Certain congressional Democrats ought to be ashamed. Still smarting over the debacle that was the 2000 presidential election and the 2004 polling, when a minority of Americans opted to support third-party candidates, some Capitol Hill lawmakers are acting like spoiled children and spearheading an effort to limit electoral choice.
On Feb. 1, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) introduced House Resolution 4694, the so-called Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act. The bill pretends to be a campaign-finance reform plan. If passed, the measure would forbid congressional candidates from taking individuals’ contributions and mandate that US Treasury funds be made available to House candidates from the “two major parties.” In order for third-party candidates to be eligible for these funds, their candidates would have to obtain enough signatures to exceed 10 percent of the last vote cast for their party within their district to receive partial funding and 20 percent to qualify for full funding. To top it off, the bill would bar third-party and independent candidates from hiring people — save as unpaid volunteers — to collect these signatures. And any candidate who doesn’t qualify for Treasury funds would be barred from spending any privately raised money on their campaigns.
What this means: If passed, the legislation effectively would shut down those interested in running for office from the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Reform Party and other third-party and independent campaigns.
As you can imagine, third-party leaders are boiling mad.
“Ten percent and 20 percent in many districts represent prohibitively large numbers of required signatures,” said Phil Huckelberry, co-chair of the Illinois Green Party and co-chair of the national Green Party’s Ballot Access Committee. “The goal behind HR 4694 is to use public financing of campaigns — itself a sorely needed reform — to eliminate third party challenges in congressional races.”
“The Republican and Democratic parties exist to maintain power for their own benefit. The Libertarian Party exists to grasp power for the benefit of the nation,” said Shane Cory, Libertarian Party chief of staff. “American voters are waking up to this reality, and as they do, the two parties are trying everything within their power to shut us down.”
The St. Louis Oracle provided an example of the danger HR 4694 poses for electoral freedom in its Feb. 5 issue:
In Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, a candidate with a party that won less than 25 percent of the vote in the last two elections would need nearly 70,000 signatures to qualify for the public funding that her/his Democratic and Republican opponents would get automatically, and only signatures from the 2nd District would count. Nearly 35,000 signatures would be required in order to allow the candidate to spend anything at all on the campaign.
To these eyes, the legislation is unconstitutional on its face. If HR 4694 passes — a chilling thought — I can’t imagine that it would survive the inevitable court challenge. What galls, though, is the knowledge that so many of our elected representatives support the bill: In addition to Wisconsin’s Obey, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT), Barney Frank and James McGovern (MA), Henry Waxman and Bob Filner (CA), Steve Israel (NY) and Tim Ryan (Ohio) have signed on as co-sponsors. Shame on them all, but I feel particular disappointment for Frank. As an openly gay person, how can he shut out parties (such as the Greens) that support his right to full equality? For all its rhetoric, the Democrat Party doesn’t (or doesn’t consider it politically expedient, which shows the party’s yellow streak).
“The Democrats behind this bill have as little regard for democracy and open elections as Republicans who have use altered district lines and other methods to fix elections,” said D.C. Statehood Green Party activist T.E. Smith. “Hiding this stratagem in a bill for public financing of campaigns makes it doubly shameful.”
But typical. Oh, so typical.
The Coalition For Free and Open Elections notes that as things stand presently, participation in the electoral process is already tilted againt third parties.
- It takes 675,000 petition signatures for an independent or minor party presidential candidate to get on the ballot in all 50 states — that is 26 times the number needed by a Democratic presidential candidate.
- Requirements for a minor party candidate to get on the ballot increased tenfold from 1930 to 1980 — while the U.S. population increased only two times.
- Discriminatory filing fees hit only independent or minor party candidates.
- Sky-high signature requirements exist in many states. Examples: California — 140,149 (in 15 weeks); Oklahoma — 58,552; Maryland — 69,500; North Carolina — 43,601.
Let the people decide? The Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act takes choice away from the people and seeks to still the voices of those who cannot stand with the Dems or the GOP. I hope most congressional lawmakers will do the right thing and reject HR 4694 outright. A push from those who believe in electoral choice will help: Write and call your representatives and tell them in the strongest terms possible to vote NO on the unAmerican measure. And if your rep is one of the Egregious Eight, let them know that they are hurting, not helping, their constituents by supporting such anti-democratic legislation. (Check out Contact Congress in the Armchair Activist section in the far-right column.)