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.