We Must Shut Down the Dirty Money Sewer—Here’s How
Our democracy is under attack in so many ways right now, but one of the biggest threats is the sewer of dirty money that is flowing into our campaign process. The need for campaign finance reform has never been so great. Special interests have figured out how to spend unlimited amounts of money through various accounts. Often, they can hide their identities and their agendas while viciously attacking candidates and lying about their records. Dark money is flooding mailboxes and television and radio with ads that drown out candidates who are trying to defend themselves from it but have far fewer resources.
How bad is it? Consider this: Sheldon Adelson, a right-wing casino owner from Nevada, and his wife “contributed” at least $82 million during the 2016 election. This cycle, they have already given $30 million to the Republican conservative Congressional Leadership Fund. The American Action Network, which has secret donors, reported spending millions on what they called “research and media optimization.” I would call that disgusting, and so would most people.
All the false and ugly attack ads are designed to overwhelm and defeat a candidate, and they succeed far too often. It’s obvious that throwing dirty money into attack ads works—these groups would not waste their money on attack ads if it didn’t. But not only does it change an election outcome too often, it also is exhausting and depressing our citizens, who frequently decide that every politician is dirty, so why bother going to vote.
Polls have consistently shown that getting the money out of politics is overwhelmingly popular with the people, from one end of the political spectrum to the other. They understand that money corrupts. Democrats have a slew of legislation to end that corruption. Most Democrats support these bills, but sadly, only one Republican in the House of Representatives ever cosponsors campaign finance reform bills.
The US Supreme Court needs to overturn its Citizens United decision, but since it does not seem inclined to do so, Congress must take action. I favor amending the Constitution so Congress and the states can once again have the authority to regulate the money in campaigns. We need to clarify the authority of Congress to regulate corporations—which are not “people”—, corporate contributions to candidates, and general spending and political advertising in elections.
I also support legislation that would require disclosure of campaign donors. I will cosponsor the DISCLOSE Act, which requires donors to reveal who they are. The Senate version also bans foreign-controlled or owned corporations from putting money into US elections. Think we don’t need that ban? Russian citizen Maria Butina, who has been arrested as a spy, is accused of pursuing a “Russian influence operation,” which was “part of a plot to funnel Russian money through the NRA [National Rifle Association] to the Trump campaign, perhaps through NRA entities that were not required to disclose their funding sources” (Politico, 7/16/18). To protect our democracy, we must know who is hiding behind the money and keep foreign agents out of elections.
Finally, I favor public financing of elections. Too many Members of Congress spend too much time with their hands out instead of with their heads in the discussion about policy solutions to our most significant challenges. Public financing would also help to further remove the leverage that moneyed interests, domestic or foreign, use to corrupt our politics.
So many candidates or office holders take money from dirty sources and claim it’s all about “free speech” or that they need the money to win, but do they?
I know a candidate can win without taking corporate PAC or DC lobbyist money because as Campaign Manager, I led two of Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s winning campaigns, and never took a dime from either. Like Carol, I stand for clean, transparent campaign financing, and I am practicing campaign finance myself.
I won’t accept those contributions because I know that grassroots power—the power of ordinary citizens—can win elections. As Campaign Manager, I saw the power rise from “the rest of us, the bottom 99%,” and it gave me great optimism. If you believe in this also, please support my efforts to clean up elections by voting for me on Election Day, Tuesday, September 11.