In Boston’s upcoming mayoral race, candidate Rob Consalvo recently asked his running mates not to take special-interest PAC money.
Consalvo’s proposal seemed commendable until I saw fellow candidate Charlotte Golar Richie’s response. She rejected Consalvo’s proposal, explaining, “I do not come to this race with a war chest like Councilor Consalvo”. She continued, “I have to build my organization and campaign account from scratch.”
This dialogue puzzled me. I believed special interest money to be synonymous with immoral politics.
After digesting Golar Richie’s response, my first thought went like this: holding political office is ultimately someone’s job, upon which its occupants’ livelihoods depend. Naturally, individuals want to succeed in their work. A politician succeeds if he or she helps contribute to just and effective government, but this end goal entails periodic reelection. Therefore, since reelection campaigns require a lot of money, a politician needs access to financial backers for success.
All right, so politicians need lots of money to maintain their offices. But this does not explain why Richie and other politicians dismiss individual contributions while seeking out special interests. Why not focus on involving voters and reject unrelated special-interest PAC money?
Simply answered, citizens do not give enough money. Consider 2008 - only 4% of Americans made any sort of political contribution. Less than 1% contributed 80% of all political funds. In 2012, 0.4% of Americans gave more than $200 to a political cause, yet this 0.4% provided 63.5% of all money to federal candidates, PACs and political parties.
Candidates cannot rely on citizens when the average citizen is not politically engaged.
This lead to my next supposition: is it the case that local and state candidates may require special interest money, whereas federal officials are wealthier and should finance their own campaigns? I discovered a state lawmaker’s base salary (including bonuses/per diem) varies from around $50,000 to $90,000, while local politicians surely earn even less. Meanwhile the average personal wealth of U.S. Senators and Congressmen is respectively $11.9 million and $6.5 million.
So why do these millionaires not finance their own campaigns? Well, of House and Senate members who won election in 2012, the average campaign funds raised were respectively $1,689,580 and $10,476,451 per candidate.
That’s a lot of money needed to retain a job. Is it fair to ask Senators to contribute $1.75 million or Congressmen $845,000 every year from their personal savings? No other profession demands colossal personal contribution from its employees so they can keep their positions. Besides, many Senators and Representatives would quickly go bankrupt attempting to finance their own campaigns.
What does all of this unsettling information reveal about the big picture of American politics?
Bright men and women run for office wanting to create a better country. To get elected, candidates need campaign money. The average citizen is either politically unaware or simply reluctant to contribute, so candidates turn to special interest money. In order to keep contributions flowing, politicians find themselves legislating in favor of special interests and not constituents. Elected officials cannot impartially do their jobs without angering groups who enable them to keep their jobs.
How do we fix this? Candidates who do not take PAC money (Colorado’s own Andrew Romanoff) and state systems of publicly financed campaigns are encouraging steps. Ultimately, people must stand against special interests and renew their political engagement. As previously mentioned, 0.4% of Americans contributed 63.5% of all political giving in 2012. What if the other 99.6% of Americans started contributing $5 each to their preferred candidates?
Join CleanSlateNow and our Clean Election Crew if you are sick of watching our government implode from the sidelines.
Congressional work on the Farm Bill has been a dismal showing of special-interest influence, reflecting poorly on both Democrats and Republicans.
The first draft of the Bill failed in mid-June, the key-up being crop insurance policies. Prior to the final vote, Jim McGovern (D-Mass) added an amendment to reduce crop insurance funding in order to avoid cuts to SNAP, which were supported by House Republicans (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or the food stamp program).
The vote on McGovern’s measure was mostly along party lines except for eight wayward Democrats siding with Republicans. What might explain their abandonment of SNAP funding, a mainstay in liberal policy?
Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Ranking Democratic Member of the Agriculture Committee, received $17,500 from the American Farm Bureau political action committee (PAC) in 2012, his top contributor in the last three election cycles. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, also a committee member, received a total of $296,000 Agribusiness contributions in 2012 -- in the same year the average agribusiness donation per Democrat was just $36,880.
The potential downpour of new agribusiness subsidies is a gloomy forecast for American taxpayers
Clean Election Candidates - as of August 1, 2013
These candidates have made a necessary and courageous decision to turn down special interest political action committee campaign contributions. Their name below is a link. Send them a note thanking them for representing their constituents and not special interest contributors.
