You may have noticed a discussion of public financing on MyDD over the last few months. A system of public financing of elections iis set up and working in a few states - Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine. And while it's too soon to judge Connecticut, the system does work in Maine and Arizona. David Donnelly of the excellent group Public Campaign has come on to MyDD and blogged about the issue and answered questions about the efficacy of the systems currently in place, which is incidentally why federalism works. We can test things out in the states before scaling them.
Here's why I've been blogging about public financing. Tom Hamburger and Janet Hook of the LA Times have written an excellent article about the business lobby and the Democrats in Congress (if you like their work, send them nice email - firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi terrified the oil industry late last year when she outlined her priorities for the new Democratic majorities in Congress. Within the first 100 hours, she promised, they would "roll back the multibillion-dollar subsidies for Big Oil."
Last week, however, when Pelosi (D-San Francisco) won House approval of the much-touted bill socking it to the oil companies, it turned out to be considerably less drastic than many in the industry originally feared. Out of an estimated $32 billion in subsidies and tax breaks that the oil companies are scheduled to receive over the next five years, the final House bill cut $5.5 billion.
It's not just oil: From one end of the House Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda to the other, businesspeople and their lobbyists have found success amid the fear in dealing with the new Congress.
Surprising as it might seem in view of the Democrats' public rhetoric, business groups are getting their telephone calls returned. And they're getting plenty of face time with the new House and Senate leaders.
Thanks to this access, the oil industry fended off many features it considered most objectionable in the proposed energy bill, and the big pharmaceutical companies had success keeping some provisions out of the new House Medicare drug bill.
And, while the House was passing its minimum-wage bill, small-business lobbyists were working the Senate to win tax breaks for their clients in the Senate's version of the bill.
"There was a lot more anxiety initially because of not knowing what was going to transpire," said Stuart Roy, a member of the prominent Washington lobby shop DCI Group and once an aide to Tom DeLay when DeLay (R-Texas) was House majority leader. Now, Roy said, "the anxiety level is down."
Robert Reich is very unhappy with the 100 hours agenda, and it's hard to refute his claims. Perhaps Reich has the weary attitude of a man who has seen Democratic leaders enact very bad policies under the guise of progressive populism. The signs are unmistakeable that this is a real danger going forward. For instance, front-runner Hillary Clinton's senior health care advisor Laurie Rubiner came from the Republican side of the aisle, and Rubiner's health care solution, as written in the Atlantic, begins with "Believe it or not, there is a politically appealing way to achieve universal health-care coverage: simply require all U.S. residents to buy insurance, with government help if necessary." If I became incredibly cynical, I might believe that Senator Clinton is going to make subsidies to the health insurance industry one of two priorities for her Presidential run. I assume her PR will be better than that, of course, and dress it up as 'insurance subsidies for kids'.
I'm not as cynical as Reich, and I believe that Nancy Pelois will be a great Speaker. The Democrats in Congress need help, though, in order to really legislate a progressive agenda. It's not enough to get them elected, or even to support good policies. We have to get rid of the pressure that compels them to spend much of their time begging for money for the wealthy.
The structural rot here is that politicians have to raise a massive amount of money to be reelected. We're not talking netroots amounts, we're talking in the hundreds of millions, and pretty soon, billions. That amount of money can only come from (a) corporate interests and (b) really rich people. So Hillary Clinton, to pick a random politician, is now in the top echelon of recipients of health care industry cash of all politicians. And she's the top Democrat in the race for President.
Though I'm picking on Senator Clinton, it's not really her fault that the game is rigged this way. Well it is a little, since changing the game isn't her priority and she's a stahhh. The problem is the gobs of money required to run for office, which immediately consigns large segments of the population to being unable to run for office. This includes lots of those fighting Dems we talked about in 2004, many of whom didn't have the connections to raise all the money, but given the chance to organize instead of fundraise from rich people could have put a lot more seats in play.
Public financing is the only solution to this problem. It works, pulling the incentives out of the system towards corruption and subsidies for corporate elites. It is a structural solution to the pressure Pelosi feels to bring business lobbyists to the table, even though they have stolen from the public for at least a decade. We should get behind it. And members in Congress who think that it's the obviously correct solution, but don't believe it's possible to enact, should reconsider their position. It won't be enacted without leadership, but it can and will be done.