Posts Tagged ‘public financing’

Tom Craddick, the former Speaker of the Texas House and currently a Republican  incumbent Texas House Member, has given money to his favorite incumbent Democratic Representatives. So, what’s the problem? Craddick laundered the money through a PAC instead of a direct contribution. In response, Texans for Public Justice, a political advocacy group, has filed a formal complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission, claiming this is illegal.

Here’s what happened: Craddick gave $250,000 to the Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build A Secure Future PAC (Jobs PAC) on January 10, 2008, along with instructions to distribute the money to incumbent Democratic Representatives; Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores, and Aaron Pena. Each representative was offered $50,000. All the Representatives, except Dukes who was wary of already existing criticism about ties to Craddick from her opponent, accepted the money.
According to Texas Campaign Finance laws (Texas Election Code Chapter 253.001), contributing money through any intermediary organization without disclosing its original source is illegal. However, it probably happens more than voters will ever know, as it does not leave a paper trail back to the original contributor.

Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald says: “Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know. Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.” This issue, therefore, deals with more than disregarding Campaign Finance Laws; this is behavior that also leads to voter ignorance.

And here comes the rub with most campaign finance problems: it’s not necessarily the recipients who are at fault here.  Craddick, in an attempt at political payback, gave money to those who had voted for him as Speaker.  As in most cases with campaign finance laws, we walk a very fine line between bribery, kickbacks, etc and legitimate donations.  The public can’t know what was in the mind and heart of Rep Craddick, much less those of Bailey, Pena, and Flores (who, we should note, none of whom voted for Craddick’s re-election for Speaker in 2009)– BUT only by instituting a system of public financing can we be certain that our candidates are running clean and are only representing the wishes of their constituents.  I think it would be a great step forward for public confidence in elections and also rid our elected officials of the task of fundraising, something not one elected official I know claims to like.  Win-Win-Win.

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UPDATE: Bill Richardson was cleared of any wrongdoing in this fund raising scandal  and we wanted to briefly comment on it and also resurrect this post, which to this day remains one of our most read blogs ever.

As I commented in response to some of your reader’s comments below, the point was never to drag Gov. Richardson through the mud.  Indeed, considering his eventual vindication, it re-emphasizes the point that if we had a system of public financing, no politician would ever face erroneous charges such as this.

Money muddies the water, both for the good public servant and the bad politician , and anyone we force to raise private campaign cash we are asking them to prostitute their opinions on the altar of political expediency.  And we get the system we deserve because of it.

Original Post: Jan 5, 2009

I’ve heard it said that churches are supposed to make bad men good and good men better.  Our campaign finance system seems to do the opposite: make good men bad and bad men worse (ie, Governors Richardson and Blagojevich, respectively).  As far back as Socrates, outside observers have noticed the corruptive influence of money on public policy.  Our public servants worshiping at the altar of campaign donations is sure path to hell for most of us.  But the fact that we force them to do so by not providing a public financing system begs the question: Are we getting what we deserve?

As Richardson withdraws his name for consideration of being Commerce Secretary, more and more details are coming out about his ethical problems.  Did he take campaign donations that changed his votes?  Possibly, or at least there’s enough of an ethical cloud there that no one can know for sure.

And that’s the problem with how we finance our campaigns.  No one can ever be truly sure that their Legislators, Representatives, Senators, Mayors, Governors, or Presidents are taking a position because of the merits of the proposals themselves, or because someone with deep pockets convinced them that’s how they should vote.  The same can be said of incoming Senatorial appointee Roland Burris.  It’s surely not his fault that Blagojevich is a slimeball, but the public just can’t be certain that he was appointed based on his merits alone and not because Blagojevich had some ulterior motive.

The only way to remove all doubt is by supporting public financing.  We can only hope during this next Congress that we see some real leadership on this issue so that We the People can know that we are, indeed, still the ones in charge of our government and not the other way around.

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We were ecstatic when we heard from Congressman Doggett’s office that he would be signing on as an original cosponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill which would create a public financing system for Congressional candidates.

Public financing means that instead of spending hours a day raising money on the phone, our elected leaders can instead take money allocated to them by the government for their campaigns.  No longer would any constituent have to worry that their leaders could be “bought” by their campaign donations, and no campaign donor could ever try to attach any strings, real or implied, to their donations.