Find out what corporations and unions your elected officials are receiving money from.
Senator Maria Cantwell
U.S. House of Representatives
Andrew Romanoff (CD 6, Aurora, Littleton, Centennial, Brighton)
Congressman Jared Polis (CD 2, Boulder, Fort Collins)
Congressman Phil Roe (CD 1, Kingsport, Morristown)
Jeffrey Kurzon (CD 7, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg)
Colorado General Assembly
Sen. Irene Aguilar (SD 32, Denver)
Rep. Lois Court (HD 6, Denver)
Sen. Michael Johnston (SD 33, Denver)
Rep. Janak Joshi (HD 14, Colo. Springs)
Rep. Dan Pabon (HD 4, Denver)
Sen. Pat Steadman (SD 31, Denver)
Rep. Jovan Melton (HD 41, Aurora)
Owen Perkins (HD 2, Denver)
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele
If you're thinking of running for office without special interest contributions, here are some helpful principles to follow>>
Please suggest others if they aren't listed here. We must be able to verify their stance. Please include a link to a website or Facebook page which states their stance.
Disclaimer: Even if the official candidate committee is not accepting special interest/PAC money, because of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, PACs, political parties and other political committees may be spending money advocating for the defeat or election of these candidates without their permission.
Special interests buying political influence by financing campaigns is an ongoing crisis, profoundly undermining our democratic system. This corrupt practice is accepted -- in fact promoted -- by political insiders across the ideological spectrum. Accordingly we will publish reviews of the special interest political action committee (PAC) money received by members of Congress, starting with Colorado.
A PAC is a political committee set up by an interest group to make contributions or independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.
We will focus on one member per week in alphabetical order, starting with the House. This first week will be Representative Coffman.
Republican Congressman Mike Coffman represents parts of three counties - Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas, including the City of Aurora, where he lives. He is a veteran who serves on the House Armed Services, Small Business, and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. In 2014, Coffman’s Democratic opponent will be Andrew Romanoff, former Colorado Speaker of the House.
Coffman was first elected to Congress in 2008. In his Congressional career he has raised over $1.7 million dollars from PACs – 25% of his campaign contributions.
Forty-one PACs have each written checks totaling at least $10,000 to Coffman’s Congressional campaigns. Below is a list of his 22 largest PAC contributors (top 20 and ties).
Coffman’s membership on the Armed Services Committee, which approves the 595 billion dollar defense budget, helps explain the contributions from defense contractors, such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Honeywell.
Why would these contractors give money to a Congressional campaign? In 2012 Northrop Grumman had $22.7 billion in government sales, 90% percent of their business. Lockheed Martinhad $38.8 billion in government sales, 82% of their business. Raytheon’s sales to government were $17.9 billion, 73% of their total. Honeywell had $3.4 billion in sales to the government, 9% of their business. So these four defense contractors had a total of $82.8 billion in sales to the Federal government in 2012. Their political contributions, although large in the political world, are only .01% of what they receive from government sales.
Five leadership PACs -- Every Republican Is Crucial, New Pioneers PAC, Freedom Project, Prosperity PAC and Majority Committee PAC -- are also among Coffman’s top contributors. Leadership PACs are set up by other members of Congress who have leadership roles, or hope to have such a role. (It turns out that practically every member has one of these PACs).
The Congressmen behind these five “leadership PACs” are, respectively, Eric Cantor (House Majority Leader), Greg Walden (Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee), John Boehner (Speaker of the House), Paul Ryan (Chairman of the Budget Committee), and Kevin McCarthy (Majority Whip).
In 2012 Northrop Grumman made $34,500 in campaign contributions to the leadership PACs that also gave directly to Coffman. The numbers for the other contractors are $38,000 for Honeywell, $35,000 for Lockheed Martin and $22,500 for Raytheon.
A special interest PAC that gives to a leadership PAC helps itself in two ways. It is able to funnel more money to its preferred candidate, and it obtains gratitude from the leaders and rising stars of the majority party.
The ultimate goal of the defense contractors is to obtain votes for approval of billions of dollars of purchases by government. Financing campaigns through contributions by self-interested parties is one reason why our defense spending exceeds the combined defense spending of the next ten largest spending countries, many of whom are allies.
