MONEY IN POLITICS


America will never be destroyed from the outside.
If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
-Abraham Lincoln

 

The corrosive influence of big money is slowly destroying the democracy our Founders intended. Big money drives lawmakers to cower to special interests, and mutes the conversations needed for public good.  

Citizens United was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in modern history.

The Court’s decision allows a tidal wave of unlimited and undisclosed donations by corporations under the guise of “free speech.” The Court wrongly believed that a company’s million-dollar campaign donation would not dictate the policy decisions of elected officials.

This terrible decision effectively allows an election to be bought. How? By corporations, wealthy individuals, and foreign entities like Russia sinking millions of dollars in the form of countless ads promoting or attacking a candidate to sway voters. The donors lack of “connection” to a campaign allows them to dodge taking responsibility for their “free speech” even if that speech is 100% lies. All the while, American voters may never find out that their election had been heavily influenced by a corporate or foreign agenda.

DAMAGE TO DEMOCRACY

Just half of one percent — 0.50% — of Americans fund almost 70% of congressional campaigns.

Think about that for a second. That’s staggering. The question is, what does this do to our democracy? I see three major effects.

First, large undisclosed, unlimited corporate donations directly undermine the wants and needs of the people. Because of these donations, special interests groups have an enormous influence over politicians at the expense of real people. This means higher prescription drugs, lower wages, weak consumer protection - the list goes on and on.

Second, big money forces members of Congress to constantly raise more money for their next campaign. They spend 70% of their time fundraising. The person you elected to represent you, to understand the issues, to meet with you, to attend hearings in overseeing the executive branch (as per the Constitution of the US), and the person who is paid $174,000 to do so, is only spending 30% of his or her working time actually working for you!

Third, elected offices are held mostly by those who cave to special interests or are millionaires themselves. The cost of political campaigns has skyrocketed in the past two decades. In 2000, the average House campaign cost just under $700,000.  In 2016, it was $1.5 million. This makes running for office almost completely out of reach for anyone who is not a millionaire, does not come from a family of politics, and/or is not bought by special interests.  

MY RACE

I see this in my own race for Kentucky’s 6th district.

The incumbent Republican congressman gets 97% of his campaign money from special interests, corporations, and large donors, including a staggering $796,171 from the Financial, Insurance, and Real Estate industries in the 2016 cycle alone — three of the largest interest groups. Only 3% of his donations, since he was elected to Congress in 2012, have come from individual donors who gave less than $200.

Meanwhile, one of my main Democratic primary challengers is a multi-millionaire who can simply write a personal check to cover his campaign expenses, as he has in his past campaigns.

Both are establishment politicians who don’t need or seek small donations in significant numbers. In other words, neither need regular people to fund their campaigns.

In contrast, after just 5 months in the race, my campaign had 16,000 donors, of which nearly 13,000 gave $50 or less, and half of the overall money we have raised have come from small donors. That’s democracy speaking. We need to get back to that.

CURING THE CORROSIVE EFFECTS OF MONEY

Now, how can we cure this cancer crippling our democracy?  

  1. We must hold our elected officials accountable for succumbing to these special interest groups. It is their responsibility to act in the interest of their constituents not corporations.

  2. Elect leaders who believe money in politics to be a major issue, and elect leaders who campaign with the help of the people, not corporate interests.  

  3. A Constitutional amendment to reign in money in politics, even though such an amendment is unlikely today. As a member of Congress, I will work to pass campaign finance reform every chance I can. But passing any law at the federal level will be challenged in court and that means Citizens United must be overturned. To do that requires a Supreme Court that is more progressive. This is one of the major reasons why who we elect as President is critical.  

  4. Until we can overturn the harmful Citizens United ruling, we must express support for legislation that piece-by-piece dismantles the some of the ramifications of the ruling. Specifically, here are several items moving through the House of Representatives that are working today to remove big money from politics. I pledge to support them if I am elected to Congress:

  • DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 1134): The DISCLOSE Act would require “dark money” groups, such as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501 (c)(6) organizations to disclose their donors and spending when they engage in any political activity that mentions a candidate for federal office and/or is intended to influence a federal election.

  • KOCH Act (H.R.1439): The Keeping Our Campaigns Honest (KOCH) Act would require the FCC to demand that outside political groups (dark money organizations) disclose the names of their major donors funding political ads.

  • Government By The People Act (H.R. 20): The Government By The People Act would grant voters a voucher worth up to $50 (through a tax credit) for campaign contributions, and it would provide a six-to-one federal match. This would incentivize candidates to seek widespread small-dollar funding for their campaigns.

  • Get Foreign Money Out of US Elections Act (H.R. 1615): The Get Foreign Money Out of US Elections Act would expand the current ban on campaign contributions and independent expenditures by foreign nationals to include foreign-owned and controlled domestic corporations.

In the meantime, I will continue to do everything I can to heighten awareness of this issue and increase awareness on laws that counter the excessive money in our political campaigns.

This is a solvable problem, and is not a partisan issue. Fixing it will require citizens and politicians alike who love our country and demand structural reform before our democracy is destroyed.