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About 70 percent of voters in Iowa's third district disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling on corporate spending in election campaigns, according a poll of 548 registered voters conducted by SurveyUSA in IA-03 between March 10 and March 14. Common Cause, Public Campaign Action Fund and MoveOn.org Political Action commissioned the survey. The whole polling memo is here (pdf file). Full results and cross-tabs are here.
Asked, "Should corporations be able to spend money to support or oppose candidates for public office?" 70 percent of respondents said no, while just 21 percent said yes.
Two-thirds of respondents said Democrats have "not done enough to reduce the influence of special-interest money in politics," while only 30 percent agreed that "Democrats have made a serious attempt to reduce the influence of special-interest money in politics."
Respondents were asked about two different proposed laws in response to the Supreme Court ruling. One would require corporations to disclose the money they are spending in elections and would force the corporate CEO to appear in political advertising. A plurality of respondents said that would limit the influence of special interests "a little."
The poll also asked about a law that would create a voluntary public financing system for elections, in which candidates could receive public matching funds if they reject special interest money and individual contributions exceeding $100. A plurality of respondents said that approach would limit the influence of special interests "a lot." 40 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports that law, and only 22 percent said they would be less likely to re-elect a member of Congress who supports the law.
I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.
The governor's race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state's major events of the decade.
After the jump I've posted links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.
Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn't manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent's compilation of "Iowa's most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009," as well as that blog's review of "stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010."
For three decades, Iowa CCI has built and maintained remarkable rural-urban coalitions to fight factory farms, urban blight and abuses of Latino and Asian immigrants. In the current financial crisis, the group has ramped up its activism on behalf of banking reforms that free up credit for small farms, businesses and families while cracking down on payday loan operations. When the American Bankers Association held its annual convention in Chicago, National People's Action called for protests that declared, "We didn't break the banks--the big banks broke us!" Iowa CCI, long a backbone member of the NPA coalition, showed up in force. Viewers of Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! got a flavor of the group's in-your-face activism as Iowa farmer Larry Ginter brought activists from across the country to their feet with his cry, "If you are from rural America and tired of bank greed, stand up! If you are from urban America and you're tired of bank greed, stand up! If you think it's time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up!"
John Deeth posted a good summary of bills on the election process that the Iowa legislature may consider this year. I agree with Deeth that teenagers who will be 18 by election day should be able to register at any point during the calendar year of the election, and that Iowa should keep its late poll closing time (9 pm).
Unfortunately, no one appears willing to step up and lead on the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) act, which would create a voluntary public-financing system for state elections. It's worked very well, commanding bipartisan support, in states like Arizona and Maine.
This is one reason why I've been saying no to all solicitations for the Iowa House and Senate Democrats' funds. I will give to individual legislators and candidates who share my priorities--not to a fund that increases the power of leaders standing in the way of change.
A thistle to Democratic legislators who would bar candidates from drawing a salary from campaign donors. This bill (aimed at Ed Fallon, who is challenging Leonard Boswell) is an Incumbent Protection Act. Challengers who give up day jobs to run for office must fend for themselves or be independently wealthy. Meanwhile, the taxpayers support or subsidize incumbents. If contributors want to spend their own money for the care and feeding of a candidate, it is no business of the Iowa Legislature.
I wonder how many of the legislators backing this bill have a problem with Joe Biden, who has employed his sister Valerie Biden Owens to manage all of his Senate and presidential campaigns.
The legalized corruption in our political system has nothing to do with a handful of candidates drawing salaries and everything to do with the excessive influence of wealthy individuals and corporate interests.
Share your suggestions for improving Iowa's election law in this thread.
Trust me, Bleeding Heartland's resident troll won't be the only one to use this convergence to push Republican talking points about Democrats no longer being the party of working people.
