Citizens United and its Impact on Constituency

When I was growing up, My father was active in politics.  You would never see him on the stump, and he never ran for office.  He was a critical member of various politicians’ teams, mostly republican.  One thing he was particularly good at was fundraising.  I remember him telling me, “The small donation from a family is important.  If the person who handles the family money will give you $5.00, you have to understand what that means.  $5.00 is a roast and all the fixings (this was the 60’s, after all).  That is at least one family meal.  They have given you a meal off of their table.  If they will give you that, they will give you their vote.  These donations are a sign that they are with you.”

Was the small donation also a way to gain influence over the candidate?  Probably, but it didn’t matter.  The donation was small, and their were a lot of them in relation to the district.  Lots of donations of similar amounts meant that the influence was dispersed across a whole lot of families.  The politicians had to listen to a lot of people with a lot of different ideas if they wanted to fund their campaigns and win their elections.  While they hated having to beg for donations, the process led to democratic (small d) representation.  Those families, and their neighbors, were the constituency, and the politicians never forgot it.

When I returned to Colorado in 1989, I joined up with the Douglas County Republicans, because I lived in Douglas County.  We were immediately involved in the local elections and midterms.  I was looking forward to putting into practice the things I had learned from my father.  However, something had happened to Colorado politics while I was away.  I was told, “We don’t do fundraising that way any more.  It is too hard, too time consuming, and undignified.  We have big dollar sponsors now.  All we have to do is select candidates that our sponsors can support.”  And so it was.  At the time, the big donors were people like Marvin Davis and Philip Anschutz and  corporations like major banks and large developers.  It soon included the Koch brothers and other donors at the national level.  While the smaller donations were never turned down, they were no longer the focus of fundraising.  With the change in fundraising came a change in the constituency.  The politicians no longer had to accommodate the families who made up the small donor class.  They had to accommodate the big donors.  And the influence was no longer dispersed, it was concentrated.  The constituency was now the wealthy individuals and corporations, who seemed to have the same policy focuses.

Then came the The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Act.  But first, a bit of history on campaign financing.

The first federal laws concerning campaign finance were passed in 1867 to prohibit Navy yard workers from being solicited for campaign funds.  I don’t know why this law was passed.  Over the years, other laws were passed to regulate campaign financing.  Essentially, these laws were meant to limit contributions to ensure that wealthy individuals and special interest groups did not have a disproportionate influence on Federal elections, prohibit certain sources of funds for Federal campaign purposes (i.e., the Tillman Act prohibited corporations and national banks from contributing money to national campaigns), control campaign spending (laws passed in 1910 covering U.S. House of Representative races, and 1911 to add the Senate, both laws limited the amounts that could be spent on a candidate’s election), and require public disclosure of campaign finances to deter abuse and to educate the electorate (essentially the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925).  The public disclosure was an important element of the regulations passed.

However, these laws were approved without including a way to enforce them.  Thus, the campaign finance provisions of all of these laws were pretty much ignored. In 1971, Congress passed a more rigorous set of disclosure provisions under the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act as the primary law regulating political campaign spending and fundraising. It focused on increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns.  

After Watergate, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, which put new limits on contributions to campaigns.  Unfortunately, within four years, the FEC had decided that donors could donate unlimited money to political parties, but not the candidates themselves, as long as the party used that money for “party building activities” such as voter registration drives, but not to directly support candidates.  Political parties still used this money to support their candidates.  This money donated to parties became known as soft money.  In 1992, President George HW Bush vetoed a bill restricting use of soft money.

Because of a series of scandals (including Enron) brought the issue of campaign finance to the fore of public consciousness in 2001, and the McCain-Feingold bill was passed.  The important provisions of this act included a prohibition of national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to the federal limits previously set, and limited the use of issue advocacy adds.  It also prohibited any issue advocacy ad from being paid for by a corporation, including non-profit issue organizations, or union general treasury funds.  It also included a ban on foreign corporations or foreign nationals being involved in decisions regarding political spending.  Mitch McConnell was a major opponent of this act.

