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“We haven’t seen a ‘Democracy Page’ on your website yet.”

by Frank Kirkwood

December 2018

Congressional Democrats, soon to be in control of the U.S. House, will start the year by introducing a bill, HR 1, that is likely to include many needed reforms such as publicly funded elections, full disclosure of campaign spending, protections for voting rights, and other reforms to make democracy fair and functional. This bill should pass with strong Democratic support. Then it will die a quiet death in the Senate. But the Democrats will have made their point: We are the party of reform! Put us fully in power and we will fix the system. But will they follow through if and when they get the power? No, they won’t. At least not unless we make them do it. And we need to start now.

How can we citizens get our elected officials in every party, at every level of government, to acknowledge that our democracy is weak and getting weaker? How do we get them to make the changes necessary to bring our democracy to full health? How do we force politicians to respect the political equality of every citizen and fix our democracy so that each citizen’s voice is respected?

Here’s the thing about politicians that we have to understand: some of them are just awful: self-serving, ravenous for power and prestige, on the lookout for ways to turn their power into money. The very worst of them are indifferent, and even hostile, to the idea of democracy itself.

The good politicians do believe in democracy and respect every citizen’s power in it. The best politicians are even willing to make their own re-election potentially less certain in order to make our democracy stronger. Its not the patriotic sacrifice that so many have made for our country over the years but with a mortgage to pay and a family who depend on them, it is a brave and honorable position.

Of course, most politicians fall somewhere between the worst and the best. Even the worst will pretend to care about the citizens and our democratic traditions and even the best may really want to make our democracy healthier but may lack genuine enthusiasm for reforms that might make their own jobs less secure. So, it is a big ask when we ask them to do the right thing for the citizens and our democracy. Democrats (like Republicans) will not do this on their own once they have control of the government.

So, how can the citizens force elected officials to fix our democracy? In truth, the only thing we can actually force our elected officials to do is to clean out their desks and go home after they have lost the last election. The key to motivating them to do the right thing is to help them easily imagine that they will lose the next election if they don’t stand up for democracy.

Here’s how we can do that: First, we ask elected officials to be leaders in this reform and to tell us what they see as the problems with our democracy. Second, tell us how they will use their official power to fix those problems. Third, we ask them to put it all up on their website for the citizens to see – to stand up for democracy!

That’s where we start our conversation with our incumbent representatives. “We haven’t seen a ‘Democracy Page’ on your website yet. Don’t you think there are problems with the way our democracy works that need to be addressed? We do and we would like you to be our ally in this effort to fix democracy. Let’s talk about some of the problems and some of the solutions and how you, as our representative, can lead the way to fixing them. Then you can put up your ‘Democracy Page’ and we can move from there to getting these solutions passed into law.”

Politicians address all sorts of issues on their webpages. Democracy is rarely one of them. That’s because politicians say they want reform but many of them want only enough reform to put themselves in power and to disadvantage their rivals. They don’t want to have to run for re-election in a district unless it has been gerrymandered to such a degree that the other party has little chance of beating them. They don’t want to face a challenger in the primary who is able to raise enough money (through publicly funded elections) to run a competitive campaign against them. They don’t want to give up free gifts, vacations, meals, and drinks with the lobbyists. They don’t want registering and voting to be easy and convenient – especially for citizens who might vote against them. They don’t want their campaign contributors to get the idea that their money is not welcome. And they certainly don’t want to acknowledge the truth that the pay-to-play political system that keeps them safely in office is corrupt.

So, it is a tough sell. But if your representative is not willing to speak the truth about our democracy on their Democracy Page now, then we will know the kind of legislator we are dealing with – the worst kind – the kind we need to get started replacing.

Once we are able to get elected officials to publicly post their assessment of the problems we face and the solutions they support, then we can push these legislators to the next steps: sponsor or co-sponsor reform bills, speak out for reform at events and on social media, challenge party leadership to bring reform bills to a vote, and to actually vote for reform bills when the big day to fix democracy finally arrives.

