Public Finance: Vermont’s Solution to the Big Money Supreme Court

By Dean Corren from 7/9/14.

The 5-member big-money majority currently on the Supreme Court has been dismantling modern-era election reforms for several years now. They have defined money as speech, and corporations as persons with the constitutional rights normally attendant to real human people.

Let me make my position clear:

Big Money is the opposite of free speech. And when it dominates our elections, it is the opposite of democracy.

As our income disparity ominously returns to pre-Depression levels, the Court seems bent on eliminating political and electoral reforms that helped sweep away the rampant corruption of that bygone era of giant Trusts and unaccountable financial and industrial magnates.

Vermont, so far in a limited way , has said NO! Vermont’s solution is Public Finance, so that anyone, regardless of personal wealth, or the wealth of their friends, or the wealth of friendly corporations or PACs; but anyone who has the credibility to meet certain indicators of support, can have the money needed to get out the basic information to the voters so they can make a decision on a fair basis.

The standards are difficult, for Lt. Gov. at least $17,500 from at least 750 Vermonters from around the state, and with none larger than $50. But as you know, we met them. If we hadn’t, you would not be here today. My campaign would have been virtually unknown to Vermonters, a mere footnote to this race, that in fact would have been NO RACE at all.

Now, my opponent, who was himself free to try to meet those same requirements, but who instead chose to go with private funding, and who is fully capable of raising privately as much, and much more, than I am limited to, is complaining about the use of public monies to fund Vermont’s elections. So let’s address this head-on with some data.

My campaign finances are, by now, well known:

  • $19,283 from 826 registered Vermont voters. (By the way, in 37 days.)
  • 100% from small contributions, 0% large (defined as > $100).

No one’s voice drowns out any others.

With an average contribution of $23.35, the vast majority of Vermonters could conceive of such a contribution to the candidate of their choice.

Meanwhile, my Republican opponent’s finances won’t be fully known for this election cycle until well after the November election. So, let’s look at his 2012 spending, against a candidate with far less money than the $200,000 we have available.

  • $176,429 from 880 entities of all kinds, anywhere.
  • 82% LARGE contributions, and 18% small.

With an average contribution of over $200, the vast majority of Vermonters could never conceive of such a contribution for any candidate.

So far, for the current 2014 cycle, based on the latest filing of March 15th, his trend is even worse: 100% large, 0% small. And an average contribution of $500.

How many Vermonters can afford to do that?

Altogether, with Big Money putting up those kinds of numbers, it’s fair to ask:

Who gets to speak? And Who gets listened to?

Who gets to call the tune? Everyone knows the answer – it’s the one who pays the piper.

What’s the result?   People have learned to hate politics. And that’s the death knell for democracy. Democracy requires participation. And not just opening a big checkbook. Thinking, debating, helping, and yes, running.

And all of that requires being informed. NOT the disinformation put out by organizations with Orwellian names backed by big hidden money. Democracy requires real information put out by candidates who are responsible.

By qualifying for and accepting public financing, I am responsible in a whole new way to every Vermonter, for they are who is backing my candidacy, not wealthy individuals, corporations or PACs.

What’s the cost of that public financing? 29 cents per Vermonter, every two years.

On the other hand, what’s the cost of Big Money campaign finance? How’s the middle class doing? How’s everyone but the wealthy doing?

Clearly, the biggest problems are on the national scale, but as it has done before, Vermont can lead the way on the solution.   Until concern for the meaning of the Constitution is restored to a majority of the Supreme Court, we can’t eliminate Big Money, but we can counteract its effects. With Public Financing of elections.

I am thrilled and honored to be part of this movement.

But I don’t want to be the only one. It’s been ten years since the last one, so, in the words of Gov. Snelling, it’s time to pick up the pace.

Let’s see 185 flowers bloom: every statewide race, every house race, every senate race. All competitive, and all responsible to all Vermonters and only to Vermonters.