Wednesday, September 12, 2012

About that money and politics thing

Charles rejoined today to this post of mine yesterday a few days ago.

I maintain that money is a key part of the equation here, and I find myself puzzled at the animus that some folks have to this. If we believe that doing the same thing over and over again in hope of a different result is ill-advised, then I would maintain that trying to win elections while hopelessly outgunned financially is something we have already decisively shown to be a bad idea. The hard work of organizing, identifying and registering new voters, then getting them to the polls, is not going to be done by an army of volunteers. It’s going to take permanent, paid, professional staff to do that. Communicating a message takes money, too. I’m fully aware of the corrosive effects of money in politics. I’d love to see more public financing available for qualified candidates, and I’d love to see far more restrictions on PACs and corporate contributions, but as long as Citizens United is the law of the land I have no idea how to achieve that, and I refuse to unilaterally disarm in the meantime. Last I checked, even Green Party candidates were holding fundraisers – I know, because I’ve been invited to at least two of them – so it’s not really a question of whether or not money is needed. I want the national Democratic party to spend money in Texas, which some people think may be on the horizon, and I make no apologies for that. 

Kuff's points are well-taken, and he's my friend, so let me first declare that it's not my intention to start a blog war with him. He would bury me in spreadsheets, anyway. ;^)

I thought it might be useful, though, to speak to some of his remarks above in the hope that our common Democratic friends understand my POV and personal evolution in this regard. Who knows, it might even make sense to some of them.

-- Let's begin first with the very last sentence in that TexTrib article Charles linked to.

"The thing people have to understand about the people who write big checks is that they look strategically," (Michael Li) said. "They look for a return on investment."

What ROI do you, dear reader, think that Bob Perry -- of Swift Boat infamy -- expects from the following Democrats in the Texas Legislature just this year alone (thanks to John Coby for the data):

  • Carol Alvarado, $10,000
  • Rafael Anchia, $2500
  • Garnet Coleman, $5000
  • Harold Dutton, $1000
  • Al Edwards, $20,000
  • Rodney Ellis, $5000
  • Mario Gallegos, $80,000
  • Ryan Guillen, $1000
  • Tracy King, $5000
  • Eddie Lucio, $50,000
  • Trey Martinez Fischer, $5000
  • Armando Martinez, $2500
  • Rene Oliviera, $5000
  • Carlos Uresti, $7500
  • Royce West, $2000
  • John Whitmire, $20,000

Al Edwards, of course, failed in his repetitive bid to unseat my state representative, Borris Miles, but we should still list him as ex-officio Lege member (he certainly holds himself out in the community as such). The Texas delegates at the Democratic state convention just recently managed to replace him on the DNC, after all. And D-to-R turncoats JM Lozano ($65,000), and Allan Ritter ($2500) probably represent the best investment Perry made, if you count party-switchers as a payoff. Chuck Hopson ($65,000), though, was a waste; he lost in the GOP primary.

Hey, some investments don't pan out.

I'm fully aware of the humorous bromide Molly Ivins repeated and is generally credited to either Sam Rayburn or Jesse Unruh. That's a clever dodge considering the money being invested these days. But is Gallegos really worth 8 times more than Alvarado, who is wagered at twice the value of Coleman and Martinez Fischer? I don't actually expect anyone to explain the political calculus of Bob Perry to me; he's got his own logic. And I'm certain he paid a lot of money for it.

-- Charles' POV on Citizens United is likewise valid, and no, nobody in their right mind expects unilateral disarmament on the part of Democrats. Extending the nuclear analogy a step further, the Democrats are in the unenviable position of the former Soviet Union in this regard. Barack Obama in 2008 is the exception, however, and CU's influence in 2012 is a topic written enough about elsewhere that it doesn't need to be emphasized here by me.

What do you think the future holds for money in politics if we simply throw up our hands and say we can't change the rules, so we need to keep playing by them? I don't consider politics a sport no matter how many sporting analogies are constantly thrown out. It is possible to change the rules, even if the institution itself inhibits and discourages change.

What those of us who believe as I do think is necessary is nothing short of a constitutional amendment overturning CU, and there's a strong movement working toward that. It of course has powerful and well-funded opponents, and they naturally tend to support the most vile of political candidates.

