U.S. Rep. John Larson, who is running to retain his seat in Connecticut's First District, hosted a public forum Tuesday night at the West Hartford Town Hall on “Money in Politics,” telling a crowd of about 60 people that there is an urgent need for campaign finance reform in this country.
“The most corrosive element in our political system is that it is inundated with money,” said Larson, who has emerged as a leader in the House of Representatives on this issue.
The co-author of the small donor-based Fair Elections Now Act, which passed the House, but not the Senate, Larson is a supporter of public financing of political campaigns. This initiative would enable a broad range of citizens, such as minorities and women, to run for elected office, Larson said. It would also help restore faith and confidence in government, according to a fact sheet released by the Fair Elections Now Coalition.
Larson, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, spoke of his dismay with the current political climate in Washington, D.C., calling it “one of the most frustrating times I’ve experienced in public life.”
He decried the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Congress and said, “the controlling party [in Congress] would rather see the president fail than the nation succeed,” citing the budget crisis of last summer and the fight about President Obama’s health care law.
Appearing with Larson was Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a national non-profit dedicated to “taking big special interest money out of politics.” In a well-received speech, Nyhart strongly criticized the “outsized role played by special interest billionaire donors and super PACS” in this year’s presidential election.
Nyhart cited statistics and published studies that indicate only 47 individuals in the U.S. are donating as much as 90 percent of the total dollars received and allocated by super PACs. This means the donors may be able to control the outcome of the presidential election, Nyhart said.
But it’s not just a problem with super PACs. It’s also a “candidate money and political party money problem,” Nyhart said, noting that small donor funds are just a “tiny percentage of the overall money donated” to political
He asked: “What would it take to go from ‘money to many’? What would it take to give Americans their elections back?”
The American public should demand full disclosure of political money, said Nyhart. We also need “sensible limits on independent expenditures,” he said, adding that the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling, commonly called Citizens United (in which the court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions) “is an invitation to corruption.”
Nyhart offered three solutions: First, develop a broad coalition of the 99 percent of people not writing the checks”; second, elect politicians willing to change politics by stepping outside the status quo and calling for electoral reform; and finally, make this part of a broad political movement — a call to political action by citizens.
“Ask your representatives, which side are they on?” said Nyhart. “Are they for reform or the status quo — where big money talks?”
Larson concluded: “Put elections back in the hands of ordinary Americans.”
According to Opensecrets.org, which bases its data on the Federal Election Commission, Congressman Larson has raised $1.4 million thus far for his 2012 campaign, in which he is being challenged by Republican John Henry Decker. Fifty-eight percent of this fundraising has been obtained from PACs — including the insurance industry — and 41 percent from individual contributions.