Following the Money: Congress 2018

Money Bag. Photo By Barbara Lock [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Barbara Lock

There used to be an immutable law about campaign finances: more money always beats less money, unless candidates self-fund, which rarely works out well. WOW! Things have changed!

There are still some rules about campaign money that hold true. First, if, as a candidate, you can get a local voter to give you money, even $5, they are going to vote for you because they’re invested in you. Granted, if you do something incredibly stupid, that could change, although it may not. For example, there are people who fund candidates who still vote for said candidate even if the election falls between conviction and sentencing. (I am not making this up!) Contrary, if you, the candidate, sleep with a donor’s underage child that donor probably will withdraw support, although sadly, not always. (Again, not making this up!) [Read more…]

Supreme Court Deals Blow to Campaign Finance Reform Agenda

Rabbi Saperstein: “The Union for Reform Judaism will continue to support the federal government, states, and localities in exploring new and innovative ways to ensure the viability of public financing programs.”

In response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the consolidated cases Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

In a 5-4 decision issued on Monday, the Supreme Court invalidated the matching fund provisions of Arizona’s public campaign financing system. These provisions provide additional resources to publicly financed candidates when their opponents or independent groups spend in excess of their initial public subsidy. In so doing, matching funds ensure that publicly financed candidates have the resources to mount effective challenges.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis resolved in 2003 to support state-level adoption of full public financing programs such as Arizona’s because such policy “reduces the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when the campaigns of public servants are privately financed.” The Union for Reform Judaism has supported public financing since 1984. Because of the Reform Movement’s longstanding support for public financing as a key means to eliminate the corrupting influence of money from our political system, the Union for Reform Judaism submitted an amicus curiae brief defending Arizona’s program. While Monday’s decision is deeply disappointing, the effort to make democracy more responsive to the will of all the people, not just the wealthy and powerful, goes on.
The Bennett decision is the first campaign finance case on which the Supreme Court rendered judgment since Citizen United v. FEC (2010). In that case, the Supreme Court overturned 63 years of precedent establishing the right of government to prohibit corporations from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. The decision rendered by the majority in the Bennett cases is equally troubling and we agree with Justice Kagan’s forceful dissent, read from the bench, sharply challenging Monday’s decision.

Even so, the majority still recognized the right of states and the federal government to use public financing to combat political corruption, even if it prescribed unreasonably restrictive parameters governing the composition of such programs. The Union for Reform Judaism will continue to support the federal government, states, and localities in exploring new and innovative ways to ensure the viability of public financing programs.

Campaign Finance Reform in Arizona

“Take no gift, for the gift blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous” – Exodus 23.

— Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Tomorrow, Monday, March 28, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of the “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public campaign financing program.

The Union for Reform Judaism has submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case McComish v. Bennett, which considers the constitutionality of “matching fund” provisions of Arizona’s public financing program. The Reform Movement has long held that public financing is vital to limit the corrupting and distorting influence of campaign spending in our democracy. Arizona has one of the strongest public financing programs in the country, and we are proud to forcefully defend it in court.

Under Arizona law, candidates for state offices may qualify for full public financing for their campaigns if they voluntarily discontinue all private fundraising. Participating candidates who face privately financed opponents expending large sums of money are eligible for additional matching funds to ensure that they have the resources to compete. In a manner that facilitates additional speech rather than restricting the speech of others, matching funds ensure that candidates do not incur a penalty for participating in a program that promotes an electoral process unfettered by the influence of special interests.

We are inspired to support public financing by our religious texts, which warn of the corrupting influence that gifts can have on public officials.  Talmud explains a prohibition against public officials accepting gifts, saying, “as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person and no man sees himself in the wrong” (Tractate Ketubot, 105b). As our religious texts recognize, any time something of value changes hands, the potential exists for those in a position of power to see the world in a hue tinted by the gift giver. Public financing forecloses the opportunity for such distortion.

More after the jump.

McComish v. Bennett is the most high-profile case the Supreme Court has heard on campaign finance reform since the landmark 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC. In that case, the Supreme Court overturned 63 years of precedent prohibiting corporations and labor unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on campaign advertisements, a decision that affords wealthy and powerful interests a megaphone to potentially drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. McComish v. Bennett is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reverse course and rule in favor of a law that protects the ability of all citizens to have an equal voice in our democracy. We hope the Court avails itself of that opportunity.

We are grateful for the work of Andrew Goodman, Esq. and his colleagues at Garvey Schubert Barer for serving as the Counsel of Record for the amicus brief. Their assistance and dedication were invaluable in completing the first amicus brief that the Union for Reform Judaism has ever drafted.