But, reformers can’t wait until the “big day” finally arrives to find out if our representatives are the best kind or the awful kind. We need to know now.

Let’s start by saying: “We haven’t seen a ‘Democracy Page’ on your website yet.”

What does a “Democracy Page” look like?

What does a “Democracy Page” look like?

by Frank Kirkwood

January, 2019

If we ask our representatives and candidates to state their support for pro-democracy/anti-corruption reforms on their website and they won’t do it, is it at all reasonable to believe that, when push comes to shove, they will ever actually vote for those reforms?

We say, “No, that’s not reasonable”.  If they aren’t willing to even say they support reforms that are widely popular with the citizens, then there is no reason to expect them to stand up for democracy when it is time to insist that reform bills be called for a vote in the legislature and to vote for these bills.

A politician’s “Democracy Page” should contain clear and strong statements about the problems with our democracy, solutions to those problems, and pledges to advance specific legislation to put those solutions in place.  It is not a list of promises so much as a personal statement about what the politician sees as their mission in Harrisburg (or Washington).

Do they think the government should be a partner or an adversary in helping every citizen to register to vote, to easily and conveniently cast their vote, and to have those votes fairly and accurately counted?  

Do they think the government should be a partner or an adversary in honoring each citizen’s political equality by creating election districts where citizens have choices on election day rather than allowing politicians and their patrons to gerrymander for their own benefit?  

Do they think the government should be a partner or an adversary, in ending the ability of the few to dominate our government through election spending, through dark money spending, through gifts and pay-back jobs to politicians, and any other activities that give the monied few the dominating voice in our political community?

So, lets ask them to define the problems as they see them, the solutions they favor, and the legislation they support.  Then lets have a conversation about those solutions and how we can work together to pass legislation. But, if they won’t discuss the matter or they don’t think that both our democracy and the power of the individual citizen is being disrespected, we need to know that now so we can look for politicians who are willing to see the problems and ready to fix them.

Survey of the Websites of the “Champions of Campaign Finance Reform”

by Frank Kirkwood

The political action committee named End Citizens United raises a lot of money.  They plan to raise $35 million for the 2018 elections.  Here is the list of ECU endorsed candidates.  ECU calls them their “Champions of Campaign Finance Reform”. There are 106 of them.

On their website, End Citizens United says that their mission is, “to end Big Money in politics and fix our rigged political system by electing campaign finance reform champions, passing state ballot measures, and elevating this issue in the national conversation. We will work in partnership with these champions to overturn Citizens United and end the unlimited and undisclosed money in politics.”

Now, what would you think would be the one issue that you would definitely expect a candidate on End Citizens United’s “Champions of Campaign Finance Reform” list to support? I say it would be ending Citizens United. How might a candidate “elevate this issue in the national conversation”? Several ways, but one big and public way is to state their support for fixing Citizens United on their campaign website and, if they are an incumbent member of Congress as 77% of the “Champions” are, on their official congressional website, too.

Websites are the new public face of our candidates and elected officials.  They are a good platform for legislators to say what is important to them, to demonstrate leadership, and to educate and energize their constituents about fixing this very real problem.  If you add to that the fact that reversing the Citizens United decision is very popular then you might imagine that a lot of politicians would use their websites to highlight their position against this decision.

On January 29, 2018, I reviewed both the campaign and official congressional websites of the 106 “Champions”. I looked for statements about the need to end Citizens United or to reverse the Citizens United decision.  (See the tally sheet here.)

Here are the results: the number of endorsed candidates who had such a statement on either of their websites was 32 out of 106 or 30%. This means that 70% of ECU’s “Champions” were completely silent on Citizens United – they didn’t even mention it as a problem. The number of “Champions” who mentioned it on both of their websites was 1.  (Thank you Montana Senator Jon Tester!)   Just 1.

So what is going on here?  I know that the “Champions” had all filled-in an ECU questionnaire about various reform issues and answered the questions to the satisfaction of ECU.  These questionnaires can be found by going to the ECU website, clicking through to the endorsed candidates page, finding the “Champion” of interest, clicking on him or her, then reading the candidate’s questionnaire responses.  That’s useful if you already are well informed and sympathetic to reversing Citizens United and know to go to ECU’s website.