Whether this amount of money is necessary for defense is a separate question, but the spending helps create immense income for contractors, who can then give a relatively small amount to the campaigns of their political supporters, creating an endless corrupt loop of contribution, appropriation, special interest revenue, contribution... Congressmen indirectly appropriate money to their own campaigns.
Looking at the money given by one industry to one Congressman highlights a systemic form of dishonesty and corruption.
By taking these contributions Representative Coffman is acting no differently than practically every other member of Congress. In fact this is the problem.
As always do not hesitate to write back with comments and questions, and please forward this email to anyone you think might be interested.
P.S. CleanSlateNow.org addresses the issue of special interest money corrupting our politics by supporting candidates who do not take PAC money.
Over four and half years ago, I decided to run for the Colorado State House. I jumped into the race assuming I would need to raise more than $100,000 to win, and that would likely mean taking money from anyone willing to donate – special interest political action committees (PACs) included. That is just how campaigns are run and won -- or so I thought. Like most candidates, I assumed that those contributions would not impact my vote or my approach to the office. I was running because of the issues I cared about and the things I wanted to get done.
While on the campaign trail, I met with former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon. As he does with everyone he meets, he made the case for not taking money from special interest PACs, and explained how he had won seats in both the Colorado House and Senate without PAC money. I listened politely, hoping to earn his support, and possibly a contribution to my campaign. Instead, he convinced me to return the two PAC checks I had accepted, and to turn down any more offered to me. I did, and I’m glad I did.
The experience of running a Clean Election Candidate taught me two very important lessons:
The first is that special interest groups expect a return on their investment. Not only do they expect you to win, they expect to receive special access to the legislative process. Most will not say they expect you to vote with them in exchange for their contribution - but it is no secret that many of the bills and amendments offered up by our legislators are written by the same lobbyists who decide which candidates receive the PAC's money. If you show them that you will play ball, by their rules, they will support you - of course, they might support your opponent, too.
The second lesson I learned is that the vast majority of voters are shut out of this process. They know it, and they do not like it one bit. Too many of our elected officials play ball with PACs to get ahead, but at the expense of the trust of their constituents. There is a reason that Congress’s approval ratings have been in the teens for years, and it has nothing to do with which party is in power, because neither party is truly in control. The special interest groups are, thanks in large part to their PAC contributions.
I ran for office because of my passions for better schools, good government, and protecting our planet for my daughter’s generation and those yet to come. My conversation with Ken and the experience of meeting with special interest groups as a candidate made it clear to me that everything I wanted to accomplish would be stymied by special interests and their strangle hold on the legislative process. Even if a few legislators win Clean Election Campaigns, it will not be enough to fix the system.
Here in Colorado, we currently have 7 legislators who don’t take PAC money. I joined Clean Slate Now to help elect more Clean Election Candidates in Colorado, and throughout the country. With your help, we can make all elections, Clean Elections.
Please click here to help.
Republican Attorney Trevor Potter lays out a compelling case for the need for Campaign Finance Reform.
When my high school Civics teacher didn’t know something, she made it up. I remember catching a friend’s eye when she told us that FDR was the first Jewish President. My friend corrected her. (Roosevelt was an Episcopalian). I had already been to the principal’s office for our “personality conflict.”
Now, nearly 50 years later, I read through Civics texts to see what we currently teach teenagers. I wanted to compare the reality of what we do as a country with our stated values. The three texts were substantially consistent.
- Prentice Hall, Civics, lists basic American values as Equality, Freedom and Justice.
- Holt McDougal, Civics in Practice lists Equality, Liberty and Justice.
- McGraw Hill, Building Citizenship, Civics and Economics, lists Freedom, Equality, Opportunity, Justice and Democracy.
Words are imperfect vehicles for carrying meaning. We use them out of necessity, but there are not hard lines between the concepts of equality, freedom and justice. For instance you cannot have a society that attains a high degree of freedom and justice, if you also do not also have political equality.
It is political equality that is threatened by the way we finance campaigns.
Public Campaign is a group we regard highly. Their “slogan” is a simple one: Clean Money - Clean Elections
We like the term Clean Elections, too, because, well, who doesn’t want elections to be clean?
Other groups use similar terms (e.g. Clean Money or Voter-Owned Elections) but they mean the same thing.
But what, exactly, is a Clean Election?
