As promised, here are my rough notes for the panel on election reform that I will be speaking on at YearlyKos, Friday morning at 8am.
Three main themes to touch on: the Problem of Money in Politics; the Clean Money Solution; Action Steps.
PROBLEM: Money is the Achilles heel of American democracy
Here are the four main reasons why we have to change how money affects elections in America.
-Campaigns are too expensive. The cost of running for office is skyrocketing, deterring many good people from even entering the process.
-Good candidates without money or connections to wealthy interests don’t have a fair chance of competing for office
-Politicians are forced to spend too much time raising money rather than devoting themselves to being public servants.
-Special interests have too much influence, while ordinary people get “good government.”
Examples abound to illustrate these points:
-In 1996, $1.6 billion was spent on the congressional and presidential elections. Eight years later, that total had more than doubled, to $3.9 billion.
-When the average cost of running and winning a seat in the House of Representatives has topped $1 million, we can longer refer to that august chamber as the “People’s House.”
-The problem is equally bad in the states. In 2004 in California, the spending on one state assembly race hit $9.9 million and another hit $9.5 million. Arnold Schwarzenegger, swept into office promising to get special interests out of Sacramento, but as Steve Lopez recently wrote, “the man is on his way to raising $150 million in three years, having scheduled a series of dinners in which it costs $100,000 just to get close enough to cut his rubber chicken.”
-Ordinary people without access to wealth are shut out
-Campaign donors are much wealthier, whiter, older, male and conservative than the general population. Not a coincidence that women, people of color and younger people are under-represented as candidates.
-Less than 1/2 of one percent of all Americans made a political contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004. And that’s after the burst of small-donor mobilization that we saw around campaigns like Howard Dean’s and John Kerry’s.
-Of the $11 billion+ given since 1989, the vast majority came from business interests.
-Nine out of ten dollars over $200 contributed to federal candidates, parties and PACs in 2000 and 2002 came from majority non-Hispanic white zip codes
– If you were thinking of running for Congress, do you have any idea where you would get the money to be a viable candidate? (The netroots may be a partial answer, but not across the whole system. Even in a case like the Ned Lamont race, where at least $250K has been raised online, Lamont wouldn’t be credible without his ability to self-finance against Lieberman’s $7 million+)
-(side note: the cost of accessing your Congressman is also skyrocketing, doubling from $20K to $40K per month, according to the Washington Post. )
-About one-quarter of candidates running for the U.S. House or statewide offices say they spend more than half their time raising money. A similar percentage said they spend between one-quarter and one-half of their time on fundraising. That’s time not spent talking to average voters over their kitchen tables.
Special interests winning special favors:
-Just cast your mind back over the bulk of legislation passed by Congress in the past decade:
-an energy bill that gave oil companies $12 billion in tax breaks at the same time that ExxonMobil just posted $36 billion in annual profits and your gasoline and home heating bills are at an all-time high;
-a bankruptcy “reform” bill written by credit card companies to make it harder for poor debtors to escape the burdens of divorce or medical catastrophe;
-the deregulation of the banking, securities and insurance sectors which led to rampant corporate malfeasance and greed and the destruction of the retirement plans of millions of small investors;
-the deregulation of the telecommunications sector producing media conglomeration and cable industry price gouging, and a current power-grab by the cable and telcos to allow them to destroy the internet;
-protection for rampant overpricing of pharmaceutical drugs;
-and the blocking of even the mildest attempt to prevent American corporations from dodging an estimated $50 billion in annual taxes by opening a PO Box in an off-shore tax haven like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands.
SOLUTION: Break candidates’ dependence on private money
-Clean Money/Clean Elections: a voluntary system of full public financing. Candidates qualify by demonstrating a real base of support in their district by raising a large number of small $5 contributions. Then they agree to raise no additional private money and abide by spending limits, in exchange for a full and equal grant of public funds. Additional funds are given to participating candidates if they are outspent by a non-participating candidate or independent expenditures. This is not pie-in-the-sky: it’s been the law in Maine and Arizona since 2000 and it’s spreading to many more states.
