By Glenn Geher, 6/23/2017
So I’ve recently put my hat in the ring for an elected position. I am running for the position of Ulster County Legislator - 12th District (Plattekill, NY). I wasn’t ever really planning on going this route - but I am someone who cares deeply and proactively about the greater good - and to my mind, the current state of the nation requires that each and every one of us does all that is within our power to get this nation back on track.
Feel free to check out the website for my campaign: www.GeherForLegislator.org
Or to like my campaign’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Glenn-Geher-for-Ulster-County-Legislator-12th-District-373462716389522/
But that’s not my point!
In joining this process, I’ve learned more about campaign financial issues in this nation - and I have to say that what I have learned has been more than a little eye-opening. For county legislature positions, the expectations for financing are relatively small potatoes in the scheme of things. But the other day, I went out canvassing with my friend Sue Sullivan - also a Plattekill resident. Sue is doing something different altogether - she is currently running for Congress. Think about that! Now that is a big deal!
The Finances of Running for Congress
So we got talking the other day, and we got around to the topic of fundraising. I’m planning to make enough money to make some signs, print some materials, and make some phone calls. She needs to raise a ton! For various reasons, to get various endorsements, etc., she is talking about needing to raise numbers that are just huge - well over six figures. Of course, Sue is a very hard-working and well-connected individual, and I’m optimistic that she’ll get there. But this issue got me thinking about things in this nation more broadly. In fact, the more I am thinking about this issue, the more I realize that the current system for campaign finance in this nation is the epitome of social inequality - and it is as far from genuine democracy as one could imagine.
Here’s why: Not everyone can raise six or seven figures in a year. I bet I couldn’t - and I’m pretty well-connected, I have reasonably high SES, and I work hard all the time. But that number is just daunting for someone from where I stand. To be able to raise that kind of money, it helps to not only be rich, but to be VERY rich and to know a lot of VERY rich people. Now granted, it is certainly possible that someone who is not rich in the elite sense could join the fray - but the odds are, of course, VERY heavily stacked against that person. From an empirical perspective, my guess is that congressional candidates probably come from a very elite socioeconomic background on average - perhaps the top 3% of income in the US. And of course the same goes for the presidency.
Sociologists would talk about this as a structural inequality situation. No one is saying that you can’t run for congress if you are just a “regular citizen.” This said, the odds are so stacked against you if you are not super-rich, that the structure of the system essentially screens you out before you even get started. We like to think that this is a democracy that is designed for the benefit of all people. The closer I look at how the politics in this nation works, the more I see that democracy is more of a dream than a reality in our nation. And, of course, me being me, I think we need to take active steps to change this so that leadership positions in our government are based on merit and not on wallet. And I have no problem saying that in a public manner.
The Math of Campaign Finance
In this country, there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Each one comes up for election every two years. There are two major parties - Democratic and Republican. Generally speaking, there are multiple members of each party who primary against one another during each election cycle (although there are clearly conditions in which an incumbent does not have to spend time and money on a primary). But let’s think about the math. So there are 435 positions and two major parties. Let’s say that each cycle, four people run for each of these 435 positions. That could be three democrats primarying against one another and one unchallenged republican, two democrats and two republicans, etc.
Now remember, $300,000 is a minimum standard needed just to be considered by one of the major parties early on. According to a recent news story by MSNBC, the average amount of money spent by members of the House who won in 2012 was as follows:
“According to Maplight, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that tracks money in politics, House candidates who won in 2012 raked in an average of $1,689,580 in campaign contributions. That’s about $2,315 each day. Those numbers climb substantially if you’re running for Senate. Candidates who won a seat in Congress’ upper chamber each raised an average of $10,476,451. That’s $14,351 per day.”
Now think about that! So suppose we have about 4 candidates per House seat running in one year - and they each commit to spending $1,689,580 for the duration of the campaign. Well then for one race (out of 435 total races), we are looking at $6,758,320.
Remember that show The Six Million Dollar Man? Well a typical race for one congressional seat these days will apparently pay for a bionic man - with change left over …
Of course, the math gets much more dramatic, because this 6+ million dollar figure we are talking about assumes a single race. Well heck, there are 435 members of congress. So let’s look at our estimate for one race and see how that extends 435 times. 435 X $6,758,320 ~= $2.94 Billion Dollars. Yup, BILLION. And remember, senate races are much more costly - as are presidential races. The estimates provided here make one point clear - an outrageous amount of money is spent on just campaigning each year in this nation. Billions and billions.
Campaign Money as Wasted Resources
Based on my estimations in the prior section, when you include elections at all levels in this nation each year, we must be talking between 5-10 Billion Dollars a year - if not more. So now let’s stop and think about how that money is used compared to how it could be used. That kind of money could transform the schools of New York State. That kind of money could fully repair the infrastructures of some of our older cities. That kind of money could probably go a long way to better understanding diseases and other health issues. That kind of money could pay for college tuition for many many bright and hard-working young adults. And so forth.
But where do campaign monies go? Well … they go to campaigns. And they are not really legally allowed to do much else. They pay for advertising, personnel, and equipment for campaigns. And so forth. They go poof - into the machine.
The Two Travesties of Modern Campaign Finance Systems in the USA
To sum up, it seems to me that there are two inter-related problems associated with campaign financing in this nation. First off, it is downright unfair! This is not a country where any citizen has the capacity to emerge as a leader of our nation! To do that, you need money. Tons and tons of money. Or you need to know a lot of people with tons and tons of money. Most of us just don’t run in those circles! High-elected offices are for the privileged elite - and this fact owes fully to issues of structural and systemic inequality. This is NOT what democracy looks like!
Second, to put it simply, what a waste of money! It would be so much better to take all the money that goes to campaign finance and put it back into the state or the nation. Or, heck, give it to people as tax refund. I wouldn’t have a problem with that!
As it is now, that money, which is raised as a necessary part of our current processes, simply cannot be used for anything else. It is a travesty of epic proportions. When schools all around the nation are hurting. When millions of people in this nation are receiving inadequate health care. When college tuition costs families of modest means thousands and thousands of dollars a year - then we’ve got a problem. Want to fix this Nation? I say we start with campaign finance reform. Not only will effective campaign finance reform put us on a fast track to genuine democracy, but it could help save money on a national level - money that is less like to just burn during yet another American political campaign.
If ever there was a time to become politically active and rise up, that time is now. Here is to the uprising.
Join the uprising at www.moveforwardnewyork.org
Join the uprising at www.moveforwardnewyork.org
Note that the views expressed herein are expressly the views of the author and are not necessarily the views of Move Forward New York as a collective entity.