However, regular folks, won’t do that.  When they want to know what a candidate or elected official thinks, they go directly to the candidate’s website.  But when they go to the websites of 70% of the “Champions” they will see nothing about Citizens United.

This same pattern can be seen with incumbent members of Congress who are co-sponsors of bills to create publicly funded elections.  These elected officials tell us that they are with us, they have co-sponsored the bill, and if we want proof of their support we can go to congress.gov and look it up!  But, for 83% of these co-sponsors, their public-facing webpages are silent on publicly funded elections.  (See this review of their websites.)

The willingness of candidates and elected officials to be identified with reform issues, in public, on their websites, is a small test of their sincerity and their commitment.  We need politicians who can pass this test today.  The bigger tests will come later when it is time for them to vote to change the system and thereby change the underlying political power structure in our country.  There is difficult political work ahead for them.

We reformers need to insist that politicians do more to “elevate this issue” and demonstrate to us that they have the willingness and the backbone necessary for the fight ahead.  They can start by posting their support on their websites.  We can start by insisting that they do so.

Our Secret Supporters, Part II, the 115th Congress

A Review of the Websites of the Co-Sponsors of Legislation to Create Publicly Funded Elections, Part II, 115th Congress, reviewed January 2018

by Frank Kirkwood

Legislation to set up publicly funded elections has been introduced in Congress many times over the last 20+ years.  We should expect real leaders of these politically revolutionary bills to use their websites, their face to the public, to say to their constituents, “Like you, I recognize that our democracy is in trouble.  There are solutions to these problems and I am working hard to pass them.  Look at what I have done already.  I have co-sponsored the bill to create publicly funded elections.”  Real leaders would take the opportunity to use their websites to acknowledge the public’s frustration and to educate their constituents about the solutions that are available to the money-in-politics problem and to let the citizens know that their representative is on the forefront of this fight.

In August of 2015, I reviewed the websites of the sponsors and co-sponsors of the two bills to create publicly funded elections in the 114th Congress.  I also looked at the websites of the sponsors and co-sponsors of the two resolutions to amend the constitution to fix the Citizens United decision.  I looked at both the official congressional website and the campaign website of each of these elected officials.  You can see that review here.

In January of 2018, I repeated the review for the 115th Congress but this time I did not look at the Citizens United related bills, only at the bills for publicly funded elections:  HR 20, the Government by the People Act and S 1640, the Fair Elections Now Act.  I looked for statements on their websites about these public funding of elections bills or, more generally, about their support of publicly funded elections.

Here is what I found:

Publicly Funded Elections

Do members of Congress who say (by their co-sponsorship) that they support publicly funded elections demonstrate their support on their websites?  The official congressional websites and the campaign websites of the sponsors/co-sponsors of the Fair Elections Now Act (in the Senate) and the Government for the People Act (in the House) were reviewed.  To date, there are 27 sponsors/cosponsors for S 1640 in the Senate and 158 sponsors/cosponsors of HR 20 in the House.


Total (both houses) sponsors/co-sponsors =  185

Total sponsors/co-sponsors (both houses) with a statement about these bills or about publicly funded elections on either their official or campaign websites =  32 sponsors/co-sponsors or 17% of sponsors/co-sponsors.

Total sponsors/co-sponsors (both houses) with a statement about these bills or about publicly funded elections on both their official and campaign websites =  6 sponsors/co-sponsors or 3% of sponsors/co-sponsors.

Or stated another way –

83%  of all sponsors/co-sponsors of bills to create publicly funded elections do not mention their support for these bills or their support for publicly funded elections at all on either their official or campaign websites.

Look here for details of US House of Representatives co-sponsor website review.

Look here for details of US Senate co-sponsor website review.

