New bipartisan group will battle "overwhelming influence of big money" in Iowa politics

A new bipartisan group emerged this week, on a mission “to educate Iowans on the need for meaningful reform to address the issue of money in politics.” Two Democrats, two Republicans, and a no-party voter are co-chairing Iowa Pays the Price. The most prominent co-chair is Brad Anderson, who ran President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Iowa and was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of State in 2014. The Republican co-chairs are Franklin County GOP chair Shawn Dietz, who unsuccessfully challenged State Senator Amanda Ragan in 2014, and David Niffenegger, who directed operations for Sam Clovis’ 2014 state treasurer campaign. After the jump I’ve enclosed the full statement on the Iowa Pays the Price launch and more background on Issue One, the organization behind the Iowa project.

Speaking to Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press, Anderson said,

“I cannot tell you how many doors I knocked on in 2014 where voters said they were so tired of the mudslinging that they were going to sit out the election.”

Communications research going back to the 1980s and 1990s has produced mixed evidence on whether negative campaigning on television discourages Americans from voting. My impression is that current opinion among political scientists tends toward the view that negative ads do not depress turnout. However, I suspect the avalanche in outside spending following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United may have changed the equation, because the relentless attack ads run on television, radio, and social media for many months (rather than just a few weeks before election day). The Iowa Pays the Price press release notes,

According to an analysis by Maplight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, a record $111,770,953 in federal campaign spending was spent in Iowa in 2014. This represented a 350% increase in campaign spending when compared to the $31,901,404 in federal campaign spending from the previous 2010 midterm election.  In addition, for the first time in Iowa history a majority of the 2014 election spending was by outside groups rather than by candidates’ campaigns.

The largest share of that spending was seeking to influence the election for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat, but substantial outside spending came into play in some of the Congressional districts, especially the IA-03 race between David Young and Staci Appel.

Good resources for hard facts about big money in American politics include Open Secrets, the Sunlight Foundation, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Common Cause.

P.S.- Contra Shane Vander Hart, it’s not “hypocrisy” for a person to raise lots of money for his own election race (which must be a priority for candidates under our current system) and to believe that campaign finance reform would improve our political culture.  

June 9 press release:

Organization launched to address surge of money in Iowa politics

“Iowa Pays the Price” Chaired by 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans and 1 Independent

DES MOINES, Iowa – Today, in the wake of the massive amounts of campaign money spent in Iowa during the 2014 elections, a new organization called Iowa Pays the Price has been launched to educate Iowans on the need for meaningful reform to address the issue of money in politics and mobilize support for this important issue.

Iowa Pays the Price is a project of Issue One, a national, bipartisan organization dedicated to countering the overwhelming influence of big money on our political system so we can solve the real problems affecting people’s lives.

The co-chairs of Iowa Pays the Price are:

Brad Anderson – Former Obama for America state director and candidate for Secretary of State;

Shawn Dietz – chair of the Franklin County Republican Party and former mayor of Hampton, Iowa. Dietz was the Republican candidate for a State Senate seat in 2014.

Amanda Loomis – Iowa State University senior in Liberal Studies – Pre-Law from Cedar Rapids, registered No Party

David Niffenegger – Nine-year veteran of the Army Guard and Reserve and former Operations Director for Republican state Treasurer candidate Sam Clovis;

Bev Strayhall – Democratic activist, nurse, social worker and community leader from Davenport.

“The enormous amounts of money spent in our Iowa elections affects us all,” said IPP co-chair David Niffenegger.  “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, from urban or rural Iowa, care about low taxes or low carbon emissions, we can all agree that our democracy should be controlled by voters and not by powerful special interests.  The interests spending all this money on negative political ads do not represent the interests of the people of Iowa, and that needs to change.”

According to an analysis by Maplight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, a record $111,770,953 in federal campaign spending was spent in Iowa in 2014. This represented a 350% increase in campaign spending when compared to the $31,901,404 in federal campaign spending from the previous 2010 midterm election.  In addition, for the first time in Iowa history a majority of the 2014 election spending was by outside groups rather than by candidates’ campaigns.