-The Good News from Maine:
-Since Clean Elections became law, freed from ties to moneyed interests, lawmakers have approved policies that favor voters rather than those of donors. Maine’s Dirigo Health Program, enacted in 2003 by a legislature heavily populated by “clean” lawmakers, is the closest any state has come to providing universal health care. State Representative Marilyn Canavan has said, “I doubt that this bill would ever have seen the light of day under business as usual politics dominated by special interest groups. Instead, we took on the health care industry and insurance companies and adopted a health care plan that serves the people.”
-What’s more, Maine’s Clean Elections system has proven extremely popular among candidates.
-More than three out of four legislators now serving in the house and senate used Clean Elections.
-This year, of 14 gubernatorial candidates, nine have declared their intention to use Clean Elections. Of the 80 state senate candidates, 71 (89%) have declared their intention to run “clean” and of the 311 candidates for the House of Representatives, 252 (81%) have declared their intent to use Clean Elections.
-The Good News from Arizona:
-Arizona’s Governor Janet Napolitano was elected running “clean” in 2002. One of her first acts in office was to order the bulk purchasing of prescriptions under Medicaid, a step that will save the elderly millions, and one that she has said she could not have done had she not run “clean.”
-Since the implementation of CE in 2000, a much more diverse group of candidates has run for office (48% more minorities, 33% more women between ’98 and ’04); voter turnout has increased substantially; far more people are participating in the funding of elections and the people giving $5 contributions come from neighborhoods that are more diverse ethnically and economically than those who give to privately funded candidates.
-Races are more competitive: The reelection rate for incumbents in Arizona dropped significantly in 2002 and 2004, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of Wisconsin. While this trend cannot entirely be explained by the existence of Clean Elections, it is not true that incumbent reelection rates are rising. The researchers also concluded that “there is no question that public funding programs have increased the pool of candidates willing and able to run for state legislative office. The effect is most pronounced for challengers, who were far more likely than incumbents to accept public funding….Public funding appears to have increased the likelihood that an incumbent will have a competitive race.”
-the cost is minimal—approximately $1.35 per Arizonan.
-More than 60% of candidates in Arizona’s 2006 elections are running clean.
THE MOVEMENT IS SPREADING.
-Connecticut recently adopting full public financing for all state races, in response to a huge series of political scandals involving the governor and several other top officials. New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont have Clean Money systems for some races, and the municipalities of Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico recently approved full public financing for citywide races, the first via a vote in City Council, the second by citizen initiative. Most recently, the California Assembly approved a bill providing full pubic financing of elections. In all, advocates in 30 states are working to pass Clean Elections systems. Find out more from Public Campaign.
-Meanwhile, at the federal level, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) are sponsors of a Clean Elections bill, H.R. 3099, which would bring a system similar to Maine and Arizona’s to congressional campaigns.
Next door in CA, the Assembly passed a CM measure, and the California Nurses Association has taken major steps toward placing this issue before voters in November. Think about the Schwarzenegger $120 million campaign as the backdrop for passing reform.
TN passed public financing through one chamber earlier this year in the wake of scandals. Coalitions in diverse and interesting states like MD, HI, MT are all considering it – and candidates are paying attention. Eliot Spitzer, for one, has endorsed Clean Elections for New York elections – what a difference that would make.
Tom DeLay once called the Northern Marianas Islands a Petri dish of capitalism. As wrong as he is, the scandals he spawned in Congress, along with others, are the Petri dish of reform. The real challenge is to make that reform reflective of progressive and little d democratic values.
That’s why we’re kicking off a national campaign to raise the stakes and raise the bar on reform. Public Campaign and its related organization, Public Campaign Action Fund, work with progressive, political groups as well as traditional reform orgs like Common Cause. We’ve brought together a broad coalition of groups to push public financing for congressional races – something supported by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, MoveOn, NAACP, and the Sierra Club – we know because we signed them all on to the same letter to Senators.
This campaign, which will be launched in the coming weeks will have at its center a Clean Up Congress Pledge for federal office holders and candidates to sign – and we’ll be rolling this out in the media, with our activists, and yes, online.
The other critical place we’ll be launching this is on Clean Money Day – June 27 – at house parties in every state in the nation. Working with Brave New Films and about three dozen organizations, we’re participating in the national screenings of The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress, and we’ll be organizing activists out of these house parties to go forth and get federal politicians to sign our pledge. Please sign up to host or attend a house party – the Brave New Film folks are circulating here at the conference and Robert Greenwald will be doing a screening tomorrow.