It’s time for homegrown, citizen-funded campaigns
Fifteen years ago, we joined with other New Hampshire leaders in launching Americans for Campaign Reform in Concord. Our aim was simple: to end the corrupting influence of big money in politics by passing small donor citizen funding of elections.
We were not campaign reformers first; we were citizens concerned about our country’s ability to solve the pressing problems we faced when our leaders spent more time fundraising from special interests than representing their own constituents and building consensus in Congress.
We fervently believed, and still believe, that America’s recurring and bipartisan failures to bring down healthcare costs, contain our national debt, achieve a living wage, and address the climate crisis (to name a few) are rooted in our leaders’ dependence on big money from a few rather than small money from constituents.
After all, why would big pharma, big oil, big banks and other well-heeled interests who profit from an unjust status quo continue investing billions in campaign donations and lobbying if they did not get results?
We knew the fight had to be bipartisan and recruited New Hampshire’s former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman to serve as co-chair of Americans for Campaign Reform, along with former Sens. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Alan Simpson (R-WY). Later, former U.S. Reps. Paul Hodes, Charlie Bass, Dick Swett, and Bill Zeliff of New Hampshire joined in, as well as hundreds of other bipartisan former leaders from around the country who continue the fight under the banner of Issue One, our successor organization.
If we could pass campaign reform with former elected officials – many of whom left Washington in disgust over money in politics – we would have long since solved the problem and moved on to other things. But only current officeholders get to vote, and experience shows they are so in the grips of fundraising from out-of-state special interests that voting to change the system is often a tough sell.
And thanks to a string of disastrous 5-4 rulings at the Supreme Court, which give free reign to billionaires and corporations to flood our elections with unlimited and undisclosed spending, the problem is even worse today than it was when we began.
That’s why, whenever we get a call from someone running for Congress, or any other office, the first thing we ask is what are they going to do to end the corrupting influence of big money in politics. And that is why we take heart when candidates commit to making campaign finance reform a centerpiece of their campaign and set out to “walk the talk” by raising constituent contributions, in spite of strong incentives to the contrary.
The recent plan put forward by one of the leading candidates for Congress in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, Chris Pappas, addresses both points. Although several candidates in the hotly contested Democratic primary have touched on the need for campaign finance reform, Pappas is the first and only candidate we have seen who actually has a plan to fix it. His detailed proposal for getting money out of politics covers five broad areas in need of reform:
Demanding disclosure of campaign money from publicly-traded companies, dark money groups, and tax-exempt organizations.
Closing loopholes that prohibit certain interests from contributing to campaigns but allow them to contribute to PACs.
Incentivizing small donations from in-state donors with matching public funds under the ‘Government by the People’ Act.
Expanding the ban on foreign money in our political system to include all foreign-owned and controlled domestic organizations.
Co-sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.
More than simply pledging to champion reform if elected to Congress, Pappas also is setting out to practice what he preaches today through his “Homegrown Campaign Pledge.” The concept is simple: If you’re running to represent your constituents, you should be funded by them, too.
By pledging to raise the majority of his campaign contributions from people who live in New Hampshire, and calling on his fellow candidates to do the same, Pappas is ensuring the bulk of his time and attention will go to courting support from people who can actually vote for him – not out-of-state interests who couldn’t care less about New Hampshire. It’s a commonsense idea that every candidate should adopt. So far, his campaign reports that more than two-thirds of its donations have come from Granite Staters.
We are under no illusions that campaign finance reform will be easy, in Congress or in Concord. But like many great movements before it to expand the franchise and achieve a more perfect union, this one will be accomplished when concerned citizens and candidates alike step up and demand real democracy. Our future as a democratic republic depends on it.
Dan Weeks of Nashua served as president of Americans for Campaign Reform (now Issue One) and works in clean energy. Betty Tamposi of New Castle was an Assistant Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and founding Board member of Americans for Campaign Reform.