“Last year’s wall-to-wall attack ads, mail and nasty robo-calls was just too much,” said IPP co-chair Bev Strayhall.  “Iowa voters were tired of it all and many were so turned off they didn’t bother voting.  In Iowa we’ve always prided ourselves on grassroots organizing, door-knocking and civic participation, and we need to get back to our elections being driven by campaigns and volunteers rather than wealthy outside interests with hidden agendas.”

Iowa Pays the Price supports increasing transparency in campaign contributions, accountability for those who break the rules, and increasing participation in our democracy.  Over the coming months Iowa Pays the Price will build a bipartisan coalition in support of addressing the issue of money in politics, call on presidential candidates to offer solutions to fixing the current system, and release detailed studies showing specifically how outside groups spending large amounts of money trying to influence Iowa elections do not represent the interests of Iowa.

“I can’t think of a better place to start a grassroots movement to reform money in politics than the state of Iowa,” said IPP co-chair Brad Anderson.  “Iowa is still a place where a small, dedicated group like ours can have a big impact, and it’s our job to keep it that way.  Our goal is to make our case that there is too much money in politics using unbiased facts and data, and then bring people on all sides of the political spectrum together to call for meaningful change.”

Please visit www.IowaPaysthePrice.org to view our initial launch video, learn more about our organization and to sign our petition.

From the Issue One website’s mission page:

Everything we believe and do at Issue One is rooted in the following core assumptions:

This is a problem we must fix. Money in politics has become a crisis for our democracy. Political giving and spending by billionaires and well-financed special interests have effectively drowned out the voices of millions and made it impossible for our elected officials to govern. If we do not rein in the excessive influence of big money, we won’t be able to solve the complex challenges we face.

This is a problem we can fix. There are solutions that have proved effective and constitutional at the state and local levels, regardless of Citizens United. These solutions have broad bipartisan support in states and municipalities across the country, and with sufficient political will could be implemented at the federal level.

The advisory board for Issue One includes former Democratic U.S. Senators Bill Bradley and Bob Kerrey, and former GOP Senator Alan Simpson.

Issue One advocates for a range of solutions to increase transparency and accountability in our campaign finance system, and encourages “Congress and the state legislatures to enact laws that limit corruption – and the appearance of corruption – and encourage everyone to participate in politics.”

  • I agree that campaign finance reform is extremely important

    In fact, in some ways, you almost have to reform that system first if you want to be able to succeed with reforms on other issues.  But as the recent poll in the New York Times demonstrated, there’s a problem.  A lot of people think money in politics is a problem – at least 85%.  But less than 1% of those people ranked it as the most pressing problem we face. (I’ve been one of those people who’ve given that answer to a pollster, and I can tell you it went over like a lead balloon.)

    With that in mind, then, looking at Issue One’s Mission/Vision page, and their definition of winning, I’m a bit concerned.  There have been significant resolutions passed in favor of reform at the local and state level over the past few years, so there’s good movement on item #1.  

    Item #2 is far more difficult, at least in the near future.  I hope I’m wrong, but I think the House will stay Republican until after the next Census/redistricting. I wish every state would redistrict in a nonpartisan manner like Iowa. I think gerrymandering is wrong, whatever its long history. But I think we’re stuck with it for the moment.  As a result of all of this, we’re not likely to see campaign finance reform legislation emerge from Congress for awhile — not even on disclosure.  Though I’d love to be proved wrong.

    Item #3 – Changes in our Courts.  Well, a death or resignation could change the Supreme Court in an instant, but I’m not wishing for that for anyone, and there’s no guarantee it would be one of the conservatives, anyway.  I’d love to think that Justice Kennedy has seen the error of his reasoning in Citizens United, and would rule differently if another case gave him the chance to do so, but I’m not stupid.  The conservatives + Kennedy won’t stop until there’s nothing left of campaign finance law.  The 1st amendment trumps everything.  Of course, that trend could all change overnight, but it doesn’t look that way at the moment.

    I’m surprised, if they say they’re open to a range of solutions, that they don’t include a constitutional amendment as one way of “winning”.  It’s definitely a long shot, but arguably so are the other methods they’ve listed.

    I wish the local group much success.  Anything that educates people more about campaign finance is a good thing (getting people to care about it is very good, too! — most eyes roll back in the head when the topic is raised, unless you mention Colbert’s effort on Super PACs, which was both funny and educational, which we need more of!  I’d love to see Jon Oliver take on dark money….).  It’s a tough issue, especially these days.

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