Today, the bipartisan political reform group Issue One is announcing Ambassador Tim Roemer—who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was an instrumental member of the 9/11 Commission—has joined as Senior Strategic Adviser for Issue One’s new ReFormers Caucus. The ReFormers Caucus includes more than 60 Republican and Democratic former members of Congress and governors whose goal is to elevate the public conversation and offer solutions to reform big money’s dominance of U.S. politics. Drawing on the experiences of the ReFormers Caucus, Issue One also released a short web storytelling video that satirizes the exorbitant amount of time politicians must spend fundraising and its detrimental effect on their ability to effectively govern.
Roemer joins Issue One as new data about money in politics reveals what experts had warned against after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision: political power in the U.S. is becoming more concentrated in the hands of only the very wealthy.
According to recent analyses of FEC data in The New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post, the 2016 election will be unlike previous presidential election cycles because of candidates’ increased reliance upon super PACs and dark money groups over their own campaign committees. And according to The Washington Post, “Nearly $4 out of every $5 raised so far on behalf of GOP White House contenders has gone to independent groups rather than the official campaigns.” Super PACs raised more than $235 million so far this year, largely from a select group of wealthy Americans. That number eclipses the nearly $130 million reported last week to the Federal Election Commission by presidential candidates’ official committees, which can only accept smaller donations that are capped at $2,700 a person.
These dollar figures represent a new reality transforming American politics in which very wealthy political donors have more power over our elections. The dearth of small-dollar donations to the two most well funded campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush illustrates this reorientation towards the wealthy: just 17 percent of Clinton’s cash came from donations under $200; for Bush, low-dollar contributions account for a stunning three percent of his total haul. In fact, Bush personally contributed more to his own campaign than did small donors.
It’s clear that more and more political power is concentrated in the hands of increasingly smaller population of special interests. We all pay a price for a democracy that is most responsive to those who can afford to purchase results, whether you’re a mother whose small business struggles to compete in rigged markets or a child whose chronic asthma worsens as coal companies avoid meaningful regulation.
The money race, exacerbated by big-spending outside groups, causes politicians to lose touch with the people they were elected to represent and to push for policies that serve only their campaign donors. Members of Congress are now expected to spend up to half their time fundraising, an absurd statistic that is humorously satirized in this short video. In order to get our leaders working for the majority of Americans again, we need solutions to the money-in-politics problem.
Ambassador Roemer and IO’s ReFormers Caucus will highlight and aggressively advocate for those solutions, like stronger disclosure and transparency so everyone knows where all this cash is coming from, and citizen-funding programs that ensures politicians’ fealty is to their constituents.
“Already, experts predict the 2016 elections could cost upwards of $10 billion, with too much of that torrent of money pumping up super PACs and dark money groups that have little accountability to the public,” said Roemer. “Believe me, from my experience on the 9/11 Commission, I know there are a lot of threats in the world today, but one of the biggest concerns at home is this threat to our democracy, which prevents us from fixing the big problems our country faces. I’m excited to join the Issue One team, because they are doing great work to build bipartisan energy around workable solutions we can put into place right now.”
That $10 billion for our elections is an astonishing figure and it’s greater than the cost of the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections–combined. It’s more than the state budgets of Vermont, South Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Maine, Iowa, Rhode Island, Nevada, Wyoming, Alaska, and Nebraska. It’s even three times more than the EPA spends keeping our drinking water clean and safe.
In addition to spending 50% of their time collecting money, elected officials are increasingly dependent on fewer and fewer slices of society for those contributions. According to a Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics report, just 31,976 people accounted for an astounding $1.18 billion in political donations during the 2014 midterms —this is the 1% of the 1%. These select few now act as gatekeepers of elections, according to expert Lee Drutman of the New America Foundation, by using their checkbooks and networks to decide which candidates remain viable and which do not, all before anyone casts a single ballot. It’s part of the reason why Senator Ted Cruz said running for president requires “surgically removing your shame sensor…because you spend every day asking people for money.” And the process is starting to take a toll on elected officials: said Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio as he retired in 2010, “you’re either going to do the job or you’re going to be out there raising money…you can’t do both of them.”
That’s why Tim Roemer and the ReFormers Caucus are sorely needed, so members can speak out in protest of the constant fundraising grind, but also to elevate this issue beyond Washington, D.C. Nick Penniman, the executive director of Issue One says, “We’re honored to have an individual of Tim’s caliber join this fight. While in Congress, he was praised for his ability to reach across the aisle and get things accomplished. Money-in-politics is an all-American cause, and we are thrilled to bring a determined leader like Tim into the battle.”
We all know that our democracy functions best when our laws are written by the best people for the job, not the ones who can raise the most money. And no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, we can all agree that we need smart fixes to the problem of money in our politics. If you agree, be sure to share this video with your friends today.