To comply with McCain-Feingold, many “527s” have been registered.  527s get their name from section 527 of the IRS code. 527s are mostly funded by wealthy individuals, labor unions, and businesses.  While 527s existed before McCain-Feingold, they became more popular after it was passed.

McCain-Feingold had in it a section known as the “millionaire’s amendment,” which tried to equalize campaigns by increasing the legal limit on contributions to candidate when his opponent used personal wealth to overwhelm the spending of the candidate.  As McCain said, “Money does buy access in Washington, and access increases influence that often results in benefiting the few at the expense of the many.”  In other words, the millionaire amendment was specifically designed to offset the ability of the very wealthy to buy elections.  This is the provision that the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional in the case known as Citizens United in 2009.  Specifically, Citizens United struck down campaign financing laws related to corporations and unions.  The minority argued that the court erred in allowing unlimited corporate spending, arguing that corporate spending posed a particular threat to democratic self-government. However, it did also make it easier to hide the source of funds.  According to President Barack Obama, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.” He also said the decision was, “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

In fact, the Supreme Court decision in 2009 did make it easier to hide where soft money was coming from.  The elections of 2012 and 2016 are evidence of this fact.  Now our elections are largely financed by the 1%.  We know that Robert Mercer was a major contributor to the Trump campaign.  We know that Sheldon Adelson largely funded the failed Newt Gingrich campaign and was sought by all the Republican candidates in 2016.  We also know that the Koch brothers have invested heavily in elections throughout the country from school boards to state assemblies and legislatures to U.S. Congress and President.  So financing campaigns has been moved from the family donations to the company donations to corporate and special interest donations to the 1%.  So the influence, and thus, the constituency, has shifted accordingly.

However, these are the things we know about soft money.  The difficulty in finding out the sources of funds in the soft money world opens up a whole new problem.  Because of the lack of transparency, there is every possibility that a significant portion of that soft money is in fact laundered money from foreign sources.  We do know that there are questions about several individuals involved in the Trump campaign as to whether they have been laundering money.  There are transactions, for example, that Manafort has been involved in that have all the earmarks of money laundering.  It is not a far stretch to ask whether the Trump campaign was an experiment in a new way to launder money.  If the Trump campaign was benefiting from laundered money, was he the only one?  If politicians were accepting money from foreign sources, then who do they represent?  Does the influence belong now to foreign entities?  Are these foreign entities now the true constituency of our politicians?  This is a really scary thought.  Imagine if the real constituent to whom our congress and President are responsible to is Vladimer Putin.   Perhaps the time has come to ask our congresspersons, who are your real constituents?

 

 

A Letter From My Husband to Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman

This is a letter My husband wrote to Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.  I think it is worthy of reading.

I trust you will read this letter in its entirety, rather than picking and choosing issues to respond to as has been the case in the past.

I am a retiree and depend on my earned benefits (Medicare, Social Security and a small pension).

I am a Viet Nam era veteran from the early 1970s where I was a part of the IC community. During that period, I developed a deep dislike for Russia and its corrupt behavior.

Politically I was active within the GOP from the 1970s to 2005. In the late 1990s the GOP left me and became a party I did not recognize. The party also left the American people. It no longer cared for the citizens and did everything to abandon the nation’s infrastructure and the health and welfare of people that matured under the Eisenhower administration. Yes, the Democrats were the opposition, but there was usually an attempt to find solutions. Today Democratic values are more closely aligned to the values of the GOP in the 50s and 60s and for that matter the 70s and 80s. Voter opinion was valued by the party. Huge donors didn’t rule the roost. There were no Koch brothers or DeVos family influences. People mattered back then. Today, who in the GOP cares about the people?

The issues I have outlined below are important to me because I still believe American citizens matter. Everyone who lives in this country matters (other than those who choose to destroy our Democracy). I hope you consider each, realizing this nation must be one of compassion and that today’s GOP cannot continue to shove their beliefs down everyone’s throats.

