need to think big and take on this issue. Candidates all over the country are using the twin bogeyman of lobbyists and special interests to get our votes. They're claiming that they'll clean up Washington when they arrive. Three hundred and forty-one have already signed the Voters First Pledge. But once these candidates arrive inside the Beltway as electeds, they'll meet institutional resistance to change like they've never seen before. It'll take an organized and mobilized army of activists to change Congress. And frankly, depending on the top-down approach of some organizations to look out for voters doesn't cut it. We have to start talking about what a bottom up approach would look like.

Voters want workable solutions, too. Take Arizona, for example. Did you know Governor Janet Napolitano is running for re-election without raising private funds? She's participating in the state's Clean Elections law which provides public financing to qualified candidates to so they can spend their time talking to voters rather than courting voters.

I'll post more on the Clean Elections laws later. They truly are the model reform necessary to turn the campaign finance system on its head because they make it possible for people from modest means to be able to run on a level playing field.

Tags: campaign finance, clean elections, Congress, lobbying (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

Re: Post-2006: Money and politics

Thanks to your efforts to help eliminate Ralph Reed we are about to elect our first Republican Lt. Governor ever in Georgia.  Reed would have been a godsend to run against in a general election.  Too bad we can't think strategically and helped Republicans eliminate their biggest problem.

by chrisishardcore 2006-10-16 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Post-2006: Money and politics

That icon Ralph Reed got rejected by a conservative electorate in Georgia should give us all pause about the power of a message linking campaign donations, lobbying money, and important issues. Reed lost because he betrayed voters. Democrats ought to learn from that -- and not miss the opportunity to change the system. It's not about winning or losing one office.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-16 10:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Post-2006: Money and politics

In the long run, we need to restrict the free-speech provisions of the First Amendment to flesh-and-blood human beings, and to nonprofits that are fully funded by direct contributions from such persons.

If this takes a Constitutional amendment, so be it.  Then we could prevent corporations from financing ads influencing the public debate.

For right now, what we need is to keep on doing what we're doing: continue this bottom-up, people-powered movement, support candidates that don't take corporate money or bundled contributions from bunches of rich people, and wean the Democratic Party off of corporate and PAC funding, eventually getting it to forswear such funding sources altogether.

We also need to start pushing the message that being able to pay for a congressperson's time is almost as inimical as paying them directly for their support of legislation.  Time is something we all have in short supply, and those that can pay for access will always have the upper hand in deciding what Congress winds up actually spending its time on.  

If there's one NEW Congressional ethics rule I'd like to see, knowing the half-life of the effectiveness of such measures, the only one I'd consider worthwhile would be the banning of pay-for-access.

Besides, their time in their capacity as Congresspersons belongs to those who pay their salaries - we, the people.  Nobody else should have the right to buy that time.

by RT 2006-10-16 10:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Post-2006: Money and politics

RT's got some interesting thoughts. Banning pay-for-access should be an ethics rule, as long as there's a way to revamp the moribund ethics committee. I also agree on weaning the Democratic Party off of corporate-related contributions (it's not just PACs and lobbyists, it's executives, too) and replacing it with grassroots funding -- that's important. But candidate fundraising is much different -- think about all the races that are now emerging on the competitive radar screen, and then think how spread-thin the resources of the netroots will be in short order. With public funding of qualified candidates, these challengers would now be on a financial level playing field.

But I'll return to these themes again, and hold up examples of leadership on these issues.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-16 11:14AM | 0 recs

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