It has recently become common place for Congressmen upon retiring to denounce the culture of their work place that depends so heavily on dialing for dollars. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after all encourages freshman Democrats to spend at least four hours a day on the phone fundraising.
So it came as no surprise yesterday, that Senator John Kerry addressed this issue in his farewell address to the U.S. Senate, the representative body where he has served the state of Massachusetts for the last 28 years. In his remarks, he joined a growing number of now former Congressmen and Senators who have highlighted “the unending chase for money [that] threatens to steal our democracy itself.”
For three minutes, he emphatically addressed the “justifiable anger of the American people,” which recognizes “the insidious intention of money to set the agenda, change the agenda, block the agenda, define the agenda of Washington.” Powerful and blunt. And yet when you look back at the record of Senator Kerry you wonder why he was not leading the fight against the corrupting influence of money in our elections and policymaking?
Indeed, this is the man that has on occasion signaled the need for a constitutional amendment to address Citizens United. “I’m telling you, Citizens United is robbing America of its democratic process, it is stealing the agenda, and it is allowing the largest amount of money to set the agenda,” he said back in April 2012 after his proposed climate and energy bill was grounded before it ever took off. But words are far less telling than actions.
At least three constitutional amendments were proposed in the Senate last session. One of them, S.J.RES 29, had 25 cosponsors. John Kerry was not one of them. Nor was he a cosponsor on the other two. It seems he has been unwilling to put his political capital on the line for this important issue while in office.
Senator Kerry is not the only Senator who has made this declaration after announcing his departure from Congress. Earlier this week, retiring Senator Tom Harkin spoke out against the fundraising machine that is now necessary of any successful campaign. He notes, “[Our] time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns, that you don’t have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us [in the Senate] built up over time.” In contrast to Senator Kerry, Senator Harkin backed his words up with action. He was a lead sponsor on S.J.RES 29.
But even so, why is it that former Congressmen, not current Congressmen, make the strongest statements about the need for campaign finance reform? It is current Congressmen that after all have the greatest ability to bring about the much needed reform. It is time for this trend to change, and ultimately, it’s the American people that have the power to do it. Tell your Congressmen and Senators to sponsor a constitutional amendment to limit political spending in elections.
As Senator Kerry noted yesterday, the American people know money in politics is destroying our democracy. Worse yet, “they know we know it. And yet nothing happens.” Let’s not continue to “resign ourselves to a distorted system that corrodes our democracy.”