Third district voters support campaign finance reform

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 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.

Representative Leonard Boswell sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. I hope this poll receives his attention and prompts him to join the co-sponsors of the Fair Elections Now act. Click here for more information about that approach to campaign finance reform.

Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

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.”

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Congratulations to Iowa CCI

John Nichols posted his annual "most valuable progressives" list at The Nation this week, and he named Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement as the "most valuable grassroots advocacy group":

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!”

In January Jason Hancock profiled Iowa CCI for the Iowa Independent. The group has a very large statewide membership and works on a wide range of issues. However, at the state capitol they are outgunned by interests blocking campaign finance reform and increased regulation of factory farms.

You can follow Iowa CCI on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

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What election reforms does Iowa need?

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.

Our Democratic leaders in Iowa seem to enjoy the current system, where special interests flood the capitol with money and individuals can give as much as they want to incumbents.

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.

I note with amusement that some legislators would have us believe it’s important to prevent candidates and their spouses from receiving a salary from campaign funds. No one who follows politics can credibly argue that this is the biggest ethical issue related to campaign finance.

I agree with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, which wrote of last year’s attempt to close the “Fallon loophole,”

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.

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Department of lousy optics

When Governor Chet Culver scheduled a $5,000 a head fundraiser in Des Moines, he probably didn’t expect the event to fall on the same day he announced about $100 million in "painful" budget cuts.

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.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement gave a few other reasons why McCarthy is “flat-out wrong”:

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.”

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has scheduled a Rally and Lobby Day for January 27, 2009,

to kick off the legislative session and push for VOICE, local control of factory farms, keeping families in their homes and protecting the rights of all workers.

If you care about this issue, mark your calendar.

UPDATE: Ed Fallon published an op-ed piece in Friday’s Des Moines Register called Illinois seat not only thing that’s for sale:

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.

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A contest Iowa has no hope of winning

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

Best Scandal — Sex and Generalized Carnality

Best Scandal — Local Venue

Best Scandal — General Interest

Click here to view last year’s Golden Duke winners.

Talking Points Memo also has launched a contest to determine the most corrupt state. Reader WO named the short list:

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.

One of Marshall’s readers in New Orleans argues here that Louisiana is the “all time champ”.

A reader in Arizona explains why that state should be a finalist.

Another reader makes the case for Nevada.

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.

To get involved with solving this problem, check out the Voter-Owned Iowa website. Public Campaign’s site has tons of information on how “clean elections” systems work in other states.  

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