Solutions already at hand for campaign-spending excesses

By Daniel Newman, Commentary

A river of money underlies all decisions in Congress and in Sacramento. This week's U.S. Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. FEC will flood this river, unleashing unlimited corporate spending on ads to influence elections. We will still be electing the best fundraisers, rather than the best leaders.

Research by, a nonpartisan nonprofit that reveals relationships between campaign donations and legislative votes, has repeatedly shown that politicians' relentless fundraising has a payoff to interest groups that provide the funds. We find that on issue after issue, how lawmakers vote aligns with the interest groups that fund their campaigns. For example:

• Prescription drug imports: In the current health care debate in the U.S. Senate, senators voting to block drug imports from other countries, as drug companies wanted, received an average of $85,779 each from drug companies. That's 69 percent more than given to senators who voted to allow imports.

• Financial bailout: House members who voted for the $700 billion bank bailout received 54 percent more campaign contributions from banks and securities firms than House members voting against the bailout. That is an average of $231,877 in bank contributions received by each House member voting "Yes," $150,982 for each member voting "No."

• Telecom immunity: House Democrats who flipped their positions to favor immunity for telecom firms received an average of 68 percent more money from AT&T's, Verizon's and Sprint's political action committees, compared with Democrats who remained opposed to immunity. That's $4,987 to each Democrat who opposed immunity and $8,359 to each Democrat who flipped positions to favor telecom firms.

Do legislators vote a certain way because they received money, or do they receive money because they vote a certain way? Either way, interest groups are still buying votes. Even in cases where a legislator does not change his or her views, legislators favorable to industry interests raise more money to campaign, to conduct polls, to buy ads and to get elected. Congress, and Sacramento, are bought and biased in favor of the interest groups that fund campaigns, even if no individual politicians change their beliefs or their vote.

We can expect an escalating arms race in California House and Senate races. Corporations from across the country will pour millions in shareholder funds into TV ads and direct mail attacks, to buy California's seats and votes in Congress.

We can also expect California's candidates to pay even less attention to voters, as they spend even more time courting the deep-pocketed corporations who have the newly granted power to make or break their quest to "represent the people."

Despite the ruling Thursday, there is hope. Seven states allow candidates to run for office and win without accepting funds from private interests seeking favors. In Connecticut, for example, after just one election with their new citizen-funded election system, 81 percent of sitting Connecticut legislators were free of seeking big donations from interest groups investing in politics. They are free to make decisions based on citizens' best interests.

Imagine the California Legislature, and U.S. Congress, elected without influence-seeking dollars. It may be hard to imagine, but it is reality now in these forward-thinking states. It could be a reality in California and Washington, D.C., very soon.

In Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act ( has more than 125 sponsors in Congress, including Sen. Barbara Boxer.

And, closer to home, here in California, the California Fair Elections Act will be on this June's ballot ( Endorsed by the League of Women Voters of California, this measure will take key steps forward to let state officials focus on governing instead of fundraising.

This week's Supreme Court decision takes a system that's already bad and makes it worse. Fortunately, solutions are already tested and ready to be enacted - by Congress and by California voters this June.

See the article on Sacramento Bee website

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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