You wouldn’t expect Pizza Hut to pay for a McDonald’s hiring event. So why do voters expect special interest groups to pay for the longest and most important job interviews: candidates for elected office?
Opinion Piece by Cristi Demnowicz, RepMD Chair
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about running government like a business. If so, we the people are both the “employers” and “clients” of anyone who finds themselves in the role of an elected lawmaker. But when a candidate “applies” for this job, we the people do little to support them. Most voters do not feel that it’s their responsibility to do so, or worse, that government is something that happens “over there”, away from their daily life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Beyond declaring important principles of the new Country of the United States, our founding fathers were not very forward thinking. They did not create any guidelines on how our candidatorial system would be funded. Why would they? To qualify for elected office, you had to be a white male landowner, which implied wealth and the ability to cover your own expenses. For years after, both elections and the voter base stayed small (white males only) and candidates didn’t need to cover a lot of geographic space to win enough votes. There was no such thing as TV or internet ads and getting press coverage was much simpler. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. In fact, a number of 2016 elections cost more than the GDP of some small countries. As elections tactics have changed, they’ve outgrown the expectations of our countries founders, so lawmakers, the two main parties, and political power players have been making solutions up as they go.
Passage of the Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 established that positions within the federal government should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation and prohibited compulsory contributions from job appointees to the political party that got them their job. However, as an unexpected consequence, the Democratic and Republican parties, who took over funding campaigns after the civil war, no longer had the guaranteed income to do so. This opened the door for corporations, special interest groups and wealthy individuals to fill the void. In a world where money is as important above all else, it’s perfectly natural for someone who spends a lot on a campaign to expect special considerations in return.
In the years following, a lot was done to regulate how much and how often “big money” and special interest groups could donate to candidates, including passing the Tillman Act in 1901 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002. The former never applied to Maryland and the latter was later gutted in a number of Supreme Court cases including McConnell V FEC and Citizens United V FEC.
Now, almost all winning candidate campaigns are funded by specific types big money groups: corporations or corporate PACS, private foundations & non profits, and unions & professional associations (both are bundlers). And these groups have found creative ways to bypass any remaining campaign finance laws including creating shell corporations to funnel dark money and relying on superPACs, which have no contribution limits, to do the bulk of the work. What’s worse, there is a lawsuit in the pipeline to SCOTUS that would eliminate campaign contribution limits entirely. If decided in favor of the plaintiff, and without a different option for candidates who truly want to represent the people, the decision would be the last nail in the coffin for regular people being considered when making public policy.
If we the people are both the clients and employers of elected officials, then WE must be the ones to pay for their campaigns. Public Election Funds are the solution. These funds will have positive monetary and symbolic consequences on democracy. Because they are required to collect a certain number of small donations in order to qualify for matching funds, candidates will spend more time doing creative grassroots campaigning, instead of pandering to big money groups. This will lead to more transparency and a better rapport between voters and elected officials. By deciding to use the pubic fund, candidates telling voters that they’ll work for them, not special interests.
Maryland must pass statewide public election funds for all state and local elected offices. It’s the best way for our current leadership to do what our founding fathers didn’t: ensure democracy for future generations.
Represent Maryland Small Money Commission and Criteria
Represent Maryland volunteers have formed a "Small Money Commission" to certify candidates for public office who meet our small money criteria. The influence of "big money" which includes contributions from corporations, corporate PACs, foundations and non profits, unions* and industry associations*, lobbyists and lobbying firms, party PACs*, leadership PACs* and Slate PACs*, has taken over our political process, to the point that if a candidate cannot secure these types of donations, they are very unlikely to win their race.
Montgomery County MD has taken steps to remedy this problem by establishing county wide public election funds that include matching funds for candidate who "prove" their ability to connect with voters at the grassroots level by collecting at least 250 individual donations of $150 or less. The Candidate must raise $20,000 before qualifying for three times matching funds (so raising at least $20,000 will earn them $60,000 from the fund for a total operating budget of $80,000). Represent Maryland strongly believes that public election funds are integral to restoring democracy and liberty in America, and therefore advocates for the expansion of this project across the state.
All MoCo Candidates who opt in and qualify for the program will automatically be certified as "Small Money Candidates" by our commission. Candidate who do not have the option of receiving matching funds can qualify by meeting our criteria as outlined below. Because we know that it's incredibly hard to raise enough to be competitive by accepting individual donations only, we have allowed a number of organizational/PAC donations for this election cycle. As the public election fun program expands, and more candidates choose to use it, we hope to eliminate the need for this sort of certification all together.