March on Harrisburg

by Frank Kirkwood

Well, I’ve been away from the blog for quite a while.  But I have a good excuse, I have been organizing and agitating with March on Harrisburg.  We have been marching on Harrisburg (literally, not just metaphorically), visiting almost all our legislators, engaging in non-violent direct actions, and marching, once from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and then from Lancaster to Harrisburg.

We are asking the legislature to pass a Pennsylvania constitutional amendment to take re-districting out of the hands of self-serving legislative leaders and put it in the hands of a citizens commission.  We are also agitating to get them to pass a ban on gifts to legislators.  Right now, lobbyists can give meals, drinks, nights on the town, event tickets, even vacations to your representative – all perfectly legal and much of it never has to be reported.

Gifts are a way of life in the legislature, it is the way business is done.  It is really just another form of the payments by lobbyists to the campaign committees of legislative candidates.  All perfectly legal and all perfectly corrupting!   So, we are starting with the gift ban.

Check it out:  March on Harrisburg.

Donald Trump Is Eating Our Harvest

People and organizations who advocate for political power reform need to notice and speak up about what is happening in this presidential election.

Reformers have done a good job over the years of helping the general public understand the damage being done by privately funded elections and by Citizens United.  We have also offered solutions.

Now, thanks to the work we have done, both the problem and the solutions are part of the presidential campaign discussion.  Hillary Clinton’s website extensively details her solutions, including her support for publicly funded elections and a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United.  These reforms are supported on Jill Stein’s website. Gary Johnson’s website does not acknowledge that we have a money-in-politics problem.

How about Donald Trump?  Part of his appeal for many people is the idea that he is not taking big money from big self-interested donors.   On his website’s “Issues” page he says, “I’m self-funding my campaign”.   That way, “I don’t owe anybody, anything”, he says in his top-of-the-page video.

There is no interpretation of “self-funding” that accurately describes Trump’s campaign.  His statement is a lie.  There is no other way to put it.  But, many people believe this to be true and they like Trump for it.  Like Clinton and Stein, Trump is tapping into the deeply felt anger and frustration of people who know that the political system has been corrupted.

Reformers and reform groups have a special, trusted place of expertise in this discussion.   Advocates for political power reform must speak up.  We must draw attention to the candidates who offer solutions and call out those who do not.

We need to take advantage of the opportunity Trump presented to us when he posted this totally indefensible statement.  We need to collectively and continuously insist that he remove this claim from his website – until he removes it.  We need to point out that other candidates are offering real solutions, and call on Trump to offer real solutions, too.

We are being used.  Donald Trump is eating our harvest.  Advocacy organizations need come together and speak up!

9 Reasons Money-in-Politics Reformers Should Doubt the Sincerity of Incumbents Who Say They Support Reform

By Frank Kirkwood

Of the one hundred and eighty plus members of Congress who have co-sponsored reform legislation around publicly funded elections I believe there are two or three dozen of them who would actually vote for that legislation – if the day ever came when it was called for a vote.

Here are reasons we should question their sincerity:

1.  They are not fools.

Actually passing publicly funded elections will mean that an incumbent may face a competitively funded challenger in the next primary and general election and perhaps in every election for the rest of their careers.  Since so many incumbents (90%+) represent safe, one-party districts, a real opponent is something that very few of them have to worry about now.  From a self-interested point of view, it would be foolish to support reform.  Thankfully there are some members of Congress who are willing to look beyond their self-interest.  But how many?

2.  They have already found their “sugar daddies”.

Incumbents have lined up their own reliable sources of campaign money.  Most don’t need public funding themselves and have no interest in helping to fund an opponent in their party or the other party.

3.  The “Co-Sponsor Maneuver” solves their problem.

With so many citizens disgusted with Congress and disgusted with money-in-politics corruption, how do members of Congress respond when their constituents demand change?  Republicans, at least so far, have been free to ignore the question.  Democrats often respond by claiming that they themselves are reformers.  “Just look at the record” they say, “I have co-sponsored the public funding of elections bill.  I co-sponsored the resolution to fix Citizens United!”

