October 19, 2014

Look No Further, Candidates

Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is what's wrong with our system.
  • Dan Maffei, Democrat running for re-election my district (the NY-24), has received over 83% of his campaign contributions from outside the district; 54% of his money comes from political action committees (PACS), those god-awful ATMs that candidates rely on so desperately.
  • John Katko, Maffei's Republican challenger, has received significantly less money across the board than Maffei, but has also taken 30% from outside the district, all the while complaining about Maffei's outside-the-district money. (Should Katko win in November, he can rest assured the big money will swing his way come 2016 when we have to do this all over again.) 
While they both participate in the big-money process, they both think it's wrong, and think it should be fixed. Maffei, like most Democrats, wants some kind of public financing of campaigns. Katko, like many Republicans, doesn't have any answers, other than just saying no to public financing.

For example, here's what one Republican, Oneida County's Richard Hanna, said in 2013 (emphasis added):
I am loathe to see public financing because it's just one more big bill for the public. Clearly the system is broken, but I don't know how to fix it. I don't see an easy solution. But I do recognize there is too much money in campaigns. I have friends in Washington who spend way too much time raising money. 
And here's newcomer Katko, this past Friday:
I fully support campaign finance reform. Far too much money is spent on these races. But, I don't think that American taxpayers should be required to use their hard-earned dollars to fund negative attack ads like the ones Dan Maffei is running.  The big difference between me and my opponent is that Dan Maffei wants taxpayers to pay for his mudslinging and I don't.  
Back in July, this is what he said (again, emphasis added):
I think it's very troubling to see the amount of money it takes to run for Congress. It puts a challenger at a distinct disadvantage. Our Founding Fathers probably never envisioned anything like this. It's clear everyone is sick of it. But that being said, I think it will be difficult to limit this (campaign spending) going forward because the Supreme Court has spoken on this issue. 
I love that everyone's unhappy with the money and think it's wrong and all that, but I'm boggled by why they can't figure out what to do, can't even put anything forward to help. And it's not just here in my district, not just here in New York with our voracious 'anything that's legal' political fundraising rules.  It's everywhere, it's pervasive, and no one is leading.

Like the Republicans, I don't want public financing for campaigns - interjecting more money into the mix doesn't seem like the way to solve the problem, even if it's different money. And we've already seen how candidates will leave public dollars on the table and instead take the unlimited support that is available under our current big money system.

So, if public financing is not the answer, what is?  Well, I've done lots of posts on this subject, and (unlike the Republicans) I continue to try and come up with ways that things could be different.

Today, I'm suggesting five things the candidates can do, most of which require them to look no further than the mirror and ask themselves if they really want to get the money out of politics. If the answer is yes, the five suggestions below are easy:
  1. Publicly state your intention, at the beginning of your campaign and frequently throughout your campaign, that you are refusing all outside money, regardless of the source, and that you are refusing any money that does not come from an actual living breathing person, and that you will disavow and return any of this support if it comes your way.
  2. Do not accept more than three contributions from any one individual, and limit the total you accept from any one person, even if legally they can contribute more. Limits are different in different races and jurisdictions, but you should be able to come up with a percentage of the legal limit for the race you're in that you can stomach, that doesn't make you beholden to the donor, and then stick to it.
  3. Specifically reach out to your party's traditional supporters within the district and advise them you will not be taking their money. Instead, seek their support as boots on the ground, knocking on doors, handing out literature that your campaign paid for, helping register voters, painting signs, running phone banks, and so on - anything they want to do that doesn't cost anything, or that can be paid for using campaign contributions you have accepted from living breathing people residing in the district. 
  4. Make frequent open appearances in the district (not the pay-per-view kind) to educate voters on your positions. You see, we voters understand what the money wants you to do; it's harder for us to understand what you want to do. Your obligation is to tell us, for free, in person, early and often. If we like you, maybe we'll drop some money in a bucket on the way out, or hop on your website and donate when we get home. 
  5. Publicly commit to joint appearances with your opponents, as painful as that may be. Don't fight over the rules, talk about the issues. Certainly once the rosters are set, we voters are entitled to at least one joint discussion a month, preferably more. During primaries, we also need at least one of these sessions.
There's more that can be done by folks once they're in office, by media companies, and by us, the voters. I'll talk more on that in upcoming posts. In the meantime, let me know what you think of these ideas.  Are they completely crazy?

Is it too much to ask that our candidates refuse to participate in a system they think is broken?

Is it too much to ask that our candidates stop short of doing whatever is legal, and instead do what they think is right?