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.

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