Last week Iowa legislative leaders appeared at a forum organized by Iowa Politics, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy characterized the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections bill as "flat-out bad":
It would cause taxpayer money to rain down in districts where candidates typically spend far less on campaigns, and would cause corporations to control the parties, he said. Meaningful reform should come from federal lawmakers clamping down on political committees such as 501(c)4 groups that can raise unlimited money and use it to influence campaigns, he said.
Sure, because it doesn't look "flat-out bad" for Democrats to schedule high-priced fundraisers while most families are tightening their belts.
Of course, the real problem with our current system of funding politicians isn't the lousy optics, it's how narrow interests are able to push through bad bills or block legislation that is in the public interest and has broad bipartisan support.
McCarthy also claimed that under VOICE, corporations would "control the parties" through their contributions. Currently, corporate contributions to candidates are prohibited in Iowa, and would remain banned under VOICE. However, Iowa is one of only 13 states that have no limit on what any one individual can contribute to a candidate for public office.
In fact, McCarthy took a total of $90,000 in contributions from five individuals from out of state in 2008, and all the reports aren't even in yet. And, $351,815 of his $652,205 came directly from Political Action Committees (PACs) representing special interests. States that have systems for publicly financed elections similar to VOICE, like Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut, have not seen an influx in 527 or PAC activity trying to influence elections. Rather, more candidates are running for office, including women and minorities. And, although these kinds of groups are already here in Iowa, CCI and other organizations last year worked for and passed legislation to force 527s to report their in-state activities. This has allowed the public to see who is contributing to organizations that try to influence our public elections.
McCarthy also claimed that VOICE would cause candidates to become lazy, "Which is absurd," said CCI member Alice Bryan of Des Moines. "VOICE candidates will actually have to work harder, going door to door meeting constituents, rather than dialing for dollars and relying on slick mailers and TV ads. A VOICE candidate who agrees to limit their spending would truly represent their constituents, not the special interests that fund campaigns."
Public Campaign has created an online petition you can sign if you want to tell McCarthy that "VOICE would make elections in Iowa about voters and not campaign donors."
Blagojevich is a menace and needs to go to the gated community where other Illinois governors before him have gone. But America's campaign-finance system is a far greater menace to democracy. If we can muster shock and disgust for Blagojevich, we should be utterly appalled at the pervasive role of money in politics.
Face it. What we call "elections" have become auctions. The auctioning of U.S. Senate seats occurs every six years - every two years for congressional and state legislative seats. Big donors, corporations and special interests "bid" on the candidate of their choice. In close races, the smart money bids on both candidates, and the one backed by the highest bidders usually wins.
We don't want to believe our elected officials can be bought. But as someone who served for 14 years in the Iowa House, I say with confidence that what big money wants, big money usually gets. Rank-and-file lawmakers may be well-intentioned but often are strong-armed by legislative leaders beholden to corporate donors and special interests. As a result, the most pressing challenges of our time - climate change, budgetary reform, health care, farm policy, to name a few - see practically no progress year after year.
So, while I hope the good people of Illinois fire Blagojevich and fire him soon, I have a more pressing hope that Americans across the country get fired up for campaign-finance reform. In Iowa, Senator-elect Pam Jochum is leading the charge on VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections). This bill would make it easier for rank-and-file lawmakers to stand up to party leaders, allow more citizens to run for office and give the public far greater access to the halls of power.
At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall just opened nominations for the second annual "Golden Duke Awards," "given out for excellence in corrupt acts, betrayals of the public trust and generalized shameful behavior." You have until December 17 to submit nominations in the following categories:
Sleaziest Campaign Ad
Best Election Season Fib
Outstanding Achievement in Corruption-based Chutzpah
I think it's pretty clear that the only three serious contenders are Illinois, Louisiana, and Alaska. My money would be on the young upstart, Alaska, over the grizzled corruption veterans of Illinois and Louisiana, but who knows. Statistics should play a part in the contest, but style points are important, too. Cash in the freezer is pretty impressive, as is trying to shake down the President-Elect.
