First I recognized that Jack Connors is a long-time businessman, civic booster and philanthropist of many worthy causes in the greater Boston area and beyond. He truly has made some wonderful contributions to society.
And he should be proud of his role as a prolific political campaign contributor and fundraiser for many Massachusetts Democrats. In today’s Boston Globe, he gave in impassioned defense to Congressman Richie Neal of Springfield against criticism regarding Neal’s raising money from corporate interests and “living the high life” by spending campaign funds on concert tickets, sporting events and very, very expensive restaurants around the country. But he inadvertently exposes the fundamentally corrupt (but legal–and some would even argue, noble) nature of the political system in which he plays a key role in: big money fundraising.
Connors essentially points out, this is how the system works and Congressman Neal is very good at his job when it comes to raising large sums of campaign funds. It is a common argument–similar to those recently made here at BMG with regards to Ed Markey–Neal has brought home the beacon, not just for his district, but for the state. In addition Neal is a fundraising powerhouse–not for himself–but for Democratic candidates and causes in Massachusetts and around the country. Conners points out:
Yes, the congressman raises a lot of money. However, taking back the House required raising a lot of money. Representative Neal’s campaign donated $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in the 2017-2018 cycle, as well as making direct donations totaling close to $700,000 from the campaign account to almost 200 individual campaigns, including every member of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses, respectively. Having contributed directly to nearly every red-to-blue campaign in the last cycle, Neal has already given $250,000 to the DCCC in 2019 to help the party keep control.
And he continued:
Last year, Neal was part of a team effort, along with his colleagues, Representatives Jim McGovern, Katherine Clark, and Joe Kennedy, in asking some of their friends (I was among them) to help raise money for the Massachusetts Majority PAC and the Commonwealth Majority PAC. They targeted 37 districts across the country in an effort to end Republican control of the House and bring back the notion of checks and balances.
And of course Congressman Neal is “right” on all the important issues and a leader in fighting for many core progressive issues. All of which I do not dispute, because that is how our political system works. Nor do I suggest a cold turkey stop in this kind of behavior, because as W. Bush pointed out once, it would amount to unilateral disarmament, making it even easier for the big money interests to kill progressivism.
But as I’ve argued here many times, if we want truly confront the challenges of our times–climate change and health care chief among them–maintaining (and defending) this status quo system will NEVER achieve the changes we need to see.
Neal is playing his role as “rain maker” for the Democratic Congress, leveraging his role as Chairman of House ways and Means into big dollar contributions from the rich, the corporations and their PACs. As pointed out by Mr. Connors, that money is transferred to many accounts spent to elect Democrats. (So even the candidates that claim they don’t take “PAC money” are getting support from PACs, via the DNC or DCCC with Neal (legally) funnels money into from his corporate donors. This is equally true with the direct contributions Neal makes to these candidates. That gives a Congress folks Lori Trahan (as a example) cover to say she isn’t taking corporate PAC money, because it is registered as a donation from Neal and not the PAC that give him the money. Again this form of “money laundering” is legal…just like knowing the Russians are meddling in an election and not saying anything about it, is also legal.
So what do we–progressives, good government types and democratic reformers–do? Admittedly we can’t turn our back on this current system and let rightwing big money overwhelm the system. But we can’t sit on our hands and say nothing–as it seems we are doing. We need to send a loud and clear message to those in power in the Democratic establishment that this kind of behavior has got to stop. We’ve seen what happens when voters put pressure on candidates on the Presidential level. This cycle of Dem Prez candidates are eschewing PAC money and big dollar bundling (for the most part). This is a direct result of the pressure put on by grassroots activists to NOT take corporate special interest many AND have them support campaign finance reform. It’s making progress, but as long as activist continue to accept the status quo and applaud politicians for maximizing a corrupt (but legal) system, just because they “vote right”, we will NEVER pass the kind of solutions climate change and health care require. (Heck, Charley praised Ed Markey’s work on privacy rights, by citing praise from a corporate shell group, who’s members business models are based on exploiting our personnel data–we’ll NEVER get data privacy laws in a system like this!)
Finally as an aside, the other day I pointed out that Ed Markey has been part of this system for 42 years. Many years not having an opponent or certainly not having a strong opponent that gave voters a real choice, or forced him to aggressively defend his record. Neal is also a poster boy for the lack of Democracy in our current political system. Since 1953–68 years–the City of Springfield has had TWO Congressman representing them, Eddie Boland and Richie Neal. Nothing agains them, two fine public servants. But this kind of lock on political power is not good for democracy (not good for democracy!?!?!?…more like an example of Soviet style “democracy”). We have to do way, way better. And the first place to start is this corrupt system of money in politics.