Saturday, February 06, 2016

Bernie is the only candidate willing to say it: there shall be no other reforms before campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig is one of my favorite guys in politics. He is the first to actually say it: There shall be no other reforms before campaign finance reform. Larry is the founder of Mayday.us, a SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. He was, very briefly, running for president, too. The single purpose of mayday.us is to elect members of Congress who pledge to pass legislation for meaningful campaign finance reform.

Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate that I see willing to make same observation on national TV in a live debate:
TODD: Immigration reform, for instance, fell by the wayside in the first term because of this.
SANDERS: ... I am absolutely supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship for 11 million people today who are living in the shadows. All right? We got to do that.
(APPLAUSE)
But you miss -- when you looked at the issues, you missed two of the most important. And that is you're not going to accomplish what has to be done for working families and the middle class unless there is campaign finance reform. (emphasis mine)
Larry Lessig caught this statement and posted it on his Facebook page with a link to his Tumblr account. That exchange took place during the MSNBC Debate held on December 4th, 2015. You can watch that debate on YouTube. You can also read the transcript to the debate here.

So let's see how we can put the persuasive power of money into perspective. Most of us feel compelled to work for money, as it should be. We know that our lives are better when we are of service to others. On the flip side, most of us also know that we should be fairly compensated for our services.

But we also know that money can cloud our judgement. Coming into a lot of money can make one giddy, excited and even frightened. Money makes it easier to justify pollution, violence and corrupt actions. When we use money to justify damage to ourselves or our environment, we have a problem.

A case in point was brought to my attention on Google+. Someone had posted a link to a story at the New York Post about a pardon issued by Bill Clinton in his final days as president. During his last day in office, he pardoned Marc Rich, an oil trader with a long list of offenses including buying $200 million of oil during the hostage crisis in 1979. He has sold oil to several well known despots as well. Rich became one of the most wanted men in the world for his crimes.

As the article noted:
What bothered so many was that Clinton’s clemency to Rich reeked of payoff. In the run-up to the presidential pardon, the financier’s ex-wife Denise had donated $450,000 to the fledgling Clinton Library and “over $1 million to Democratic campaigns in the Clinton era.”
And that was just the start. The article reads like a dossier of money for favors over several decades. Even Bill Clinton would admit that the pardon was a mistake. Most people might forgive him for that, except the money for favors parade could not be stopped. Once the taste of easy money comes, it's hard to stop coming back for more. Speaking fees, donations to a family foundation and direct campaign contributions are hard to ignore.

The Clinton's aren't the only politicians susceptible to quid pro quo politics. This story represents politics as usual on the right and on the left. It is the bane of American politics because it disguises bribes as campaign contributions. Every bribe is a direct action to disenfranchise every other voter.

Wait a minute. Did I just use the word, "disenfranchise"? Weren't the slaves "disenfranchised"? They were indeed denied a voice in government. To disenfranchise voters is to deny them the right to decide their collective fate. With slaves that was obvious. With voters? Not so much.

So when I see Bernie Sanders willing to point out the need for campaign finance reform very explicitly and very publicly, I see a man who is apparently not willing to take money for favors.

Some would point to a SuperPAC that has been running ads in favor of Bernie Sanders as an indictment of his character. But taken in the context of this election, that SuperPAC is not being used to take money for favors. That money just comes from a union of working nurses who would like to see Bernie Sanders as president. Still, some say that Bernie Sanders has benefited more from outside money than Clinton. Still others beg to differ.

Can Bernie Sanders stop other people from forming a superPAC to support him? Probably not. Would he interpret that support as a bribe? Not likely. Not considering his unvarnished interpretation of the Citizens United ruling.

At least he is willing to call a spade a spade on national TV in a live debate, without a script. It is time for Americans to realize that for all the talk of reform on the left and the right, unless we get campaign finance under control, with a clear, easy to read anti-corruption act, all other reforms will remain supremely hard to achieve. If there was any candidate more capable and willing to reform campaign finance than Bernie Sanders, that person hasn't said much about it.
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