Many of these incumbents are trying to have it both ways.  They have found a safe, comfortable place for themselves in Congress.  They have no self-interest in fanning the flames of reform or in telling the general public that there are solutions that can fix our democracy.  They quietly tell the reformers that they support fundamental change.  “You can look it up,” they say, “I am a co-sponsor of the solutions.”  They are not the problem, its the Republicans!   This “co-sponsor maneuver” quickly and at little political cost eliminates the likelihood that reformers back in their district will make trouble for them.  They quietly sideline citizens’ demand for reform of the corrupt system.  It is, after all, the same system that protects and keeps many of these incumbents in Congress.

4.  They say they support reform but they give money to candidates without regard to the candidate’s position on reform.

Members of Congress play a very important but largely invisible role: campaign financier.  Because they have a vote in Congress, people who want something from the government give money to members of Congress even though most of those members face no real opposition on election day.  These members then pass on large amounts of money to candidates in other districts but do so without regard to the candidate’s position on reform.  Is a member of Congress who does nothing more than sign a non-binding co-sponsor pledge to reform money-in-politics corruption but then spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect candidates who have no interest in money-in-politics reform, really a supporter of reform?  I don’t think so. (More  and more)

5.  They don’t pressure their party to become the “Party of Reform”.

A co-sponsor of reform legislation who contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to a party that has no commitment to reform is working against us, not for us.   Some people like to imagine that the Democratic Party is the “Party of Reform”.  It is not.  But, it could be if we reformers insist that our representatives contribute money only to candidates and organizations who are committed to reform.

6.  They don’t want to be seen in public with the problem or with our solutions.

Only 16% of the co-sponsors of the public funding of elections bills in Congress (H.R. 20, S. 1538) and 24% of the co-sponsors of resolutions to reverse Citizens United (H.J. Res. 22, S.J. Res. 5) make any mention at all of the money-in-politics problem on their websites.  (Review)

Real reformers would take the opportunity to use their websites to acknowledge the public’s frustration and to educate their constituents about the solutions that are available to the money-in-politics problem and to let the citizens know that they, their representative, is on the forefront of this fight.  Real reformers are doing what they can to fix this problem rather than trying to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

7.  In 2010, Democrats could have passed publicly funded elections, but they didn’t.

Those who believe the dangerously counter-productive idea that electing more Democrats to Congress will, in itself, bring about publicly funded elections should have a look at 2010, the last time the Democrats had control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.  That year, the Fair Elections Now Act [H.R. 6116/1826] (a bill similar to the current public funding of elections bills) was approved in committee and sent to Speaker Pelosi.  The Speaker only needed to speak and the bill would have been voted on by the entire House of Representatives, 165 of whom were co-sponsors.  She said nothing.  There was no vote.  The bill died quietly at the end of the year.  (More)

Party leadership in Congress can provide cover to any member who needs, for political reasons, to co-sponsor reform.  These members can easily co-sponsor a reform and have plenty of reason to believe that the day will never come when they will need to actually follow through on their promise.

8.  Claiming to be a money-in-politics reformer is a great way to raise money.

We have all received the emails from candidates bemoaning the problem of money-in-politics and asking for campaign contributions so they can fight the fight for reform.   Citizens are really eager to fix this problem so these emails produce cash for the candidate, whether the candidate is sincere or not.

9.  If all we ever ask of our politicians is that they say they are reformers, that may be all they ever do.   

Here are a couple of case studies from my interactions with my Congressman and Senator:

My Congressman went from saying he was a supporter of publicly funded elections to being a destroyer of publicly funded elections.  (More)

By applying a little citizen pressure one year we got our Senator to co-sponsor the publicly funded elections bill.  He never had before.  He never has since.  (More)

Incumbent members of Congress have both the motive and the opportunity to appease reformers without ever having to deliver real money-in-politics reform.  Local constituents need to organize to insist that incumbents do everything in their power to advance reform or face election day defeat.

