by Matt Stoller, Tue Jan 09, 2007 at 08:10:32 PM EST
It's really wonderful that a nice bunch of freshmen have been elected to Congress. But did you know that in order to have the $1 million each one will need to have by the end of this year, each one will have to raise on average $25,000 every single week? And that doesn't include the money needed to retire campaign debt, which lobbyists are only too happy to help with.
In all the discussion of ethics and lobbying reform, one piece that is rarely acknowledged is that the process liberal reforms of the 1970s, the ones designed to keep money out of politics and restore an ethical Congress, largely failed. Tony Coehlo and business Democrats took power in the Democratic Party, and the oil and defense industries gradually took over the Republican Party. From 2001-2006, one could argue that America had the most corrupt Congress and President in history, and it's not like our government was particularly ethical from 1995-2001, either. The process liberals assumed that top-down restrictions could prevent corruption, or at least limit it. This just doesn't make sense on the face of it - it's impossible to ask people with business before the government for money and not be influenced. And it's impossible to ask for $25K every single week and be an effective Congressman - it just takes a lot of time to get that much, even if you're very very good.
So it's significant that Dick Durbin is going to put forward public financing for campaigns. We understand that we get the government we pay for, and if it's business that pays for government they'll get what they want and the public will get screwed. The obstacles to public financing are fairly high. Ironically, most members want it badly because they really hate raising so much money, but for some reason don't think that it's possible to make it happen. I talked to one member who told me that the only real solution to the structural problems in Congress is public financing of elections, but that it's never going to happen. Lots of them feel this way.
There are two basic obstacles to public financing of elections. One is Bush, who will veto any real bill. Two is Mitch McConnell, the impressively mean and intelligent Senate Minority Leader. McConnell is a machine politician, shipping corporate money to Republicans all over the country and wielding huge amounts of power as a result. He hates campaign finance laws, and will oppose this with everything he has. McConnell's going to have to pick his battles though, since there's a lot of defense to play and he's going to have to fight off card check and other serious attacks on his business cronies.
Anyway, it's a very good thing that Durbin is pushing this. It's a major sign that the Democrats are serious about restoring the public's ability to govern.