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.