A Noteworthy Change
Shortly before I launched my first campaign for City Council back in 2015, I wanted to make it clear to the world that my campaign was different than all the others. As a matter of principle, I rejected any and all financial contributions to my campaign from political action committees. This was because I felt then – just as I strongly do today – that the influence of money in our politics has corroded our democracy to the point where it is no longer representing the average citizen. Furthermore, the role played by special interests has long corrupted this system further by filtering or even drowning out the voice of the people with a flood of cash from heavily-financed interests.
Anyone who has followed my political activity long enough knows that this stance against non-individual contributions stems from my involvement in the “99% of Newark and East Central Ohio” – a local offspring of the Occupy movement, which I founded in October 2011, and which has since become the Licking County Progressives -, and was inspired by our advocacy for “getting the money out of politics”. We had been motivated to organize our group for a variety of reasons, but our core message – pertinent to money in politics – was itself a reaction to the expedited degradation of our elections in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in “Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission” which had established that spending money is the same thing as speech – and should inexplicably not be limited – in addition to solidifying a misguided doctrine that a corporation is a “legal person” entitled to same said right of unfettered speech.
I provided all of that background – and there is plenty more to talk about regarding what my organization did in the community since, including the history-making initiative we successfully placed on the 2016 ballot – to note that a major part of our opposition to money in politics extended to an absolute opposition to unlimited PAC spending. While we knew that the real problem was that certain corporate interests were funneling millions of dollars into elections up and down the ballot to influence the outcome, we had concluded that it was imperative to make our message as nonpartisan as possible; which meant including labor PACs and other non-corporate PACs in our critique. Yes, there are a number of examples wherein political corruption hasn’t just been limited to corporate influence, but the fact is that deck is heavily stacked in favor of one side over all others.
Back in 2014 when I was preparing for my first Council bid, our group was also in the midst of planning for a citywide initiative to advocate for overturning the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling. Wanting to lead by example, I had decided to swear off any and all financial donations not originating from individual contributors. I’m proud to say that I maintained this in both of my campaigns – the Council run in 2015 and the bid for School Board in 2017 -, and even came within a few hundred votes of winning this last time around. The downside is that at least half – if not closer to three-fourths – of the money I raised for both campaigns came from my own income. Still, my stance against the corruption of our democracy by untamed special interests remains resolute.
Now, why am I saying all of this? To be honest, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about whatever missteps I made in 2015 and 2017. In the coming days, I – with some help from a good and experienced friend – will be reviewing the election results of both years to see where I can make realistic improvements (I am open to suggestions). Part of what I have concluded is that my absolutist stance against any financial help from ALL political action committees may have been hastily devised. I’m just so determined to see us break the financial chains of our elections that I effectively and unnecessarily chained myself.
Let’s not be mistaken here, running a campaign fueled by individual contributions can and has been done, but the success stories include names well known to the general public. Truth be told, those individual contributions have hardly been alone in financing said campaigns, because there has always – at the very least – been some notable support from organized labor. I wish I could stand here shouting against the winds of political reality and tell you that our campaign will succeed if I stay the course, but I have to accept what part of me has always known: I will not be able to raise the money I need to win with individual financial support alone.
So, what is the game plan? I insist on maintaining transparency in my campaign and beyond. From this moment onward, I will begin accepting financial contributions from political action committees willing to support my campaign, with one exception; corporate PACs. I will NOT accept any cash donations from PACs of ANY amount, nor will I accept any PAC donations attempted online. The only way I will accept any PAC contributions will be by check, which is the best means by which to ensure total transparency.
Additionally, the same limits which I’ve applied to individual donations will apply to PAC donations. Just in case you’ve missed it in my previous statements and disclaimers, I will not accept any donations exceeding $250 over the course of a single campaign. I will cap PAC donations at the same level as individuals so as to make it clear that no PAC will ever get the impression that they have more influence over me than the people.
My recent thoughts on this were partially driven by my consideration of what is transpiring across this country with respect to a coordinated assault on organized labor. We are witnessing a small group of people spending exorbitant amounts of money to crush the right of the people to organize the workplace, to collectively bargain, and to make their voices heard. I am a devout supporter of organized labor, because I am the grandson of two former union members and a student of history who appreciates the vital role that unions have played in building the economy and society we have today.
With this change in my contributions policy, I will not only be able to happily receive the endorsement of labor – which I secured in each of my campaigns -, but I will now be able to welcome their (limited) financial support as a show of solidarity in our collective struggle for a better future.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks as this campaign officially gets underway.