The best known example of a Clean Election program is the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. It was created by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and went into effect in the 1976 election. You can dedicate $3 of your federal income taxes to fund qualifying candidates for President. For years, both the Democratic and Republican nominees for President relied on those funds for their general election campaigns, along with the party nominating conventions. In exchange they were not allowed to accept any other funds for their own campaigns (though the political party committees could and did raise money to campaign on their behalf).
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first major candidate in decades to opt out of government funding for a Presidential campaign - though he also declined to take contributions from the special interest political action committees (PAC). In 2012, both Obama and Romney opted out of the government funding system, and decided that they could raise more money on their own. Once again, Obama did not accept PAC contributions to his campaign (though he did solicit contributions for a Super PAC that spent money to support him, but independently of his campaign).
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his previously promised Moreland Commission, a committee tasked with investigating corruption in New York government and recommending legislative action.
In response to his campaign finance reform bill dying in the Senate, the Governor has assembled a collection of 25 legal experts, including 10 District Attorneys. Authorized with broad jurisdiction and subpoena power, these officials will tackle the fraud rampant among New York politicians.
Considering Albany’s recent cluster of political scandals, the Moreland Commission is a welcome, albeit transitory, substitute for legislation. Some preventive action was necessary after cases of bribery, embezzlement, and illegal campaign fundraising surfaced, rocking the trust in state government. Southern District of New York attorney Preet Bharara labeled the situation aptly: “a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York Government.”
Despite its seemingly honorable intentions, Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission has received mixed reviews.
Which one of these is not like the others?
An acquaintance recently asked, “Why did you run for political office?”
I said, “Well, I’m Jewish, and my grandmother’s parents and eight of her brothers and sisters were killed in an anti-Semitic pogrom in the Ukraine in 1916. When I was in college becoming politically aware during the Vietnam War, it was clear to me that Vietnam was a failure of morality, judgment and policy.
I realized that things don’t automatically turn out okay. I thought if you want to prevent tragedies, you need to be involved. You may not be able to stop every bad thing from happening, but at least you will know that you tried.”
My friend was quiet and I thought that perhaps I had been too self-revealing. Previously we had only joked around together. But he said in a serious way, “That sounds like a good reason.”
“Martha, I’m not going to be home for dinner tonight.”
“George, why not? I’m making chicken.”
“I have to go to a fundraiser with the Wall Street Banks.”
“Ok. When do you think you will be home?”
“Probably about ten. I just have to listen to them whine about over-regulation, and then pick up a envelope of big checks.”
“Where is the fundraiser?”
“At the Willard Hotel.”
“Well don’t eat too much of that rich food. You know it gives you gas.”
When George got home Martha asked him how it went.
“They want the government to insure the depositors against losses, but they don’t want to follow any rules to prevent them from taking risks with the taxpayer’s money.”
“What did you say to them?”
“I just listened, and nodded my head as if I agreed.”
“George, if you didn’t agree, that sounds almost like lying.”
“Well, I didn’t actually tell a lie.”
“Will you be home early tomorrow night?”
“No tomorrow night is another fundraiser. This one is with the Cherry Tree Growers Association. Hell if I know what I am going to tell them.”
As we celebrate our country’s independence it is appropriate to look at how we are doing compared to the ideals upon which the country was founded.
The truth is we are not doing well. Candidates spend more time raising money than they do on policy. Wealthy special interests like banks, insurance companies, pharmaceutical and oil companies have overwhelming influence and control in Washington. Ordinary citizens are almost totally ignored. Every four years, more money is spent on campaigns, people become more cynical, and fewer people participate, potentially creating a negative, downward, death spiral for democracy.
I founded CleanSlateNow.org because I felt a responsibility to do something to stop this looming disaster for our political system. We are working to solve the problem of special interest money corruption by helping to elect candidates who do not accept special interest PAC contributions.
Please join us in supporting these candidates by becoming a member of CleanSlateNow.org.
To become a member, you only need to
1) Pledge to volunteer 10 hours a year;
2) Sign up as a monthly contributor of $8 or more a month; or
3) Make an annual contribution of at least $96.
Will you join CleanSlateNow.org today as a member?
Click here to join us in standing up for democracy, and become a member today.
New York State’s highly publicized, often divisive, and thoroughly comprehensive campaign finance reform amendment has died in the state Senate, and with it hopes for a spark of national campaign reform.
It was defeated 32-30 on the final day of the legislative session. The usual bipartisanship divisions were in effect with every Republican opposed while nearly all Democrats were in favor (even the breakaway senators of the Independent Democratic Committee). However, two Democrats sided with the right, ultimately making the difference in the vote and condemning the reform to failure.