Public Citizen has long been an advocate for getting money out of Washington. This is the biggest and best step we can take to make this happen.

Congressman Doggett is a leader on this issue, and will hopefully bring more attention to this issue as it moves along.  We’d like to thank him, and hope you will as well, by calling his Austin office 512-916-5921 or by writing a letter to the editor of the Austin American Statesman or your other local paper (I’m looking at you, Hays County — he’s your Rep too!)

We’re all incredibly lucky to have a Representative like Congressman Doggett.  He is joined in support of Fair Elections Now by Rep. Gene Green of Houston.  Silvestre Reyes of El Paso is also on the record for supporting public financing, but has not yet signed on to the bill.

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Today’s New York Times reported that life is not all peaches and cream for the Obama campaign after they opted out of the presidential public financing system.  (See Article “Straining to Reach Goal, Obama Presses Donors“)

Pushing a fund-raiser later this month, a finance staff member sent a sharply worded note last week to Illinois members of its national finance committee, calling their recent efforts “extremely anemic.”

The signs of concern have become evident in recent weeks as early fund-raising totals have suggested that Mr. Obama’s decision to bypass public financing may not necessarily afford him the commanding financing advantage over Senator John McCain that many had originally predicted.

But the campaign is struggling to meet ambitious fund-raising goals it set for the campaign and the party. It collected in June and July far less from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s donors than originally projected. Moreover, Mr. McCain, unlike Mr. Obama, will have the luxury of concentrating almost entirely on campaigning instead of raising money, as Mr. Obama must do.

It is not yet clear whether the Obama campaign will be able to ratchet up its fund-raising enough in the final two months of the campaign to make up the difference.

Public financing is a boon to any politician who accepts it, as it allows her or him to run free from the strings attached to big-dollar-donations and to focus the campaign’s time on where it should be spent: connecting with voters.  This is why when I explained Public Financing to Congressman Nick Lampson, currently running in the most competitive House race in the country, he was exuberant to think of a time when he would no longer have to dial for dollars.  Considering the other two competitive House races in Texas, in CD 7 and 10, think of the race it would be if the campaigns were on equal footing moneywise and ideas, not dollars, affected the outcome of the race.

And, if you don’t think that money doesn’t change policy, think again.  Every issue, from the War in Iraq to Consumer Protection to Global Warming to Education has powerful monied interests who are willing to pour money into the debate to get what they want.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McCain, once a champion of campaign finance reform, is still soliciting donations to his campaign, even though he has already accepted public financing money.  A loophole allows the campaign to get money for “compliance” issues, but really it’s a backdoor for the same kind of big money influence peddling we’ve seen so far, as recently as the last two weeks at the GOP and Dem Conventions.

Kate Kaye, the author of the blog who brought this to our attention, explained it best:

According to a disclaimer on the McCain campaign site, “Because the McCain-Palin Campaign is participating in the presidential public funding system, it may not receive contributions for the any candidate’s election. However, federal law allows the McCain-Palin Campaign’s Compliance Fund to defray legal and accounting compliance costs and preserve the Campaign’s public grant for media, mail, phones, and get-out-the-vote programs. Contributions to McCain-Palin Victory 2008 will go to the Compliance Fund, and to participating party committees for Victory 2008 programs.”

That Victory fund is operated by the compliance fund, the Republican National Committee, and the Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania GOPs.

Hmmm…I wonder what states are in the most contention this year….

The lesson is clear: we should support full, airtight public financing NOW and we should make our leaders accept it– a “Great divorce” of Money and Politics.

Obama originally opted out of public financing by citing that the presidential system was “broken” and that he had created a “parallel public financing system” via the netroots.  This, along with McCain’s continued fund-raising, is an argument to shore up the presidential system, not scrap it.

We can pass full public financing laws.  We can keep elections fair at the local, state, congressional, and federal level.  Currently, the Fair Elections Now Act sits idle in Congress with some serious inertial problems.  We should change that, and call our leaders and ask them to sign on to Fair Elections.  We can make it a priority of the next Congress, insuring that future elections are clean and fair.

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Public Citizen is a national sponsor of this year’s Netroots Nation conference, and as the Austin Texas office of Public Citizen is happy to play host. We’ve met so many great people and been in so many excellent meetings. We’re also proud that we launched this, our Texas blog, in concert with NN08. Today has been incredibly busy and wonderful, so let me fill all of you in who weren’t here.


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