Actions will separate the “Reform Candidates” from the “Posers”

The recent anniversary of the Citizens United decision brought to my mailbox messages from candidates and reform organizations alike.  This is roughly what they all said:  “I agree with you.  Money-in-politics corruption is awful!  Now, give me your money and/or give me your vote.”

Fixing money-in-politics corruption is very popular among citizens so, naturally, candidates see the issue as an opportunity.  Even insincere candidates (and especially their fundraisers) must be very tempted to pose as sincere reformers in order to attract money and votes.

Will these candidates, if elected, vote in Congress for publicly funded elections and for fixing Citizens United by constitutional amendment or (in the case of Senate candidates) by confirming Supreme Court nominees who have an understanding of the Constitution that would lead them to reverse the Citizens United decision?

How can citizens tell if candidates are “for real” or just posers?

Promises won’t do.  Once a candidate is elected to Congress, lobbyists and others will gladly make payments to the new representative’s re-election campaign because he or she has something the monied self-interests want:  their vote in Congress.  This corrupt campaign funding system practically guarantees that most incumbents will be able to raise so much campaign cash for their re-election committee that nobody back home, in their party or the other party, will mount a serious challenge to them in the next election.

If the former candidate (now the incumbent) votes to pass publicly funded elections, he or she will be creating for themselves a situation where they will likely face a competitively funded challenger in the next election, the kind of opponent that most incumbents rarely face now.  And fixing Citizens United will mean that an incumbent will not be able to count on their party’s gang of self-interested sugar-daddies to spend huge amounts of money to save the incumbent, if they ever do have a close election.

Incumbents like being in Congress and want to stay there.  The current corrupt system allows them to do that.  So, from a self-interested point of view, it is smart for a candidate to say they want to end money-in-politics corruption but stupid for an incumbent to actually do it.

I believe there are candidates and incumbents who put the interests of our country ahead of their own interests and would vote to fix the corruption problem, even if it meant that they would lose their jobs.  But, how can we citizens, who want to fix the money-in-politics corruption problem, identify and support candidates who are true Reform Candidates and not just “posers”?

We need to judge the candidates on what they do, not on what they say.

The Behaviors of a Reform Candidate:

•  Has become a co-sponsor of publicly funded elections or pledges (when elected) to become a co-sponsor.

•  Has become a co-sponsor of amendments to reverse Citizens United or pledges, (when elected) to become a co-sponsor.

•  If a U.S. Senate candidate:  has agreed to confirm the Supreme Court nomination of only those nominees whose understanding of the Constitution would lead them to reverse the Citizens United decision.  (See: Senate Candidates:  Are You Ready to Fix Citizens United?)

•  Contributes money from his or her political accounts only to candidates who are themselves Reform Candidates.

•  Contributes money from his or her political accounts only to organizations that support only Reform Candidates.

•  Posts and maintains on the “Issues” page of his or her campaign website (and, if an incumbent, also on his or her official website) statements that he or she is engaging in the above actions.

Engaging in these actions isn’t simply evidence of the candidate’s sincerity, it also serves to advance the reform effort.  These actions educate citizens that there are, in fact, solutions to the money-in-politics problem and that both elected officials and citizens need to be active in making reform happen.  Right now, the great majority of the Congressional co-sponsors of public funding of elections bills and of resolutions to overturn Citizens United say nothing at all on their websites about the money-in-politics problem or solutions.

Campaign contributions from incumbents in safe districts are a major source of campaign money for candidates in competitive districts.  (See: Incumbents are Big Campaign Funders.)  Incumbents in safe districts need to behave like Reform Candidates and contribute only to fellow Reform Candidates.

Similarly, incumbents should not give money to their party if their party is funding anti-reform candidates.  Citizens and incumbents alike need to insist that their party become “The Party of Reform” and not serve as a slush fund for self-interested mega-donors.

After all, what is the use of electing a “reform” candidate to a safe seat in Congress only to see that candidate use their position to raise money and pass that money on to other candidates and organizations who are OPPONENTS OF REFORM? 