The RepMD Small Money Certification criteria disqualified any candidate for public office who takes contributions from the following:
Registered Lobbyists, Federal or State
Lobbying firms, Federal or State
For Profit Corporations
Real Estate Firms and Developers
We have also set a standard that all candidates should strive to raise at least 80% of the total number of contributions received from individuals and at least 60% of the total number received from individuals. Candidate should not receive more than 25% of their individual donations from outside the state of Maryland.
We believe giving candidates these strong but reasonable guidelines will help them remember who they work for (all voters) and strengthen their dedication to working for the betterment of society as a whole, not special interests or for profit entities.
See the full criteria below. You can also download a pdf below for reference.
Candidates who would like to apply to be Small Money Certified can do so by clicking here. Certification requires that a candidate has filed at least one campaign finance report with the State Board of Elections. If a candidate has not yet filed, their certification research will begin after the next filing date. Incumbents, who have filed multiple reports with the SBE, will be researched for their most recent term. Incumbents who did not file the January 10 2018 report will be researched after the next filing deadline.
If a candidate qualifies, they will be added to our website, under "Small Money Certified" candidates and be send our certification seal to add to their campaign materials as needed. Small Money Certification DOES NOT equal an endorsement by Represent Maryland. RepMD never endorses candidates for public office.
Represent Maryland’s Clean Money Commission
Criteria for Certification
Part 1: Super PACs
Candidate will sign our pledge to not collude with superPACs*, as well as ask superPACs to not work on their behalf or against their opposition. Pledges will be shared through our social media and email channels. The candidate must also share this pledge through their website, social media and email channels. (*Collusion is already illegal, but candidates who believe in small money elections should be willing to publicly reinforce the law).
Part 2: Small Money Commission Acceptable Campaign Contribution Sources
Option 1-Public Campaign Funds
If available in their district, candidate must elect to use public campaign funds, and if so follow their mandated guidelines.
If a candidate uses this option and meets the criteria above, they will automatically be certified as a small money candidate.
Option 2-Traditional Fundraising
The following pertains to candidates with no public financing option available. Because we understand that it’s incredibly hard to run a successful campaign when only taking individual donations, the following criteria takes steps in the right direction while still allowing candidates to be competitive. As more public finance options become available, our criteria will become more strict.
1) Candidate will strive to collect at least 80% of their total number of contributions from individual donors
2) Candidate will strive to collect at least 60% of their total money collected from individual donors
3) Out of state individual donations should not exceed 25% of total money raise
4) Candidate will publicly disclose all bundlers working on their behalf, including union PACs
5) Incumbents or those seeking a higher office only:
Non-accepted contribution sources and types-Incumbents and New Candidates
For Profit Corporations/Corporate PACs
*Added in 4.13.2018
Review compiled by:
Shalin M, RepMD Volunteer
1) Grassroots candidates tout small average contributions
ABOUT: Good news - refusing PAC money and focusing on taking small donations is catching on!
"The 2018 cycle is seeing candidates taking up populist challenges to the big donor-backed frontrunners in both the Republican and Democratic Senate primaries.
Paula Jean Swearengin is a challenger to Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia’s Democratic primary. With Manchin, a familiar incumbent and former governor, outraising Swearengin 34-to-1, the race appears to be another “Charlie v. Goliath” match-up.
However, her grassroots campaign strategy may be effective at garnering the support of working class West Virginians. According to Swearengin’s latest FEC filing, she raised $140,226 in 2017. If the average donor gave just $13 dollars as she claimed earlier this month, that would put her total number of contributions at about 10,800 — 1,193 greater than $200 and 9,006 less than or equal to $200.
Austin Petersen, a Missouri Republican running for U.S. Senate, has not taken any money from business PACs. In October, he compared his fundraising with that of his main opponent Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Grassroots candidates that choose to run on small contributions have a tough election season in front of them as 2018 is expected to see record-setting campaign spending. Raising huge sums of money not only gives your campaign resources but is crucial to gaining recognition as a viable candidate by the main parties.
For instance, in an investigation of how the Democratic Party selects candidates to support for Congress, The Intercept reported, “If the candidates’ contacts aren’t good for at least $250,000, or in some cases much more, they fail the test, and party support goes elsewhere.”"
READ MORE: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/02/grassroots-candidates-tout-small-average-contributions/
OUR THOUGHTS: This is good news and definitely something worth following through the election cycle. It's important to identify average total contribution per *unique* donor as some may contribute multiple times. Note that some candidates may be self-funding their campaigns with monies obtained in less than "above board" means. Nonetheless, let's hope that this trend continues - more "small money" candidates is a good thing for the values espoused by our Constitution.
2) FEC leaders quarrel on digital advertising as midterms begin
ABOUT: The FEC members are battling on how to reign-in internet based political advertising that would misinform voters, specifically "express advocacy".