Health Care

The Trump/Ryan Care legislation was unacceptable. It was cruel to those who need it most, many who have no choice. For example, my daughter-in-law has type 1 diabetes. Her employer does not provide insurance to ‘part time’ employees. By the way, she is not part time by choice, but rather because her employer (major American corporation), like so many, is avoiding the cost of benefits. Prescriptions alone could cost her $2,000 per month without insurance. A high-risk pool such as proposed by the GOP would mean no health insurance coverage and eventual death. Is what we really want? For the rich, I am sure that is the case.

The menu of EHCB under ACA has been a godsend. Yes, premiums and deductibles are high, but much better than the days before ACA. Why do I like the ACA? The answer is simple, ‘affordable health insurance for a person over 50 years old’. I was in the Defense industry for almost 40 years. My benefits were great, however with budget cuts, highly compensated employees like me and my wife were forced into early retirement. Retirement medical benefits were more costly than what I could find on the commercial market and the ACA. I was headed toward bankruptcy. Both Trump/Ryan didn’t give a damn about the over 50 population and even with increased tax credits the deal was rotten. How dare they use the legislation to reduce the taxes of the wealthy on the backs of people like us? This should be legislation for comprehensive health care for all at an affordable price no matter the individual’s age. Medicaid is an essential element of health care although it does not affect us. The GOP does not seem to care for the working people living in this country.

Earned Benefits

I am a firm believer in protecting the benefits we paid for, specifically, Medicare and Social Security. These are earned benefits. Now that I collect these benefits, I understand more than ever their importance and the need to protect them for all who have made contributions. It is important to keep these programs viable, but GOP plans are not well thought out. Why is the Social Security Cap not adjusted like it used to be? It seems like increasing a contribution to retirement a little each year is not a sin other than some Think Tank giving a Congressman a lower score. Congressmen work for us, not a Think Tank. Medicare must be kept intact and prescription prices kept affordable. Rather than adjusting retirement age (not a reality) why not consider an increase in taxes in line with inflation? Privatizing is not an option either. The Government is the best manager of my money. I’ve had so many investment firms rip me off over the years that I no longer trust them. That is the private sector.

Immigration/Refugees

The fabric of this nation is our immigrants, no matter how they arrived. It is special to see friends, co-workers, worshipers, store clerks, airport workers, public servants, etc. from so many different countries. Many came to this great country to flee oppression or poverty. Why on earth would we change something so special? Today’s travel bans and deportations are just two things that shock me. Why do we oppress people in or attempting to enter our country? I love Colorado because of its diversity. In a normal day I interact with people from at least a dozen countries. They are not here to destroy us. Why are DREAMers not citizens? What law did they break? They had no say in how they arrived and yet they are friends and peers. What about those escaping war-torn countries and areas of famine? For those of us of Christian faith, God would expect us to care for those in need. I cannot understand why Congress and the Administration are filled with such hate.

Religious Freedom

I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state. This line is being blurred by this administration and is being manifested by expressions of hatred towards believers of other faiths. I am stunned that Congress is seemingly silent on acts of violence and vandalism. Congress is guilty of not condemning this administration of promoting expressions of hate.

The Wall

This is the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars. No one knows the exact price and Congress is making no attempts to find out the true cost. Congressmen will be held accountable for this failure. This wall reminds me of the Berlin wall. Is Mexico our enemy? No. They are our friends and trading partners. Is this wall going to hinder migration of wildlife? I am sure it will. The hatred of this administration seems to trump all considerations of the impact of the wall. Bottom line this Congress is lazy. It does not want to do the hard work required to find solutions.

 Travel Ban

This is another area where Congress is not pushing back. The travel ban is a Muslim ban. More importantly it has no impacts on the investments of the president because it excludes nations where he has properties. It harms our businesses and tourism. People will not feel welcome to visit our nation and other nations will likely not welcome us. It is making this a more dangerous world. The Colorado GOP delegation seems to embrace this expression of hatred. As written, this ban has nothing to do with the safety of this country.

