Corruption and the Public Interest

[Common Cause, Public Citizen, Democracy 21 and disctriminatory public funding. From Counterpunch. –RS]

By RUSSELL MOKHIBER

In Tunisia, the demand was – Ben Ali dictatorship out.

In Egypt, the demand was – Mubarek dictatorship out.

In Libya, the demand is – Gaddafi dictatorship out.

And what should be our demand here in the USA?

Two-party dictatorship out.

Unfortunately, many liberals and progressives are tethered to the crumbling corrupt regime.

Most in the so-called public interest community – especially those inside the Beltway – remain closely tied to the Democratic Party, often putting the interests of the Democratic Party above the public interest they claim to protect.

Examples abound.

Remember last year?

US PIRG came out for Obamacare.

At the same time, they dissed a proposed single payer national health insurance bill – the only proposal that would cover everyone and control costs.

Other public interest groups gave lip service to single payer.

But they put up only a token fight – they didn’t want to embarrass our President of Hope and Change – and were nonetheless shoved aside by the Obama White House.

The result – ongoing insurance industry rip-offs, skyrocketing premiums, and 120 Americans dying every day due to lack of health insurance.

Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the only way forward is to stand firm on the core demand – dictatorship out.

The American people continue to lead on this.

Registered independents continue to grow in numbers as they abandon the two corporate parties.

A new study released last week, for example, shows that from 1982 to 2010 in Massachusetts, registered independents jumped from 40.6 percent to 51.9 percent.

During the same period, registered Democrats fell from 45.3 percent to 36.5 percent.

And Republicans dropped from 14 percent to 11.3 percent.

Nationwide, independents are now more than 40 percent of the voting population.

But inside the Beltway, even the most liberal of public interest groups can’t seem to extricate themselves from the corrupt two-party dictatorship.

Most recent case in point – an independent voter court case that is making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Remarkably, in the case, the so-called progressive public interest groups have sided against the fundamental rights of independent and minor party voters.

In December 2005, in the wake of state wide corruption scandals, Connecticut passed a public campaign finance law – the Citizens Election Program.

Three states have passed comprehensive campaign finance laws – Arizona, Maine and Connecticut.

Under these laws, candidates can qualify for public funding for their campaigns.

How?

Raise a certain amount of funds from small contributions – say $100 or less each.

This qualifies the candidate for public funds.

The idea is this – qualifying for public funding ends the candidate’s reliance on special interest campaign cash.

Freed from the money chase, the candidates have time to address the needs of their constituents.

Arizona and Maine passed public campaign finance laws via the ballot initiative.

Connecticut passed its law through the state legislature.

Both Arizona and Maine passed laws that treat all candidates equally – regardless of party affiliation.

Bizarrely – or some would say intentionally – Connecticut passed a law that substantially favors major party candidates over minor party or independent candidates.

How?

Well, to gain public funding, all candidates must raise a certain amount of money – say $15,000 – from small contributions – $100 or less.

Under the Arizona and Maine laws, that’s it.

Meet it and you can collect the public funds.

And under the Connecticut law, that’s all the Democratic and Republican candidates have to do – raise the certain number of $100 contributions and they are in.

They too can collect public funds.

But under the Connecticut law, minor party candidates and independents have to show public support by raising the small contributions.

But then they must do more.

They have to gather a certain number of signatures – or show a certain level of voter support from past elections to qualify for the public funding.

These additional requirements did not please minor party and independent candidates in Connecticut.

So, they sued arguing that the law was unconstitutional in that it denied them their fundamental rights. (Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield.)

In August, 2009, a federal court in Connecticut agreed.

In a 93-page decision, Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that by enhancing “the relative strength of major party candidates to the detriment of the political opportunity of minor party candidates,” the Connecticut law “imposes a discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ fundamental rights.”

But in July 2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, while admitting that the law’s burdens on independent and minor party candidates “come close to the outer edge of the constitutionally permitted range,” it nevertheless overturned Judge Underhill’s decision.

The plaintiffs are appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And guess who, lo and behold, has weighed in against the plaintiffs in this case?

Guess who doesn’t want the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case?

Common Cause.

Public Citizen.

Democracy 21.

Three of the most in influential inside the Beltway public interest groups.

Their brief was filed by WilmerHale’s Seth Waxman – Bill Clinton’s former Solicitor General.

Regrettably, these groups have once again weighed in on the side of the two-party dictatorship.

In the brief, our friends in the public interest community warn against public finance laws that fund “hopeless” candidacies.

(Of course, we know, they all support the candidate of “hope and change.”)

They could have – and should have – joined with Judge Underhill.

“The issue is not whether the government may discriminate between major and minor party candidates when crafting a public financing statute,” Judge Underhill wrote. “The government certainly has an interest in not funding hopeless candidacies with large sums of public money.”

“The government, however, in creating such a public campaign financing scheme to combat the influence and appearance of corruption in politics, may not simultaneously disadvantage minor party candidates’ political opportunity.”

Public Citizen’s Rob Weissman defends his decision to file the brief in support of the Connecticut law.

“Potentially at stake – particularly in combination with other cases – is the viability of public financing schemes altogether,” Weissman said. “If the request from the Connecticut Greens leads to a more intrusive scrutiny by the Supreme Court, that may threaten the viability of public financing. And that is why we took the position we took in the brief.”

But Oliver Hall of the Center for Competitive Democracy said it was “unfortunate” that Public Citizen and the other groups “are supporting a campaign finance scheme that automatically provides public funding to major party candidates – Republicans and Democrats – while denying funding to all others unless they submit signature petitions to qualify.”

“The potential for private funding to corrupt the electoral process is real, but a more fundamental threat to democracy is the consolidation of power in two private political parties, which are increasingly insulated from competition and unresponsive and unaccountable to voters,” Hall said. “A scheme that further entrenches those parties is too high a price to pay for campaign finance reform – especially since the same goal could be achieved by non-discriminatory legislation that promotes voter choice in free and fair elections.”

Richard Winger of Ballot Access News sees a political calculation.

“It’s pure partisanship in favor of Democrats,” Winger said.

Lowell Weicker, the former independent Governor from Connecticut, was deposed for the case.

And he too was harshly critical of the Connecticut law.

Weicker said the law “will diminish the opportunities for independent and minor party candidates to compete effectively” and “will increase the opportunities for major party candidates to compete effectively and further entrench their hold on state government.”

“Except for a candidate with unlimited resources, an independent candidate is at a permanent disadvantage against major party candidates,” Weicker said. “An independent candidate could not realistically collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify for a full grant.”

This was a disheartening – but predictable – decision by major inside the Beltway public interest groups.

Once again, they have sided with the two party dictatorship.

And against the American people.

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