"Last month, Weintraub publicly released details of her proposal that called for increased disclosure requirements for digital ads with “express advocacy” messaging — or ads that expressly tell audiences to vote for or against a specific candidate.
“I’m very concerned about what happened in 2016, I’m very concerned about what could happen in 2018,” Weintraub said in an interview with OpenSecrets on Thursday. “This rulemaking is not going to solve that problem, but it will be a step in the right direction.”
The FEC proposal would only tackle “express advocacy” ads. Hunter said that the commission does not “have the authority to make it broader.”
“This rulemaking is narrow,” Hunter said. “It’s only for ads placed on the internet for a fee and with express advocacy. It’s a very narrow subset of advertisements that we’re talking about. They have to directly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal candidate, which is express advocacy, and they have to be placed on another person’s site for a fee.”
The role of the FEC in regulating online disclaimers for political advertising is a debate that’s stretched back years. The issue rose to the table most notably in 2011 when Facebook asked commissioners for an advisory opinion about whether to include disclaimers on their political ads; commissioners deadlocked in their decision."
READ MORE: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/03/fec-leaders-quarrel-on-digital-advertising-as-midterms-begin/
OUR THOUGHTS: The more transparency for the voter, the better. Although the likely direction is a "narrow rulemaking", this will be worth watching to find what is discovered and how the rules can further be tailored to improve the odds that voters will be better informed when they go to the polls.
3) A cyclist’s widow asked a lawmaker why she opposed a distracted-driving bill. The answer: Spite.
ABOUT: This is a story of an elected lawmaker insufficiently professional enough to represent their constituents...and it seems pretty sad, frustrating, and disgusting...
"The widow of a man killed by a distracted driver, Mary Carol Harsch, introduced herself to Georgia lawmaker Betty Price before entering an elevator with her on Thursday. She wanted to know why Price had voted against legislation that would double the fine for motorists who talk on the phone while they drive.
Price’s answer shocked Harsch.
“It’s a protest because they ignored my bill last year,” said Price, a Republican state representative. “I’m just causing trouble. I’m not philosophically opposed — I’m just mad.”
John Harsch was a founding physician at Southeastern Primary Care Specialists, and practiced medicine for more than 25 years, according to his obituary. He was an avid cyclist and soccer player.
His widow told Channel 2 she was disappointed that Price, who has been a state representative since 2015, did not demonstrate the “leadership and the potential and the dedication that’s expected of you by your constituents.”
Price, whose district includes parts of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, is a former anesthesiologist and is married to former U.S. health and human services secretary Tom Price."
READ MORE: http://wapo.st/2BP9vgc
OUR THOUGHTS: This sort of behavior is *not* at all what the public expects from their elected representatives and leaders. It is clearly a rather petty move for feeling scorned before and a sign that the Georgia lawmaker, and wife of former HHS Secretary Tom Price, simply cannot be counted on rising to the occasion. This is certainly not a good sign of money well spent in terms of her compensation and how the lawmaker may misuse campaign donations.
4) FCC inspector general investigating chairman over Sinclair
ABOUT: The current FCC chairman, and former Verizon lawyer, is under investigation for potentially conspiring with the conservative leaning broadcaster, Sinclair Media, to benefit the company.
"Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on House Commerce Committee and an outspoken critic of Pai, confirmed the report in a statement and praised the move.
"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting," Pallone said.
"I am particularly concerned about reports that Chairman Pai may have coordinated with Sinclair to time a series of commission actions to benefit the company," he continued. "I am grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has decided to take up this important investigation."
They pointed to a list of actions the agency has taken under Pai's chairmanship that raised their suspicions. In April of last year, the FCC voted to reinstate a recently-repealed rule that would give broadcast owners a discount to help them stay under the 39-percent ownership limit. And in November, the Republican majority rolled back more ownership restrictions, including one limiting the number of stations a single company can own certain markets."
READ MORE: http://thehill.com/policy/technology/374001-fcc-inspector-general-investigating-chairman-over-sinclair-report
OUR THOUGHTS: Again, we see that in the halls of power in DC, signs of corruption are nary far away. Considering this is the same FCC chairman appears to be siding with "team profiteers," news of some shady dealings is not especially surprising. Net Neutrality, and otherwise if it is worthwhile to police cyberspace, is a complicated issue because of the unique "utility" that has grown quite sophisticated and ingrained in our daily lives. What is not so nuanced is a federal official conspiring with a private company to write the rules in their favor - picking individual winners and losers for an entire industry sector is not a function of the Federal government.
Maryland General Assembly Protocol Calendar
In February, The Baltimore Sun published a copy of the MD GA 'protocol calendar', i.e. the calendar of lobbyist sponsored events for members of the Maryland General Assembly. We've since gotten a copy of the updated calendar and have posted it below for public review.
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