Marshall also received a bunch of e-mails nominating New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island. He explained here why those states are not in the same league as Illinois, Louisiana or Alaska:
I know there are a lot of hurt feelings out there. A lot of people feel slighted on behalf of their states. But while a number of these states have impressive histories of corruption, as I told a few emailers, a lot of it really comes down to a case of 'what have you done for me lately?' [...]
Sure, there's plenty of crooks in New York and New Jersey and Rhode Island. And Massachusetts has its moment. But I'm just not sure any of them can put the kind of serious and recent per capita muck on the table as these three other worthy states. Certainly not when it comes to governors and federal officeholders.
I think we can all agree that Iowa is never going to win any (mock) awards for political corruption.
Historically and today, our problem is not so much law-breaking by elected officials but the "legal corruption" that stems from the influence of money in our system. So, we get state lawmakers traveling on the dime of the Iowa Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes, and then lobbying Congress and state officials to reduce regulation of nursing homes.
Similarly, we won't get any legislative action to give counties zoning authority over agriculture (which would allow greater regulation of large hog lots), even though Governor Chet Culver as well as the Iowa Democratic and Republican party platforms ostensibly support "local control."
Iowa is not a particularly corrupt state, but we should not let our squeaky-clean image blind us to the influence of money in politics, even here.
Meanwhile, I learned from this diary by TomP that Friends of the Earth Action is running an ad against McCain on CNN. The ad highlights McCain's support for the nuclear power industry:
TomP's diary also includes this great quote from Friends of the Earth Action president Dr. Brent Blackwalder:
You know how self righteous John McCain can be when he talks about corporate pork and earmarks, but do you know why he opposes the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill? He plans to vote against it not because it could lavish $1 trillion on the profitable oil, gas and coal industries, but because he wants to add hundreds of billions of dollars more in earmarks for the nuclear industry!
[r]aise oil company profits by another 18 cents per gallon -- by eliminating the federal gas tax without guaranteeing that Big Oil won't just keep prices high and take the difference to grow their record profits even more.
The best way to deal with high gas prices is to cut, not expand, giveaways to Big Oil. Please vote to end taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil and use that money to invest in clean, renewable energy.
Earlier this week, I got the latest newsletter from Smart Growth America, which also blasted McCain's proposal to declare a summer holiday from the federal gas tax:
An artificial and temporary reduction of gas prices will simply guarantee that absolutely no money goes towards having suitable roads and bridges for those filled-up cars to drive on - not to mention alternatives to congestion, like commuter rail and transit. Instead, we can send the full price of gasoline directly into the pockets of oil companies. (An estimated $10 billion in transportation revenue would be lost, or enough to fully fund Amtrak rail service for 6 years or so.) Meanwhile, we fall farther behind in maintaining our infrastructure: Rust doesn't take the summer off.
But that's not all. To coincide with McCain's photo-op in New Orleans' Ninth Ward today, Moveon.org Political Action launched its own online petition calling on McCain to reject the endorsement of right-wing pastor John Hagee. I knew about Hagee's anti-Catholic bigotry, but I wasn't aware that Hagee once said, "Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans."
The non-profit Public Campaign advocates for public financing of campaigns, which "makes elections about voters and not lobbyists and campaign donors."
The group has declared April 14-18 "Fair Elections Action Week":
The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and its companion legislation in the House represent our best chance to date to see the Clean Elections public financing programs that have been so successful at the state level be enacted for Congress. In the midst of an election season when campaign fundraising and campaign spending are at an all time high, we need to rally behind legislation that will drastically reduce the influence of special interest money on elections, and put the focus of candidates for federal office back on the voters.
The excessive influence of moneyed interests in Washington is obvious to anyone who follows Congress closely. If we can take a step toward reducing the role money plays in our elections, we may be able to make progress on a lot of other issues.
Can any Boswell supporter explain to me why he hasn't stepped up to co-sponsor this bill?
