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“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” James Carville said.
Everything in political campaigning today, from staffing to mobilization to public perception, centers on money. It can even determine whether candidates are admitted to public events, where they strut their stuff, score points, and enhance the perception of viability.
The role of this “milk” is clear, but the cost is not as obvious. As Sheila Krumholz writes in her response, much of Congress is burdened “with a huge pile of political IOUs from donors whose dollars represented investments in very specific agendas.” It takes money to win campaigns and it takes commitments to donors to win their “investments.”
From where do these “investments” come? Primarily from special interests. Contributions from Washington D.C.—mostly money from Political Action Committees, lobbyists, and bundlers—in the last presidential cycle were greater than the contributions from 32 states combined.
The result is a system in which the voices of the people are drowned out by the screams of special interests. General Electric, one of the largest corporate givers in the last cycle, paid zero federal income taxes on $14.2 billion in profits. The bank-reform bill retained too-big-to-fail banks and not one banker went to jail. The health-care bill, which was supposed to control costs, protected pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and tort lawyers from competition. And so on.
Less than 1 percent of citizens contribute financially, leaving the rest of us as spectators. The danger of this kind of top-down financing is that it is unlikely to encourage political change unless the donor class wants it. And why would the donor class want reform? Corporate profits have never been higher. The stock market has doubled from its low and is within striking distance of establishing a new high. The top 1 percent’s share of the nation’s wealth continues to grow. And they have control of the political agenda, through their checkbook.
The 99 percent of citizens who don’t contribute are standing on the sidelines.
America needs bold action. We are in a precarious position, thanks to our national debt, unemployment, political gridlock, addiction to foreign credit and foreign oil, and the desperate need to encourage growth through budget scrubbing, fair trade, and tax reform. This is why I think it’s the perfect time to challenge the control of the donor class by challenging its control of the campaign purse. My fund-raising platform is simple: one-hundred-dollar limit, full disclosure, no PAC money.
I plan to go after the 99 percent of citizens who don’t donate and make the case for the purity and power of small gifts from many people. “Free to lead a rising America” is my motto. I need only one out of one hundred citizens to give the one-hundred-dollar maximum to accumulate some $300 million in primary campaign funds—ample enough support to make my case for being free to lead on energy policy, on budget scrubbing, and on the creation of jobs.
The respondents are sympathetic to my approach but remain ambivalent about its chances of success. Their reservations are justified. The weaknesses of my small-donor approach include: the necessity of early access to personal wealth or start-up funding, to achieve sufficient name recognition before the campaign starts; the difficulty of leveraging technology; and the fact that the one-hundred-dollar limit might make fund-raising even more time consuming than under the current rotten system.
So what is the solution? The respondents recommend several enhancements. One suggestion is to accept money from PACs created for the very purpose of collecting money only from small donors who identify themselves. Another is to make unlimited use of a political party’s contributions that would come only from a pool of small donors. I like both of these recommendations.
Several respondents also suggested incentivizing candidates to rely on small contributions by leveraging public funds, such as through matching donations. However, I find the use of public monies for this purpose, in which a government bureaucracy is placed in control, problematic.
Our best hope is for individual candidates and organizations to reject special-interest money for their own campaign coffers and to demand full disclosure of all contributions. We should also encourage the formation of organizations funded by small donations that can supply the names of its donors as supporters of the cause. The creation of PACs organized for just this purpose would enhance the growth of candidacies like mine.
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