Why is Washington protecting the mega-donors?
To revive healthy political debate, bring choice back to voters and address our nation’s challenges before they bury us
“A rare bipartisan success” crowed The Wall Street Journal in December, on passage of the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill, supported by House and Senate leaders, President Obama and the New Hampshire congressional delegation, other than former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
The bipartisan success is that Congress was once again able to duck its core obligation to craft a fiscally sustainable budget, adding another several hundred billion dollars to the nation’s credit card. Another bipartisan success is the gargantuan incumbent protection amendment snuck into the 1,603-page bill just hours before the House voted on the bill without reading it.
The amendment protects incumbents because a single donor and spouse can now give up to $3.1 million over each two-year election cycle to the national political party committees. The two parties and the entrenched incumbents they nearly always protect will now have even bigger war chests to fend off challengers. A small number of big-money donors with their usually narrow, self-serving agendas have now gained hammerlock control over our already bought and paid-for Congress.
Apologists claim that the mega-donor incumbent protection amendment is needed to offset the burgeoning mega-donor super PACs, ostensibly not controlled by the two parties. Having lost my primary against party-backed Scott Brown, I can testify with certainty that most super PAC money hews to the preferences of party leaders in the House and Senate.
Here’s a juicy detail about the amendment for those who think Congress and the special interests feeding at the public trough have in any way been reformed by the 2014 elections. The amendment was drafted at the request of Harry Reid of Nevada, now Senate minority leader, by Marc Elias, the same Perkins Coie attorney who successfully argued for the super PAC loophole before the Federal Election Commission. And the amendment specifically permits mega-donor contributions for any type of party legal work, for which Perkins Coie has collected more than $40 million since 2000.
There is an even darker side to the ever-more-corrupt relationship between favor-seeking donors and cash-hungry parties and their incumbents. The mega-donor-incumbent complex has made Washington unresponsive to the needs and wishes of the American people.
It is well established that industrial monopolies suppress competition, consumer choice and product innovation, and stifle economic growth and material progress.
With passage of the cromnibus incumbent protection amendment, the mega-donor-incumbent complex is doing the same to Washington politics. The monopolization of campaign money by the two parties and their aligned super PACs has made it more difficult for insurgent, challenger and non-establishment candidates to communicate with voters. The media tends to ignore candidates unable to win the mega-donor “money primary.”
This is how mega-donor-incumbent complex suppresses debate about disfavored and uncomfortable issues and positions. So, voters hear little about the hard choices needed to balance the budget, about regulatory capture of fiscal and monetary policy by Wall Street, or about national security alternatives to endless war.
To revive healthy political debate, bring choice back to voters and address our nation’s challenges before they bury us, here is a three-part alternative to the present system of corruption:
• Enact a public elections finance system for candidates voluntarily opting out of the current corrupted money system. Each two years, every voter is given a $50 tax rebate voucher assignable to and spendable only by in-district candidates for Congress or president. As shown in Maine, which has a state-level public elections finance system, candidates and elected officials preferring to focus on all of their constituents have the financial incentive to do so.
• Require searchable, real-time online reporting of all contributions to any candidate or organization engaging in campaigning for or against candidates, legislation or regulatory activity. While disclosure can suppress paid speech, there is a stronger and offsetting public interest in knowing about real or perceivable conflicts of interest involving public money or the public trust.
• Remove all political spending and contribution limits. Attempts to limit private political spending have failed and the First Amendment protects the right of wealthy and well-organized people to speak using as much money as they wish.
Jim Rubens was a 2014 Republican primary candidate for U.S. Senate.