There is little dispute that campaign contributions can influence desired political outcomes. After all, money is the mother’s milk of politics. Some special interests buy favor that some politicians are seemingly too willing, and even sometimes eager, to sell.
But before you react in righteous indignation over the quid-pro-quo of political giving, consider some of the most well-meaning campaign finance reform heroes have attempted to thwart it, right?
Well, actually many of those who make the most noise about money in politics are only giving lip service to well-meaning reforms, while taking in millions in the very contributions they claim to oppose. It’s the polar opposite of putting one’s money where their mouth is.
If we chalk up this doublespeak on campaign finance reform to politics as usual, it undermines a much larger problem. If we agree with the premise that influence can be sold – what is stopping harmful interests, including foreign governments from buying it?
Of course there are rules that prevent foreign money from influencing political campaigns – but just like speed limits, the rules are often ignored. Politicians are so desperate to fill campaign coffers that they will abandon their principles, and raise money to fight the very system in which they thrive. No wonder the conservative common sense solutions haven’t gained much traction yet.
Consider as an example the recent revelation that $16 million of contributions to Bernie Sanders were unverified credit card contributions from people claiming to be unemployed. Pro-reform conservatives like John Pudner, Executive Director of Take Back Our Republic, an organization that I advise, said, “tens of millions of dollars in contributions from people claiming no employer and using credit cards whose addresses and CVS codes are not verified is suspicious.”
Can we draw a line to the Sanders contributions to a foreign government? Not exactly. But Pudner isn’t alone in his suspicions about unverified credit card donations. They can be used as a gaping loophole allowing foreign money to influence the very people who swear an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.
Current law prohibits foreign political contributions to federal candidates in the United States, however, there is really no way to verify that.
Before we throw in the towel, some are trying to do something about it.
Enter Paul Gosar, a Republican Congressman from Arizona that has introduced legislation that amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to prohibit elected officials and campaign committees from accepting any internet credit card contribution unless they can be identified as coming from a United States citizen. HR 4177 is gaining support from those congressmen who actually believe in preventing the selling out of our democracy.
Campaign finance “advocate” Bernie Sanders called this legislation “a solution in search of a problem.” Not quite what we would expect from the campaign finance reform hero he claims to be.
So as you hear politicians advocating for real or common sense campaign finance reforms, pledging they will not be beholden to special interests, ask them how they really feel about HR 4177. If they do anything short of supporting it, you can consider their rhetoric the way Shakespeare described in Hamlet, “thou doth protest too much.”
In full disclosure, I am a lobbyist but I do not make personal campaign contributions. For more than thirty years, I have sought to influence federal and state legislation on behalf of several organizations and causes because I believe in those who I serve. I will always play by the rules and fully support HR 4177, and challenge my colleagues and all congressmen to do the same.
Chuck Cunningham is a Washington, DC-based lobbyist and government relations executive.