Category Archives: Case Studies

Our Secret Supporters

A Review of the Websites of the Co-Sponsors of Legislation to Create Publicly Funded Elections and to Amend the Constitution to Fix the Citizens United Decision

by Frank Kirkwood

(See Our Political Revolution for context and discussion of this Website Review.)

Legislation to set up publicly funded elections has been introduced in Congress many times over the last 20 years.  In the current Congress, the bill in the House of Representatives for publicly funded elections is H.R. 20, the Government By the People Act.  In the Senate, it is S. 1538, the Fair Elections Now Act.  H.R. 20, is sponsored by Rep. Sarbanes.  S. 1538 is sponsored by Sen. Durbin.  There are 174 sponsors or co-sponsors in the Congress for these publicly funded elections bills.

On the Citizens United front, there are 177 sponsors or co-sponsors in Congress of resolutions to amend the constitution to fix the Citizens United decision.   S.J.Res.5, sponsored by Sen. Udall (NM), is the Senate resolution and H.J.Res.22, sponsored by Rep Deutch, is the resolution in the House.

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 bills to fix Citizens United and 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.  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.

For the first group, I looked for statements on their websites about the public funding of elections bills or, more generally, about their support of publicly funded elections.  In the second group, I looked for statements about the specific resolutions or for a mention of a plan to fix Citizens United.

Here is what I found:

Publicly Funded Elections

Do members of Congress who say 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.

RESULTS FOR DEMOCRATIC SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS: 

84% (145 of 172) of Democratic 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 on either their official or campaign websites.

Only 16% (28 of 172) of Democratic sponsors/co-sponsors mention their support for these bills or their support for publicly funded elections generally on either or both of their official or campaign websites.

Only 3% (6 of 172) of Democratic sponsors/co-sponsors mention their support for these bills or their support for publicly funded elections generally on both their official and campaign websites.

Total Democrats sponsoring/co-sponsoring publicly funded elections bills in Congress = 172. 

RESULTS FOR REPUBLICAN SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS:

One Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of NC, is a co-sponsor of H.R. 20.  He mentions the bill or publicly funded elections on his official website but mentions neither on his campaign website.

RESULTS FOR INDEPENDENT SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS:

One Independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of VT, is a co-sponsor of S. 1538.  He mentions the bill or publicly funded elections on both his official and campaign websites.

RESULTS FOR ALL SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS (ALL PARTIES):

84% (145 of 174) 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 on either their official or campaign websites.

Only 17% (30 of 174) of all sponsors/co-sponsors mention their support for these bills or their support for publicly funded elections generally on either or both of their official or campaign websites.

Only 4% (7 of 174) of all sponsors/co-sponsors mention their support for these bills or their support for publicly funded elections generally on both their official and campaign websites.

Number of sponsors/co-sponsors of publicly funded elections bills in Congress = 174.
In the Senate:  S. 1538, the Fair Elections Now Act  (22 sponsor/co-sponsors).
In the House:  H.R. 20, the Government for the People Act  (152 sponsor/co-sponsors). 

Look here for details of co-sponsor websites review.

Citizens United

Do members of Congress who say they support fixing Citizens United demonstrate their support on their websites?

The official congressional websites and the campaign websites of the sponsors/co-sponsors of S.J.RES.5 (in the Senate) and the H.J.Res.22 (in the House) were reviewed.

RESULTS FOR DEMOCRATIC SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS: 

76% (133 of 174) of Democratic sponsors/co-sponsors of Congressional resolutions to overturn the Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution do not mention their support for the resolutions or any plan to fix Citizens United on either their official or campaign websites.

Only 24% (41 of 174) of Democratic sponsors/co-sponsors of these resolutions mention the resolutions or a plan to fix Citizens United on either or both of their official or campaign websites.

Only 6% (11 of 174) of Democratic co-sponsors mention their support for these resolutions or for a plan to fix Citizens United on both their official and campaign websites.

RESULTS FOR REPUBLICAN SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS: 

One Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of NC, is a co-sponsor of H.J. Res 22.  He does not mention his support for this resolution or a plan to fix Citizens United on either his official or campaign websites.

