Monday, August 22, 2016

Zephyr Teachout challenges a member of the donor class to a debate

Zephyr Teachout is running for Congress in the 19th District of New York. She is one of many Bernicrats running on a campaign funded by small donations, zero corporate money and signified by one important plank in her platform: get the corrupting influence of big money out of politics. Teachout has done something that I have never seen any politician do, ever. She ran the following ad:


You gotta watch this ad. It is pure genius and totally fits in line with Teachout's approach to politics. The ad is an open challenge not to her opponent, but to one of her opponent's biggest funders, Paul Singer, a billionaire hedge fund manager.

Zephyr Teachout is all about rooting out corruption in politics. Here is the opening paragraph on her Wikipedia page:
Zephyr Rain Teachout (born October 21, 1971) is an American academic and political activist and candidate. She is an Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University. A supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement,[2] in August 2015, Teachout became CEO and board chair for the campaign finance reform-oriented organization Mayday PAC, replacing Lawrence Lessig. She stepped down from this position in December 2015 to run for the United States House of Representatives in New York's 19th congressional district.[3] Teachout won the Democratic primary, and she will face Republican John Faso in the November 8, 2016 general election.
She has written a book on corruption in politics, "Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United", just published this year.  Teachout is the kind of woman I would love to see running for president in the next ten years if she can pull it off. She's young yet, so there's plenty of time for her to catch the millenial wind to the Senate and eventually to the White House.

Teachout has some great history and credentials making her an ideal populist progressive candidate. We need an army of people like her to move up the ranks in the Democratic Party and return it to the people.

With her direct challenge to a member of the donor class, she is doing something quite remarkable. She is shining a light on the corrupting influence of money during her campaign. Why is this significant? This is significant because public policy is being made based not on the merits of laws and regulations, but on the money riding behind them.

John Faso is a Republican running for Congress in the same district. His SuperPAC has accepted $500,000 from just one donor, Paul Singer, a billionaire. He is worth $2.2 billion, so $500,000 is like lunch money to him. He's an activist investor and his generous donation is proof of his activism. He doesn't have to protest on the streets like the rest of us. He can just write a check. Here is the lead paragraph on his bio at Forbes:
Activist hedge fund manager Paul E. Singer keeps fighting with the government of Argentina, refusing so far to settle claims his Elliott Management is owed more than $1 billion on sovereign debt it bought on the cheap after a 2001 default and restructuring. Singer built Elliott into a $27 billion behemoth that often shakes up companies with activist positions. Its recent targets range from Cabela's to Alcoa. The self-described libertarian conservative contributes heavily to Republican causes including more than $100,000 to the GOP itself last year and $1 million to the American Unity PAC, which supports pro-gay rights Republicans. A foreign policy hawk with strong pro-Israel ties, in April 2015 Singer donated in to Florida Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign. In 2008 he put his weight behind Rudy Giuliani's failed bid for the White House.
Singer is one of the people we almost never hear about in the news. He's throwing money into elections like an investor with a clear expectation of a return on his investments. Singer is pro-Israel, so he wants to write foreign policy with a dollop of war, too. He's a libertarian conservative who wants things his way because, he's got the money to make it happen.

I would love to see Teachout in a debate with Paul Singer. I think that would set a very important precedent. If billionaires think they deserve exclusive access to the people we elect to office, then they need to put their mouth where their money is. They need to be present and accountable for their influence when things go wrong.

Lets put this into perspective. When the economy goes south, most people fear losing their jobs. They do not have a big savings account to work with. They do not have an extensive business network from which to find their next job. They do not have a guaranteed income to rest upon while they're looking for their next big gig. They suffer the consequences of public policy. This is the plight of the middle and lower classes of America.

Paul Singer is what we call a "rent seeker". He owns securities, and the securities pay dividends. Dividends are a form of rents, just like patent and copyright royalties. Most people do not own enough stock to make enough money to call it a living income. When the economy goes south, Singer will still have most of what he has now. He doesn't live from paycheck to paycheck. He will never be homeless. He will still get the best medical care money can buy.

Teachout is doing what every Berniecrat should at least consider doing. She has done opposition research on the biggest donors to her opponents. First in the primary election and then in the general election. By calling out the biggest donors for their influence in politics, we can help to reduce their influence by voting for candidates who will not accept b/millionaire cash. When we shine a light on big donors like Paul Singer, yes, they may scurry to SuperPACs that promise anonymity, but we can still check on their spending with databases maintained by organizations like OpenSecrets. We would do well to note that after a string of court decisions, 132 of the richest people in America were able to legally fund 60% of SuperPAC spending in 2012 (video, Larry Lessig).

Ultimately, we must do our own research to find out who is spending the money and where they are putting it. Once we know where the money goes, then we can vote our conscience and make informed choices about who to vote for. Zephyr Teachout is a great example of how we can get a Brand New Congress, with 88% of seats up for election this year. She is a great example of someone who doesn't need a law to resist the temptation of the corrupting influence of money. She can win the election without b/millionaire funding and she can do it from within the Democratic Party.

There are some who say that the Democratic Party is broken and beyond repair. That may be true, but I think that if the Democratic Party is beyond repair, then it is weak enough to be infiltrated by anyone. Populist progressive candidates can be the infiltrating force. The structure is there and if progressives are diligent, we can take the party and mold it for our own use. If it could happen to the Republicans in North Dakota early in the last century, it could happen to the DNC, too.

Imagine what would happen if the mainstream media could no longer rely upon the Democratic Party for business as usual. That's why we need to consider a popuplist progressive infiltration of the Democrat Party as a viable option. Zephyr Teachout could be one of many Berniecrats to lead the way.
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