Dark Money Blackens Eyes
By Ryan Rogers
Ever since the Electoral Event Which Shall Not Be Named (or EEWSNBN) last year, there has been one other topic that seems to cause a huge amount of anger. That topic is Campaign Finance. Admit it, you cringed a little. It’s ok. This topic tends to do just that. What I hope to accomplish with this article is to clarify what this one guy, myself, thinks on the topic. Especially as it pertains to Iowa politics.
As with most things in politics I like to hear about goals. So I will state that my eventual goal is to have public elections for the entire United States. Since I have very little sway in Iowa politics let alone the national level, I want to work on this state first. Campaign Finance Reform has been a goal of mine ever since I nodded in agreement to John McCain (good luck with the cancer sir) in the 2000 primaries, about the need for campaign finance reform and its toxic nature in politics. Yep, I used to think I was above the 2 party fray. What can I say I was young. Despite the completely weak McCain-Feingold act, with loopholes the size of Citizens United, McCain was correct about money in politics. It smacks of corruption and makes it so that concerned citizens cannot trust the words of the people they elect. Especially if said words go against the donations they received.
Being in an isolated corner of Iowa, I don’t get much political interaction with people face to face. Instead, I have local work and Leftbook (aka Facebook) to provide me with an opportunity to help. So I feel very well versed in the arguments that I see all of the time when interacting with people. My analysis is that only the most brainwashed “money = speech” right wing purists think that our campaign finance system is good for the country.
When you talk to people and engage them in legitimate conversation about the Kochs you always get the “But Soros” deflection, as I call it. They aren’t wrong. How can we legitimately think our punches land cleanly when they land a body blow on us with every knock out blow we hit? It’s so bad that being a paid Soros shill has become such a running gag since the election that us on the Left make jokes about it. We do that because it’s patently and stupidly false, also we see actual astroturf groups such as Americans For Prosperity doing the activities they accuse us of. Like AFP bringing in protesters, in matching shirts no less, during the “public hearing” over the bill gutting our public workers collective bargaining rights.
The Right uses money to influence politicians via campaign contributions, media hit jobs, and astroturfing; the Democrats, unfortunately, have to have money to survive. In Iowa politics, one such example sticks in my head. In 2014, I saw Joni Ernst use our need for funds to great effect against her opponent Bruce Braley. If you don’t remember, he was caught on tape down-talking farmers while soliciting funds from Texas trial lawyers. This had the effect of neutralizing his central attack message of Joni being corrupt and in the pockets of the Kochs. Which of course she totally was. Joni just had the good fortune of not being of recorded on video soliciting funds.
The point of all of this was to give a fair amount of history and context to my view point. That I see the merits of the arguments of both the Right and those in our party that preach about how we need funds to run effective campaigns. In my opinion, we need an achievable goal. So I’m going to name it, Iowa should be the first state to do fully publicly financed elections. At all levels. If you’re campaigning in Iowa, you’re not spending money, period. You get free airtime, free campaign literature and other stipends. I don’t have the details of a fully fleshed out plan because this is an end goal. We will not get to public elections in 2018. I doubt we get to it in 2020. Those facts shouldn’t deter us from stating that goal and working towards it.
With the knowledge of us being unable to write big money out of the rules anytime in the future, I urge candidates, especially those that think they may speak on corruption, to not take dark money. The simplest way to do that is to completely and utterly sever any ties to SuperPACs. Not even the faintest trace of connection to dark money. No ads. Nothing. Regular PACs are fine, necessary even, to win currently. We should have our candidates strive to have as much sunlight on their finances as possible. If we take actual steps towards becoming a trustworthy party that wins, then we can get small donations to the party that everyone loves and need the dark money even less. It’s not good enough to call the other guys corrupt, we have to walk the walk, and legislate the talk.