RESULTS FOR INDEPENDENT SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS: 

Sen. Bernie Sanders of VT is a co-sponsor of S.J. Res. 5.  He mentions his support for this resolution or for a plan to fix Citizens United on both his official and campaign websites.

Sen. Angus King of ME is a co-sponsor of S.J. Res. 5.  He does not mention his support for this resolution or for a plan to fix Citizens United on either his official or campaign websites.

RESULTS FOR ALL SPONSORS/CO-SPONSORS (ALL PARTIES):

76% (135 of 177) of all sponsor/co-sponsors of Congressional resolutions to overturn the Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution do not mention their support for these resolutions or for a plan to fix Citizens United on either or both of their official or campaign websites.

Only 24% (42 of 177) of all sponsor/co-sponsors of these resolutions mention these resolutions or a plan to fix Citizens United on either or both of their official or campaign websites.

Only 7% (12 of 177) of all sponsor/co-sponsors do mention their support for these resolutions or a plan to fix Citizens United on both their official and campaign websites.

Look here for details of co-sponsor website review.

(See Our Political Revolution for context and discussion of this Website Review.)

Case Study: Fair Elections Now Act, 2010

by Frank Kirkwood

Those who believe the dangerously counter-productive idea that electing more Democrats to Congress will, by itself, bring about publicly funded elections should have a look at the last time the Democrats had control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, in 2010.  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 at the end of the year.

I have not heard any explanation for this.  If anyone has, please let me know (TrustworthyGovernment@gmail.com).

At least two explanations come to my mind.

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.

I think the most likely explanation is that the bill would have failed to pass the Democratic controlled House and many Democrats would have been exposed as not being any more interested in reform that the Republican members (although, to be fair, some Republicans may have voted for it, given the chance).

Maybe there are better explanations.  But, what we can conclude is that electing more Democrats will not, by itself, lead to real reform.  It didn’t then.  It won’t now.

Case Study: Senator Robert Casey

Office:  U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania

Goal:  Get the Senator to become a co-sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act

March-May, 2010

by Frank Kirkwood

In early 2010, I helped start the Fair Elections Committee in Pittsburgh in support of the Fair Election Now Act in the 111th Congress.  We hoped to get our Senator, Robert Casey, a Democrat, to co-sponsor of the bill.  He had joined the Senate in 2007 but had never co-sponsored a public funding of elections bill.

Using our individual organizational contacts, the Committee was able to arrange meetings with seven groups from Pittsburgh to Erie.  The groups included labor, single-payer healthcare, student, civil society, unofficial Democratic party, and religious groups.  Typically the meeting size was a dozen to several dozen members, mostly activist types.

With each group I gave a presentation about the Act and the need for it.  The audiences were all very receptive.  When I explained that our other senator, Arlen Specter, a Republican, was a sponsor of the Act but Casey, the Democrat, was not, people were baffled.  I encouraged all to contact Casey’s office and ask him, “Why not?”.

I was invited by a religious group, Common Good/Common Wealth, to attend one of their periodic meetings with Senator Casey’s staff.  The topic of the meeting was to be the Fair Elections Now Act.  About a week before the meeting, without public explanation, Casey became a co-sponsor.  At the meeting, I asked Casey’s aide why Casey had decided to become a co-sponsor.  He didn’t know.

In the absence of any alternative explanation, I believe he became a co-sponsor because of the little bit of pressure we were able to apply from several places in the western part of the state and his resulting discomfort in having to face the, “Why not?”, questions.

During the following Congress, I visited Casey’s Washington office and met with another aide.  I asked why Casey had not co-sponsored the same bill in the new Congress.  He told me that the Senator was co-sponsoring fewer pieces of legislation this session but that, perhaps, it was an “oversight” that he had not co-sponsored again.

Other than the one occasion described here, in the years since then, Senator Casey has never again co-sponsored any similar bill.