By the way, as you probably know already, Ed Fallon would support this election reform at the federal level. He has strongly advocated for the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections Act, which would create a voluntary public financing system similar to those which enjoy massive bipartisan support in Maine and Arizona.
violations of campaign finance law for spending beyond limits imposed by his decision to take public financing.
McCain has claimed he is backing off that decision, and justifies it with the fact that he never received any of that public money. However, the law clearly states that he is bound by those limits if he uses the promise of those funds in order to secure campaign loans -- something he absolutely did.
Also, MoveOn.org Political Action sent out an e-mail about this issue, and I've put the full text after the jump.
The e-mail includes a link you can click if you want to sign on to the FEC complaint as well.
Incidentally, I have read that McCain also used the certificate saying he had qualified for matching funds in order to avoid the onerous signature requirements to get on the ballot for the Ohio primary. So he didn't just use the commitment to take matching funds to secure a loan, he also used it to get on the ballot.
Now, worried that he won't be able to compete with the Democratic nominee financially, he is trying to back out. What a weasel.
Today at 11 AM Central Time, any and all comments to the Federal Election Commission on their pending decision regarding presidential primary matching funds on contributions received through ActBlue are due.
Multiple organizations are vocally opposing this ban, as it effectively disregards ActBlue's nature as a grassroots fundraising system and largely violates the meaning of matching funds through public funding. As the netroots' own Adam Bonin wrote in his letter to the FEC on behalf of DailyKos and BlogPAC:
Obviously, while ActBlue is a "political committee" in the strictest sense of the term, in reality it does not act as such. ActBlue is a conduit for individual contributor preferences, to track and aggregate small-dollar contributors. It asserts no control over the recipients of its funds; the site's only criteria is that the recipient be a Democrat. It fulfills FECA's anticorruption goals by reporting contributors' names, addresses, employers, and occupations to campaign, which in turn provide that information to the Commission as is legally required.
This is a clear a case as any of reformers accomplishing via technology what law alone cannot do: leveling the playing field between moneyed interests and small-dollar contributors by allowing anyone to become a "bundler", and to allow such contributors to have visual, real-time confirmation of their impact upon the process. In the same way that the public financing system itself is designed to encourage and magnify the impact of small-dollar contributions, ActBlue facilitates those contributions occurring in the first place.
If you're at all interested in supporting the Edwards campaign's position--which isn't a tacit endorsement, but an affirmation of your belief in grassroots fundraising--please make sure to submit your comments. You can see more by reading desmoinesdem's earlier post here.
You can do that in a variety of ways:
- Visit JohnEdwards.com and send a comment through our simple form.
- Write an E-mail to Mary Dove, the FEC Commission Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fax your comments to the Secretary at (202) 208-3333 and to FEC's Office of General Counsel at (202) 219-3923
A draft opinion out of the Federal Election Commission suggests that money contributed to Democratic candidates through the ActBlue clearinghouse may not be eligible for public matching funds, because ActBlue is registered as a PAC.
However, ActBlue does not function like an ordinary PAC--it's just a convenient way for individual donors to direct online contributions to different candidates.
This issue came up because John Edwards' presidential campaign has opted into the public financing system for the primaries. He has raised more than $4 million on ActBlue. Some of that would not be matchable anyway (because only the first $250 from each donor can receive public matching funds), but a significant amount should be eligible for the matching funds.
Neither Kos nor Adam B supports Edwards, but as Adam notes,
This isn't about supporting the Edwards campaign -- I've made my feelings clear on that subject. It's about protecting ActBlue and the public financing system, and pushing for a legal regime which respects technological innovation. Please join us in this fight -- you only have until noon on Thursday to submit comments.
I encourage you to read Adam's whole post--it's quite informative.
The non-profit group Public Campaign is urging people to contact the FEC as well. After the jump, I've posted the full text of an e-mail I received this morning from Public Campaign. Or, you can click here and go to the Public Campaign website, where you can add your name to the letter they are sending to the FEC.