 Environment/Climate Change

Where do I begin? I have yet to meet anyone in Colorado that does not support green energy, does not want clean air and water, and that denies climate change. The actions of many in Congress and the current administration are advocating the destruction of all the progress we have made over the last several decades. Cost of regulations is not an acceptable excuse. The benefits have far outweighed the ‘costs’. People are healthier now. The world is better off.

Education

This administration is failing the country in a major way. Ms. DeVos should never have been confirmed. First, this was a case for pay to play. Too many Congressmen accepted donations from a Michigan resident who in turn felt obligated to support her nomination. Quite frankly, I believe this was a criminal act. Second, she advocates on the part of religious education. This dilutes the effect of our public education system. Our tax dollars must not go to religious education under any circumstance. My tax dollars must not go to supporting a school whose beliefs I do not support or agree with. Religion must be kept out of our public schools (and I am a Christian).

Voting Rights

Voting rights are being attacked in so many ways. Voter ID laws are making it impossible for the infirmed, minorities and seniors to cast their votes. A solution must be found so that all citizens can easily vote. Voting obstruction must end. Colorado may not be perfect, but does get higher grades than many states and should be held up as a good example for voting in national elections. I resent the criticism coming from the current administration on Colorado voting laws and I encourage our delegation in Washington to demand that it stop.

Infrastructure

This is an area where the GOP has dropped the ball. Where are the investments in the power grid, highways, water lines, gas lines, rail, mass transit, internet access, etc.? Congress is zeroing these investments out and refusing to increase gas taxes. Bridges are falling apart. Pot holes are everywhere. Tolls are being charged for highways that were constructed using our tax dollars. Are we giving infrastructure public assets to the well connected to profit from our contributions? This is corruption. It is a failure on the part of Congress. This took hold in the 1980s and now we as a country are facing a case of deferred maintenance which will cost ten times more to fix. Will it take a major disaster to wake Congress?

Supreme Court

This is a losing argument with you. Suffice it to say, voters will remember the Garland nomination. Why you were a part of this obstruction is beyond me. Neil Gorsuch, in my opinion, puts more value in businesses than the people of this country. There was no indication in the hearing that he would protect the lives of people in this country. Protecting big donors and big businesses seemed far more important. Is Congress throwing the poor and middle class under the bus? It appears that is the case.

Behavior of Current Administration

Our president has been in office roughly 75 days as I write this. It has seemed like 10 years of hell. Congress could become heroes if they were willing to put a stop to the chaos. Most of the EOs are not well thought out. Congress could correct the EOs, replace them, or pass legislation overriding them. We clearly have a president that has no clue on governing.

 Trump/Russia Investigations

As a veteran, I am very sensitive to anyone’s relationship to Russia. I don’t trust them and I believe they are out to destroy our great country. The Senate seems to be doing the right thing, albeit a little slow for my taste. Whatever the case may be, Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and hold people accountable, even at the highest levels of government. Tampering with our elections and any subsequent cover-up is wrong. Personally, I could probably name at least a dozen who I believe are guilty of something. It could mean a new President and it might be down the line of succession. I know I am not only person that is worried. Senate leadership is going to be very important.

Congressmen Work for Constituents

This can be the toughest thing for a Congressman, but it is the most important. Colorado elected you, not donors, not Think Tanks. You must listen to your constituents. I will hazard a guess, as much as you may not like it, most of us in Colorado embrace the ACA. Your donors may not like that, but in 2020 the voters will provide you with an assessment on how well you listened to them. In person town halls are important. Voters need to release their emotions in person and you must listen. This is especially true today, when we have an Administration that is determined to tick everyone off. Unfortunately, you will receive most of the voters’ wrath even if you were not a part of the president’s actions. I don’t believe for a minute that the Colorado protesters are outsiders. They are my friends and neighbors from here in Colorado. We want our Congressmen to hear us. I believe you can. Do you have the will?

Sincerely