If there is one area of common ground that Matt Gaetz, one of President Trump's fiercest defenders at the Capitol, can find with Democrats, it's his newfound distaste for political action committees.
Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, the combative second-term Republican from Florida announced his campaign would no longer accept PAC money. While making a similar hands-off pledge has become something of a badge of honor for Democratic candidates and junior House members, Gaetz says he's become the first GOP member of Congress to make such a promise — and he appears to be correct.
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It's no surprise that Democrats in Congress rank better on democracy reform than their Republican counterparts, especially when progressive groups are keeping score. Over the last year, GOP members were largely opposed to Democratic efforts to get big money out of politics and expand access to the ballot box.
So the bipartisan chasm comes off as enormous in the first congressional scorecard produced by End Citizens United, a liberal political action committee that's focused mainly on shrinking money's influence over politics. And the report, released this week, suggests only rare and subtle degrees of disapproval for the blue team on Capitol Hill in 2019 — and only a few areas for faint praise of the red team.
All members were rated on whether they accepted contributions from corporate PACs. The 432 current House members were also scored on how they voted on the floor four times — including of course on HR 1, the comprehensive political process overhaul passed in March — and how many of five measures important to the group they cosponsored. Since the Senate took no votes on legislation connected to democracy reform, the senators in office last year were rated only on a quartet of co-sponsorships.
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Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.
When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.
And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.
Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.
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Less than six months after winning seats in Congress partly on pledges to stay clear of corporate campaign cash, many new members of the House Democratic majority are violating the spirit if not the letter of those promises.
The swift movement away from their vows, and toward the special interests they previously spurned, is as clear a reminder as any of this truism of today's threatened democracy: The relentless drive for donations often plows through a politician's promises, including to finance their ambitions without the traditional reliance on the quid-pro-quo-implied generosity of big business.
At least 43 House Democrats, nearly one in five members of the caucus, have pledged not to accept donations from corporate political action committees, according to End Citizens United PAC, which seeks to reverse the Supreme Court's decision that largely deregulated the world of federal campaign finance. So have nine Democratic senators, several of them presidential candidates.
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