Actions, not words, are the measure of the reformer.  A candidate who sends us fundraising emails that play on our genuine, deep desire to restore a healthy democracy but who doesn’t have the courage to take the baby step of mentioning money-in-politics reform on his or her website is cynical, insincere, and untrustworthy.

A person like this, once elected, will be part of the money-in-politics problem, not part of the solution.

Senate Candidates:  Are You Ready to Fix Citizens United?

Reversing Citizens United and establishing publicly funded elections are essential reforms if we, the citizens, are going to regain political power in our country.

The quickest way to fix Citizens United is for the next President to appoint a Supreme Court justice who will vote to overturn Citizens United.  Four of the current Justices are near or over 80 years old and it is extremely likely that the next President will appoint at least one new Justice and one may be enough to reverse the 5-4 Citizens United decision.

Presidential candidates Clinton and Sanders have both posted statements on their websites in support of publicly funded elections and about their commitment to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Citizens United.  (See statements below.)

The United States Senate also has an extremely important role in the appointment of Justices to the Supreme Court.  So, we really need to see website statements by our Pennsylvania Senate candidates, too!   

Katie McGinty, John Fetterman,  Joe Sestak, and Pat Toomey, as of today (1/14/16), have not posted any statements about ending money-in-politics corruption on the “Issues” page of their websites.

Citizens want to know:

1. Will each of them require Supreme Court nominees who seek their confirmation vote to commit to overturning the Citizens United decision?

2.  Will each of them vote to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United?

3.  Will each join with the Presidential candidates and support publicly funded elections for Congress and President?

These presidential candidates recognize the importance of ending legalized corruption in our democracy and they have the courage to say so.  Do our Senate candidates?

We really need to see each of them state their commitments on the “Issues” pages of their campaign websites.


From Sanders’ website:


Only appoint Supreme Court justices who will make it a priority to overturn Citizens United and who understand that corruption in politics means more than just quid pro quo.

Fight to pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections. I have been a proud sponsor and leading champion of such an amendment in the Senate.

Fight for a publicly financed, transparent system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations, along the lines of the Fair Elections Now Act that I have been pleased to co-sponsor, and an effective public financing system for president.

From Clinton’s website:

Overturn Citizens United. Hillary will appoint Supreme Court justices who value the right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections. She’ll push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in order to restore the role of everyday voters in elections.

Amplify the voices of everyday Americans. Hillary will establish a small-donor matching system for presidential and congressional elections to incentivize small donors to participate in elections, and encourage candidates to spend more time engaging a representative cross-section of voters.

Your Democratic Incumbent: Reformer or Just Another Flavor of Sugar Daddy?

by Frank Kirkwood

This recent story in the Hartford Courant about Congressman John Larson of Connecticut offers insight into a very important but largely invisible role that members of Congress play: campaign financier.

Larson is a safe incumbent Democrat, that is, he represents a district heavy with Democratic voters. He is accustomed to facing no financially competitive opponent in either the primary or the general election. He vastly outspends all of his opponents and wins by wide margins. Around 90% of incumbent members of Congress, in both parties, are in safe districts.

Safe incumbents of both parties are on the receiving end of a lot of PAC money and other money from people who want something from the government. These safe incumbents usually don’t need to spend very much on their own re-election so they have a surplus. Their parties expect them to spend this surplus to help elect congressional candidates in competitive districts elsewhere. Safe incumbents in both parties are expected to do this and are rewarded with positions of power within the party for doing so. As the article points out, neither party wants to stop if the other is going to continue.

According to the FEC reports, in the 2014 election cycle, Larson’s main campaign committee (Larson for Congress) and the leadership political action committee he controls (Synergy PAC), together sent around $475,000 to Democratic candidates and Democratic Party committees around the country.

At the same time, Congressman Larson is a high profile money-in-politics reformer. He has served as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Election Reform. He is a co-sponsor of the Government by the People Act (a public funding of elections bill) and a co-sponsor of H.J.Res.22 (to amend the Constitution to remedy the Citizens United decision). Larson was the prime sponsor of a public funding of elections bill in an earlier Congress.