Let us consider the immense benefits of Governor Cuomo’s reform; both immediate and enduring outcomes that would have helped restore effective democracy in America. By evaluating Cuomo’s plan to give power back to his constituents, we may better understand the undemocratic nature of money in politics and frame his reform attempts as a blueprint for campaign restructuring across America.
When my son was ten years old, he came home from school one day and said, “Dad if you were standing on the shore and not very far away a child was drowning would you go into the lake to save him?”
I said, “Yes, of course.”
He said, “Well there are children starving in Africa.”
I mention this because it seems to me that America over the last thirty years has become a more selfish place. People are less inclined to look out for the community, and more inclined to look out for themselves. Whereas once doctors, inventors, teachers and community leaders were esteemed, now the highest form of accomplishment seems to be getting a job on Wall Street, moving money around and making a ton of it for yourself.
The people in my book club last night while discussing The Unwinding, George Packer’s book about the gradual dismantling of many of our social institutions, also discussed what if anything could be done to restore a sense of community, to restore a sense that we are all better off when we look out for each other.
One member of the group said that in order for people to be moved to action something has to be occurring right in front of them. This led to me thinking about what my son said years ago.
Long time readers know that I believe that a very deep underlying dysfunction in our political system is the way we use private, self-motivated dollars to finance our politics. Since political leaders are in some sense, “leaders” this selfish, money-driven system becomes a model for all the other systems and institutions in our society.
For this reason I started CleanSlateNow.org. Our goal is to increase the importance of people in the political system and reduce the influence of money.
I am proud to announce that Mark Mehringer has started to work with me at CleanSlateNow.org. Mark ran for the State Legislature a few years ago. He didn’t take PAC contributions in his campaign and he understands and believes in the goals of CleanSlateNow.org.
At CleanSlateNow.org we support candidates who make a principled decision to forego special interest PAC money in their campaigns.
The constant frustration in our attempts is the somnolence of the American people. For most, the problems in the political system are as children starving in Africa, out of sight, out of mind. If they think about politics at all, they think that someone else will handle it.
Someone else will. Some special interest group is glad to step into the vacuum created when ordinary people don’t participate. But they won’t be interceding for you. They will be interceding for themselves.
Mark and I are open to suggestions about how to be as effective as possible, and we welcome your help in solving this problem. You can reach Mark at Mark@CleanSlateNow.org or you can reach me at Ken@KenGordon.com.
I moved to Colorado about half a year ago, but I’m from Texas and will always consider myself a proud Texan—a Texan with a few bones to pick. A major one? My former governor. This is what he said in a recent veto message.
If you care about education or have kids who go to school in the Denver area, you may have heard about the rift in education policy between those who are in favor of school reform, predominantly defined by supporting the growth of charter schools, and those who rather strengthen traditional public schools. The issue is at the heart of the past couple of Denver School Board elections, and is again creating divisions between candidates for the election this year in November.
This is a complicated issue, with both sides making good arguments. This blog is not to dissect the case for or against school reform, but rather to bring attention to an issue that deals directly with the focus of our organization, taking large amounts of special interest money out of elections.
If you haven’t already heard, it seems the state of New York is taking some serious steps toward campaign finance reform. Well-funded progressive groups are joined by Governor Andrew Cuomo and many state legislators, mostly Democrats, to pass legislation replacing the state's current campaign finance system with publicly financed campaigns. Cuomo, a Democrat, is proposing a system of public financing that is modeled after the one used in New York City, where if candidates abide by strict spending limits, they can receive $6 in public funds to match every dollar they collect in donations up to $175. Mr. Cuomo would also lower contribution limits and expand disclosure rules.
In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll taken April 11-14, 86 percent of Americans favored legislation to close firearm background check loopholes.
So, of course, yesterday a bill to do exactly that, sponsored by two conservative members of the Senate, one Republican and one Democrat was defeated.
Andrew Romanoff raised over $500,000 in campaign contributions during the first quarter of 2013 without taking PAC contributions. He did this even though he was only a candidate for two months. His opponent, an incumbent taking PAC contributions for three months in a highly targeted race, raised about the same or a slightly smaller amount.
The fundraising that Andrew accomplished was, according to political insiders, supposed to be impossible.