A presidential poll released as Speaker Boehner made his announcement shows Republicans want something no Republican candidate is talking about.
Last week, we -- MAYDAY.US -- ran a poll of the supporters of presidential candidates to find out where they stood on big, fundamental contentious issues around money in politics. We wanted to know whether there was a big difference between, say, Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters on public financing of elections. We wanted to know whether Rubio and Bush supporters had different takes on whether the SEC should require companies to disclose political spending. And we wanted to see if we could go find those supporters who cared about a total overhaul, and work with them.
I went in with certain assumptions. I assumed that because no major Republican candidates are talking about public financing of elections, we'd see low support for public financing and fundamental reform. Not because I think public financing is a partisan issue -- it's not -- it's a brainchild of the Republican Teddy Roosevelt, and whatever your politics, you should want a system built for democracy, not oligarchy! But national Republican leaders have been weak and absent on the issue, talking vaguely about reform and corruption but silent on how to do anything meaningful about it.
But here's what we learned: Supporters of Republican presidential candidates want to see fundamental structural change in how we fund elections as badly as Democrats do.
I talk a lot about how this is a bipartisan issue, but consider that 94 percent of Republican voters said that "special interest money has too much influence in American political campaigns," and 81 percent agreed that "the system for funding elections needs fundamental reform."
In particular, we learned Republican voters want these four surprising things:
- 85 percent of Republicans polled believe elections would be "less corrupt" if politicians focused more on small donors instead of special interests to raise money. This includes: 91 percent of Huckabee supporters, 86 percent of Fiorina supporters.
- A majority of Republicans support a system of citizen-funded elections, where individuals can make "small contributions that are then matched by a limited amount of public funds." This is without Republican candidates talking about it, and without the broad cultural understanding of a new system.
- 92 percent of Republicans think the FEC should be reformed so that it holds accountable those who break election law.
- 88 percent of Republicans believe the Securities and Exchange Commission should force corporations to disclose their political spending.
Public financing of elections, SEC action and FEC enforcement, taken together, is bigger than reform. It's a structured political revolution. It transfers power. What these polls show is that Republicans want that structured political revolution, even though their leaders aren't talking about it.
This means a majority of Bush and Trump voters would be happy if they came out and supported a new, opt-in system of citizen funded elections. The poll demonstrates to Republican candidates that a majority of their voters believe the system is rigged, and more importantly, they want politicians to act.
I'm not naive. The real reason most candidates don't publicly support public financing of elections is because it is such a fundamental change in power that their big donors (and super PAC sponsors) don't want it, and because they are scared that they'd get more grassroots challengers if there's no big money filter deciding who gets to run.
But I will tell you, if those poll numbers start getting backed by bird-dogging numbers, and phone calls, and protesters, those candidates are going to stop blowing off basic democracy questions and start coming up with answers.
Remember Eric Cantor's defeat last year? Ironically, Dave Brat, who beat him, and I, were talking about a lot of the same things during our campaigns -- crony capitalism and crony politics -- and he's evidence that there's a rising anti-corruption force in the Republican electorate that isn't going to accept the usual pablum.
Republican strategist John Pudner, who had a leading hand in Brat's victory, is pushing for a public financing bill, one that allows voters to use the first $100 of their tax money to go to their favorite candidates who choose to participate in the new, citizen-funded system.
Public financing already has 153 co-sponsors of both parties in the House. The Government by the People Act (H.R.20) would create a national version of New York City-style public financing, amplifying the voices of voters by matching small donations using a limited amount of public funds. There is only one Republican co-sponsor right now -- Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina -- but these polls show all Republicans that there is a base of support waiting to be tapped.
Many people have argued that Trump draws some of his support from voters who want candidates who aren't beholden to donors -- but what this poll shows is that Republican voters are ready for a real transformation that would make that true of ALL candidates.