I Am Not Accepting Corporate PAC Money
Money is at the heart of the problems in Washington. Political spending is out of control. Our representatives answer to the moneyed special interests, who exert enormous control over their fundraising opportunities and whether or not they are re-elected. In 2015, for example, Lisa Murkowski only raised $31,517 from donations of $200 or less. In the same period, she raised $1.26 million from more than 500 separate leadership and corporate Political Action Committees (PACs). Who is going to have Lisa Murkowski’s ear? She will listen to powerful corporations and wealthy individuals.
I have decided not to accept corporate PAC money. This is an important step in placing the people’s interests front and center as my only focus in Washington. My priority is the people’s business, not fundraisers and fancy dinners. I also support these additional important changes:
Overturn Citizens United
The U.S. Supreme Court made a serious mistake when it gave corporations the same rights as people. There was already far too much money influencing our elections, and Citizens United made it worse. Under this misguided decision, corporations and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited amounts of untraceable “dark money” on elections through 501(c)(4) “charitable” organizations. This type of unlimited secret spending overwhelms the voices of the majority of Americans and undermines our democracy. We all need to believe we can contribute to deciding the direction of our country and “E pluribus unum” must be more than a sterile Latin phrase. Like the majority of Americans, I support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Ban Lobbyist and PAC Contributions While Congress is in Session
Alaska law bans state legislators from soliciting or accepting political contributions while the legislature is in session. Alaska’s law was passed nearly 25 years ago to focus our representatives’ attention on the people’s business during the legislative session and to eliminate the extraordinary influence that giving money to an elected official on the eve of a critical vote can have. Many other states have similar laws. In the United States Congress, however, a lobbyist can give a Senator or Representative a check while that person is headed to the Capitol to vote on the lobbyist’s bill. Bloomberg News reported that former Speaker of the House John Boehner “handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to members on the House floor at a time when lawmakers were considering eliminating a tobacco subsidy.” This practice creates an unseemly and corrupting influence on our representatives, and Congress should adopt a rule like Alaska’s. At a minimum, Congress should prohibit all contributions from lobbyists and PACs while Congress is in session.
Complete Disclosure of Political Campaign Spending
While Citizens United is presently the law, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least require full disclosure of all political spending, including the unlimited money that is being spent by “Super PACs” and 501(c) “charitable” organizations. Presently there is no federal election reporting requirement whatsoever for 501(c) “charitable” organizations. “Super PACs” are required to report their donors, but many of those donors turn out to be opaque shell corporations. All political spending should be reported publicly. When contributions are made by business entities, the underlying owners of those business entities should be disclosed unless the business entity is a publicly traded company or a national non-profit organization.
Ban Congressional Leadership PACs
Today, nearly every member of Congress has a so-called Leadership PAC, a fundraising committee separate from a Senator or Representative’s campaign committee that’s used to solicit contributions from wealthy individuals and friendly corporate PACs. Members in turn use the money collected by their Leadership PACs to contribute to their colleagues’ re-election campaigns and to further their own ambitions. The reportable spending categories for such PACs are so vague, however, that it is often impossible to know how such funds were actually spent. These entities are rightfully called “slush funds.”
There are many unfortunate examples of what easily could be described as inappropriate use of Leadership PAC funds. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) used $64,500 from his Leadership PAC to commission a portrait of himself. John Edwards, a former Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator, paid his mistress $114,000 from his congressional Leadership PAC to videotape campaign events. Former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) spent over $100,000 from his Leadership PAC on golfing trips.
While a member’s Leadership PAC money cannot be directly spent on his or her own re-election campaign, these PACs often trade money back and forth to achieve the exact same result. Time Magazine noted that in 2014 “Mitch McConnell of Kentucky engaged in 14 of these exchanges, transferring $70,000 out of his Bluegrass Committee PAC to other GOP candidates who then used their PACs to donate $67,500 to his campaign, all within seven days.” Lisa Murkowski raised $1,086,698 for, and then shuffled $1,122,566 from, her “Leadership PAC” since January 2015. Leadership PACs – like the one operated by Senator Murkowski – are another corrupting influence on our political system and should be abolished.
Encouraging Small Dollar Contributors
According to the Federal Election Commission, over 70% of all reported federal political spending in 2014 came from 1/4 of 1% of the population. This deluge of money from a small wealthy segment of society inevitably skews the interests of politicians away from concerns of ordinary Americans. We must consider innovative ways to increase the political giving of small dollar donors. The possibilities include a refundable tax credit for contributions up to $200 or limited public funding that would multiply the amount of small dollar donations up to $100. These steps can be implemented now despite Citizens United.