How does he square spending large amounts of money to influence the outcomes of elections in far away congressional districts and, at the same time, holding a central role in reforming our corrupt pay-to-play system? From the article, “ ‘I recognize the contradictions and the hypocrisy of it,’ Larson said this week. ‘Of course it bothers me. … But if you don’t participate, how does that help us regain the majority?’ ”

The article also notes that, “Larson and others say that, unless Democrats retake control of the House and Senate, serious political financing reform will be impossible.”

My view is that the reforms needed to shift political power in our country from the few to the many will still be impossible after the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate, unless we citizens organize ourselves in our congressional districts to pressure our safe Democratic incumbents to pass publicly funded elections and a remedy to Citizens United. As I argue elsewhere, many incumbents in safe Democratic districts have plenty of reasons to say they support these reforms but even more reasons to make sure the reforms never pass.

The reality is that once we have publicly funded elections, safe incumbents of both parties will likely face a financially competitive challenger from their own party in the primary election. Six months later, they may face a financially competitive challenger from the other party in the general election. Eighteen months after that, they would once again face a financially competitive challenger in the next primary. Incumbents who have broad and deep public support in their district would probably not face challengers at every election but ineffective representatives may well face a continuous series of challenges. So, looking at it from an incumbent’s point of view, we reformers are asking them to vote to replace the current system, one that all but guarantees their easy re-election, with a public-funding system that might require them to face repeated challenges. It is easy to see how an incumbent’s personal interest in keeping his or her job would be in conflict with the public’s interest in reforming the system.

This is not to say that Congressman Larson is insincere. His consistent vocal support of pro-democracy legislation over the years should make us confident that he will do the right thing when the time comes for Congress to pass publicly funded elections. He is one of only handful of congressional co-sponsors of the public funding of elections bill and of the resolution to reverse Citizens United who have demonstrated leadership on these issues by using their official and campaign websites to educate and advocate for these reforms.

But, I have no confidence at all that many of the other 170+ Democratic incumbents who claim to be reformers will set aside their personal interests and actually vote for real reform . My recent review of the websites of Democratic incumbents who have co-sponsored reform bills, showed that the overwhelming majority say nothing at all about these money-in-politics solutions on their websites. In my estimation, their silence demonstrates, not just a lack of leadership, but a lack of sincerity.

So, how do sincere safe Democratic incumbents demonstrate their sincerity and advance reform? They could start by “outing” themselves and post their support for reform on their websites. But they can do even more in their role as campaign financier.

It is true that Congressman Larson and his Democratic colleagues need to fund the campaigns of other Democrats if the Democrats are regain the majority. But does putting the Democrats in charge of Congress get us any closer to passing real money-in-politics reform? It didn’t last time the Democrats were in control and, unless something changes, it won’t next time either.

Here is what needs to change: safe incumbents need to act now to make the Democratic Party what many people already mistakenly imagine it to be: the party of reform. Larson and other sincere supporters of reform need to insist that the money spent by their campaign committees and their leadership PACs be spent on candidates who are themselves supporters of real reform. They need to spend their money with organizations that are committed to publicly funded elections and to the reversal of Citizens United. This includes, most importantly, the Democratic Party and its various campaign committees.

Safe Democratic incumbents who finance congressional candidates who are Democrats, but who are not reformers, are just another flavor of sugar daddy. That is, they become self-interested, anti-democratic financiers trying to advance their personal ambitions by using large amounts of money to manipulate the outcomes of elections. Like all sugar daddies, they seek to make members of Congress dependent on, indebted to, and attentive to the financier’s interests. They degrade our democracy by inserting themselves between an elected representative and the citizens who need that man or woman to represent them, not the financier.

They become the very thing we must be rid of.

Safe Democratic incumbents must use their role as campaign financiers to promote reform. They can make the best of this bad situation by funding only reform candidates and by insisting that the Democratic Party do the same. If they are sincere reformers they can demonstrate it by becoming part of the solution rather than making the problem worse.