Honorable, my ass!

It appears that some Dems, including my Representative from the 3rd District in Connecticut, Rosa De Lauro, are trying to cripple our democracy under the guise of public financing.

HR 4694, or the “Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act,” proposed by Representative David Obey (D, WI), would make great strides toward establishing public financing for House of Representatives races, but there’s a catch. The bill contains some very sneaky language regarding how 3rd parties and independent candidates can conduct their campaigns which virtually guarantees the continuance of the two-party system. Let’s break down some of the key provisions:

  • Nominees of parties (including 3rd parties) that had averaged 25% of the vote for US House in that district (over the last two elections) would get full public funding

OK, this seems pretty reasonable and is to be expected.

  • Independent candidates who had averaged 25% would get full public funding

This is good, but starts to show one of the weaknesses of our electoral system. Independent candidates, that is to say candidates who run on no party line, are always at a disadvantage, even under this system which “levels the playing field.

If you don’t understand why, take another look at the first provision: “Nominees of partiesthat had averaged 25%.” In other words, candidates, even those with very little party support, who manage to get the endorsement of a party that has averaged 25% of the votes in the district, will get full public funding. By contrast, an independent candidate has no party, so unless (s)he has run previously and garnered 25% of the vote in the last two elections, (s)he gets no public dough. And here’s another oddity… what if there is an incumbant Independent and (s)he decides not to run again, but another Independent steps up to run? Well, that new candidate has to start from scratch and may not get any public money.

  • All others would be required to submit petitions signed by 10% of the last vote cast, for partial funding; and 20% petitions for full funding

OK, so a candidate or party does not have standing to automatically get public funding. No biggie, but gathering signatures from 10%-20% of the last vote cast to qualify does seem a little steep. I understand wanting to keep out the non-serious candidates, but it seems a little excessive. The St Louis Oracle did the math:

n Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, a candidate with a party that won less than 25% of the vote in the last two elections would need nearly 70,000 signatures to qualify for the public funding that her/his Democratic and Republican opponents would get automatically, and only signatures from the 2nd District would count. Nearly 35,000 signatures would be required in order to allow the candidate to spend anything at all on the campaign.

  • Candidates not qualifying for partial funding would be barred from spending any privately raised money

Say that again? What? Barred from spending privately raised money? What’s that all about? This is essentially saying “if you can’t get signatures from 10% of the vote in the last election, you can’t run.” Except that it isn’t. The key phrase is “privately raised.” If you have a massive fortune of your own to fund your campaign, goodonya! We all know how in touch the über-wealthy are with the plight of the common (wo)man struggling to feed his/her family on Wal Mart wages.

What started out sounding promising rapidly spiralled out fo control into a bill which really isn’t all that democratic. As if incumbent representatives have such a hard time getting re-elected in the first place. Talk about stacking the deck in your favor!

The whole thing does beg some interesting questions though:

  • Let’s say you have an incumbent who is a Democrat and she has run unopposed for the last two election cycles (it happens more often than you think). Would a Republican contender have to start from scratch, gathering signatures equalling 20% of the last vote like the 3rd party and independent candidates would?
  • And on the topic of running unopposed, does an unopposed candidate who qualifies for full public funding still get it?

I’ll end this on an interesting side note: In 2004, the sponsor fo this bill, Representative Obey, faced a challenger for the first time in his political career: Mike Miles, a Green candidate. Obey refused to debate Miles, saying that he was not a “legitimate” candidate. Miles got one of the highest vote totals of any third party candidate that year (9.37% or 26160 votes), came in second in the race, and has already announced that he’s going to run again.

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