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All That Stuff We Need Congress To Do? None Of It Will Happen Without Campaign Finance Reform

Chicago Congresswoman Marie Newman is one of just a small handful of members of Congress who does just rail against corporate PACs in theory but eschews corporate campaign contributions in practice. Marie also has the single most progressive voting record in Congress... so her serious dedication to reform makes complete sense.


Campaign Finance Reform

-by Rep Marie Newman (D-IL)

Campaign finance reform is discussed frequently and evokes deep visceral reactions during every campaign cycle.

Unfortunately, for all the bluster, nothing much gets done. Why? While 70% of Americans, according to multiple polls, would like dark money, corporate money and large dollar donor money out of our politics, the folks that need to change the laws do not agree. Yes, most members of Congress like having the ability to take corporate money and do not mind being controlled.

Most corporate Democrats would say it is a practical way to save time while fundraising.

As an example, depending on the structure of a corporation, they can give up to $10,000 across entities to a single member of congress in one single shot. By comparison, a member of Congress would have to work very hard to receive a similar amount from 4 individual donors who give a maximum amount each ($2900). Or, 1000 small donors would need to give $10 each.

Even if it meant that the time savings was actually true (I actually don’t think this is valid because there is a whole lot of courting and meetings before companies give), I am still vehemently against taking corporate PAC money.

When you spend your time fundraising to receive corporate PAC money, corporate leader donor PACs, powerful individual donors and additionally/regularly receive attention and support from Super PACs each cycle, I dare to say you are not saving time at all. That type of member is fundraising all the of the time. In fact, there is easily upwards of half of most members’ time devoted to fundraising like this.

My point is if we want our economy, healthcare system, climate efforts, educational institutions, and employers to be more equitable, we must change the laws. In order to change laws we have to change Congress, which means putting pressure on current members or voting them out.

Open Secrets and StatNews indicate that 72% of Congress received significant pharma, healthcare and/or big oil money in the last 18 months. Which means those companies likely have had influence on members who have received their donations.

This is very concerning when our Democracy is at stake. The influence of corporations can be measured. Corporate money influencing votes is the number one reason we did not pass Build Back Better. That is just a plain and simple fact. It is the reason we do not have a fair economy, a fair and equitable healthcare system, fair housing, reduced racism and much more. Further, it is the number one reason we do not have a practical approach to healthcare, such as Medicare For All. Medicare For All is supported by 67% of Americans and would take an existing structure that works well, albeit not perfectly, and take corporations out of the provider space and driver’s seat. We could use corporate partners as data and processing vendors, and just simply take them out of the driver’s seat to avoid our healthcare system being held hostage to profits. It would be equitable and provided to all residents as well as allowing for a higher standard of care.

More specifically, I have had direct and frustrating experiences with corporatized members of Congress and legislation. I have had bills blocked by corporatized Democrats. ETO which is a designated toxin by the EPA and banned in Europe, continues to be used in the sterilization process of bottles in this country by several companies. When I presented a bill that simply required labeling it as a toxin, it never made it to committee because too many donors would be upset and consequently, their congressional members who received money from them stopped it dead in its tracks.

Given full campaign reform would require upending Citizen’s United and we would need a balanced Supreme Court to do so, I would prioritize ending corporate PAC money, first. Of the three evils: dark money, corporate PAC money and power hungry individual donors, the easiest way to see significant impact is to stop corporate PACs from being able to donate to congress members and thereby controlling their votes. As an aside, the next priority should be expanding the court to stop dark money.

To be clear, I think the majority of members of Congress vote the way their districts wish and are in alignment with their constituents, however it only takes 15-20 corporate Democrats or any given set of Republicans (almost every single one takes significant amounts from corporations) to block or stop a bill, because it would not suit their corporate donors goals.

At the end of the day, until we have a congress in place that actually addresses healthcare for all, gets stronger on climate, addresses racism and equity issues, we will continue to have economic inequity and a horrifying income gap.

Honestly, if we really care about our principals of fairness, honesty, transparency and equality, a good first step is stop corporate PAC money. Remember we cannot have equality without equity.

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