LESSONS LEARNED

It can be easy to get Democratic members of Congress to become co-sponsors.  Most citizen/activists involved with the Democrats understand the problem of money-in-politics and are eager to move toward a solution.  On the Democratic side at least, becoming a co-sponsor can be done at no political cost by incumbents.  Additionally, and most importantly, becoming a co-sponsor has great benefits for an incumbent as it gets the activists back home to calm down.  An incumbent’s failure to co-sponsor (when asked) could serve as a rallying point for a challenger in the next election.  Co-sponsoring takes the heat out of that issue – even if the member would never actually vote to pass it.  We should insist that those candidates who want our support must show their support for our cause in a public and meaningful way.

If you have had interactions with your legislators about money-in-politics issues and would like to share them, please send them to TrustworthyGovernment@gmail.com.

Case Study: Congressman Jason Altmire

Office:  U.S. House, PA 4

Elections:  2006, 2008, 2010, 2012

by Frank Kirkwood

In 2005, I created a website called CleanElectionsPA.org.  The purpose was to gather and post candidates’ statements about publicly funded elections.  I contacted all candidates for the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor in the 2006 elections, as well as U.S. House candidates in Pennsylvania.  I asked them to make a statement about publicly funded elections, in favor or against, and I then posted their statements on-line.

Among those candidates was Jason Altmire of the 4th Congressional District, where I lived at the time.  He and several other Democrats were seeking to challenge Melissa Hart, the Republican incumbent.  Altmire sent me a favorable statement about publicly funded elections and I posted it.  At a public forum, I challenged all of the Democratic candidates to address the issue.  Altmire spoke with passion and conviction, saying that if there was one thing he would fix in Washington, it was the money-in-politics problem.  Altmire won the primary.

Between the primary and general elections, Common Cause, Public Campaign, and Public Citizen, put up a website calling for candidates to take the “Voters First” Pledge, a pledge asking candidates to state their support for publicly funded elections and other reforms.  Altmire agreed to sign it.  He also stated his support for publicly funded elections in Project Vote Smart’s 2006 “Congressional National Political Awareness Test”.

Publicly funded elections became something of an issue in the heavily contested general election campaign.  Hart ran radio ads criticizing Altmire’s support for it.  Altmire won.

After the election, in an article about business self-interests eagerly giving money to Altmire and other newly-elected member of Congress, he was quoted as saying, “I’d support and work hard to pass any bill that takes money out of politics”.

He signed the “Voter’s First” Pledge again, ahead of his re-election bid in 2008.

He never signed on as a co-sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act during his three terms.  By 2011, he was one of only 10 Democrats in the House to vote to terminate public financing of presidential election campaigns.

His district had been heavily re-drawn and re-numbered (now the 12th) ahead of the 2012 election.  He lost the primary in 2012 in a low-turnout election dominated by union voters, a group Altmire had antagonized over the years.  The district went Republican in the general election.

LESSONS LEARNED

Having been “full cycle” with this candidate on this issue, I have to say the Altmire played the situation pretty well.  He is a politician and, as such, brings a significant amount of self-advancement and self-preservation to his interactions with reformers.

Altmire’s support of reform was beneficial to his efforts to win his first election.  Once he became an incumbent, he was in a much better position to generate payments to his re-election campaign. There was no political cost to him for his failure to actually support reform as promised or for his vote to end public funding on the Presidential level.  I would like to think that his primary loss in 2012 was, in part, due to his reneging on reform, but it was not.  Altmire and his opponent were both well-funded, re-districted incumbents.  Neither candidate was in a position to attack the other on the money-in-politics issue.

In the end, Altmire got what he wanted from reformers (our support) and reformers got very little.  We did get him to state his support for reform, to us, but not to the broader public. He used the CleanElectionsPa website and the “Voter’s First” Pledge website to tell reformers what we wanted to hear.  He never posted support for publicly funded elections on his campaign or official Congressional websites.

Reformers need to use politicians as politicians use us – to advance our cause.  As discussed in “Our Political Revolution“, we should insist that those candidates who want our support must show support for our cause in a public and meaningful way.

If you have had interactions with your legislators about money-in-politics issues and would like to share them, please send them to TrustworthyGovernment@gmail.com.