Those opponents might include the electronic media and direct mail companies -- extending all the way down to our nation's local markets -- who make big profits on political advertising and, at a time of crisis for mass media advertising generally, could be expected to have their corporate overlords oppose restrictions on campaign financing, along with all of the bought-and-paid for Republican legislators from the statehouse to the Congress. And many of the Democrats, as I have previously noted.

This is to say nothing of the consultant class, which is a cottage industry in and of itself. Many of my blog brethren in Texas have gone into that business. Some political advisors have turned to blogging, of course, I suppose as a way of 'enhancing their brand'. I have no idea how well this line of work pays but it appears that the compensation is secondary to the career fulfillment aspects. Certainly the potential ones.

Good on anyone who finds a job that they love, I suppose. For me personally, I'm not ever going to look for a job in politics, even under the cloak of non-partisanship.

-- Yes Charles, Greens do raise money from small contributions from individuals in order to fund their campaigns. Money that is spent on gasoline for the car to drive to public events, the occasional yard signs, and even *gasp* VAN access. Don't exaggerate the false premise that Greens -- or any progressive candidate, for that matter, including Democrats -- are averse to fund-raising.

(It's important here to note that I have seen and heard this sneer at least since I worked David Van Os' campaign for Texas attorney general in 2006. Even unpaid, volunteer Democratic activists have been inculcated to believe that a candidate who can't raise money is a campaign not to be taken seriously. See this from a paid political consultant for the latest demonstration of this attitude.)

If you have twenty-four minutes, watch the Bill Moyers video below of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala as they explain precisely why the millions of dollars in our one-party corporate political system is, and has been, a road to ruin.

If you don't want to take their word for it, then try on  Bernie Sanders' take. And if you don't have time to watch the video then peruse the transcript at your leisure. Here's a short excerpt from the beginning.

BILL MOYERS: I first heard of you about ten years ago when the Clean Elections Law -- public funding for state elections was up in Massachusetts where you were living at the time. And the people in Massachusetts voted two to one for clean elections, for public funding of state elections. And yet sometime later the Massachusetts legislature, a Democratic legislature, on an unrecorded vote overturned that judgment. They vetoed the public will.

JILL STEIN: It was that fight that really catapulted me into the world of political battle. I had not been a member of a Party, I had never been to a political meeting before then. And you know, to see that all these groups which had joined together, and I came to it as a mother and medical doctor, very concerned about our health care system falling apart and also about an epidemic of chronic disease descending on our kids which as a mom I took really, really seriously and as a doctor was fighting it tooth and nail, saw that money was always taking over.

A number of groups got together across labor, environment, health care, you name it, and all of us said we've got a common predator here, it's money in politics. Let's get it out. We actually passed that referendum by a two to one margin.

BILL MOYERS: It's amazing actually.

JILL STEIN: Huge. And the minute we passed it the legislature began to resist it, to try not to fund it. And then finally they wound up repealing, as you said a legislature that was about 85 percent Democratic. So it could have, you know, overridden any veto and so on. It had the power to actually clean up our political system.

And that said to me the fight here is much bigger than any one issue. It's really about a political culture. If we want to fix what ails us we need to fundamentally fix the political system. At that point I was recruited to run to office and I did it as a desperation move. Everything else was failing us and I realized it was time to fundamentally transform our political system and work with a party that was actually committed to getting money out of politics.

So Charles, we can keep playing by the rules -- especially here in Texas, where there are no limits to campaign contributions -- and expect a different result someday, or we can work to change the game.

Everybody hopefully understands which side I'm on now.


Charles Kuffner said...

Thanks for the response, Perry, I appreciate it. I believe we're actually pretty close on this issue - I am 100% behind a constitutional amendment overturning "Citizens United". I suspect where we differ is mostly in strategy and tactics. Thank you for clarifying where you stand.

PDiddie said...

I know that we see thing similarly, Charles, and I likewise know that an internal quarrel doesn't suit our mutual goals.

As opposed to you, I'm a bit on the outside of the tent pissing in, and I don't fear the repercussions from blue partisans about doing so. I just want more progressives to run for office, irrespective of party alignment.

And unlike John Roberts, I actually do try to call 'em like I see 'em. (gah, a sports analogy).