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Wendy Block Headshot

The Fix

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"It's not about what the public wants. It's about money...and nothing will change...until the money-lenders are tossed out of the temple, and we tear down the sign they've placed on government -- the one that reads: "For sale."
--Bill Moyers, July 10, 2009 Bill Moyers Journal, PBS

The Journal that night presented an eyewitness account of the abuses that profit-hooked health insurance companies commit against the rest of us every day. But Moyers chose to close the show with the quote above for a reason - money is the root of most political evil.

It was maybe the 15th time I've heard this champion of democracy link huge corporate/special interest contributions for politicians with America's devolution: the economic crisis, climate change, foreign relations catastrophes, the denial of civil/human rights, preemptive wars, the enmeshment of church and state, et al. Barely-regulated election funding is not the only cause, but it's right up there.

Who isn't tempted by the siren song of big donors? Their cash paves the way for electoral triumph and its accompanying power and success. They supply a credible rationale for supporting self-serving issues and opposing those that threaten; they sometimes even draft the laws they want passed.

Add politicians' overweening egos to this toxic alchemy and you get more than 500 electeds -- nationally at least -- who know they're right, enjoy their privileged lives, and want to stick around as long as possible. To do that, they have to keep scrounging for re-election money and scrambling to keep their patrons happy while simultaneously chasing new backers; and, oh yeah, maybe trying to squeeze in a bit of time for ordinary voters.

As part of the HuffPo Citizen Journalism Eyes & Ears Health Care Investigative Unit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/22/healthcare-investigative-unit-registration_n_219023.html, I've been trolling the web to learn how campaign donations by health-related corporations and lobbyists may be influencing lawmakers' votes. My research isn't finished, so I won't draw final conclusions till it is.

But I have discovered that at least one of these legislators -- who used to advocate for government-provided health insurance -- now openly opposes a public health insurance option. This elected also happens to be raking in donations from some of the country's top health industry lobbyists and special interests.

To start fixing America, we must give elections back to voters. They need easy access to accurate information so they can evaluate all office seekers and issues fairly and independently. In an ideal world, this would mean guaranteeing all candidates the same resources to get their messages heard.

Since the Supreme Court has declared corporate/lobbyist/special interest donations a form of free speech, we can't, at least for now, ban elephantine contributions. But we can offer candidates the opportunity to run clean and fair.

Here's how: a candidate who agrees to limit his/her contributions from private supporters receives enough funding from a central public account to compete effectively against even wealthy privately-financed opponents. And before you start with the eye-rolling and the out loud "I can't believe...," comments--know this: it works!

Seven states and numerous cities and regions currently run some form of clean and fair elections. These programs enjoy support from multiple political parties and the unaffiliated.

Constituents and their reps also appreciate the new configurations, as articulated by William Mundell, who ran clean and won his race to become an Arizona Corporate Commissioner. "You have an opportunity to spend more time with voters," he says, "listening to their concerns, discussing issues and not hav(ing) to constantly be raising money up and through the time and after the election." Mundell is a Republican.

I've volunteered since 2000 to bring Clean Money to California after learning about it from Arianna Huffington, though it was called campaign finance reform back then. Last year our legislature passed a Fair Elections pilot project (hooray State Sen. Loni Hancock http://dist09.casen.govoffice.com/ ) and Governor Schwarzenegger signed it into law. (If state lawmakers were gonna do one perfect thing, I'm glad this was it!)

Now all (hah!) we need is to get 50% + 1of the California electorate to okay it next June (to overturn an old state initiative provision prohibiting public campaign financing). http://www.caclean.org/ To help, I joined the California Clean Money Campaign Speakers Bureau, and with an activist buddy, did my first group talk a few months ago.

For the entire US, the new Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826) http://www.publicampaign.org/ just made its successful Congressional debut at a hearing before the House Administration Committee http://cha.house.gov/view_hearing.aspx?r=55 Exciting possibilities shimmer...I'll have more about them in my next post, including how you can help.