Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Campaign-Finance Reform Should be a Top Priority: Social inequality, wasteful spending, and the destruction of democracy

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:
Or to like my campaign’s Facebook page:

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

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. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Democrat? Interested in the future of our nation? Vote at every opportunity.

by Glenn Geher, a founding member of Move Forward New York

If you’re like me - a lifelong Democrat who has been simply horrified at the direction that our nation is taking in the post-Trump-actually-got-elected era, you are probably thinking “what can I do to help get this nation back on track?”

As a founding member of Move Forward New York, I have been privileged to meet many great governmental leaders from our party - folks who make a living trying to help all of us move toward the greater good. And I will never forget what NY Assemblyman Cahill had to say on this front. He made the point that over the next four years, we have NO CHOICE but to be politically active AT EVERY LEVEL - from town school boards on up to Washington, DC. Local politics matters more than ever right now. If we can flood town, county, and state governmental positions with people who stand with our values (which are, to my mind, the truly American values, by the way), we will buffer ourselves against the insanity in DC. Further, doing so will help make sure that we have the infrastructure in place to take over Congress - which will  ultimately have the capacity to stop Trump in his tracks - at least as best we can.

I’m a pretty proactive person - and in this current climate, I’ve actually become convinced that I should run for office. And toward that end, I am running on the Democratic ticket for Ulster County Legislator. You see, in my district (Ulster County District 12), we have a Republican incumbent - who has been in office for about 10 years. I don’t know him personally, but I know a bit about his voting record - which is consistently aligned with the right. To my mind, this is exactly what we do NOT need at the county levels in this nation right now! When my friend Debra Clinton, founder of Move Forward New York and activist sine qua non, told me that this guy was about to run unopposed in MY district, I quickly looked in the mirror and was like, Glenn -  you got this.

Of course, it’s not going to be a gimme - and county-level politics is not exactly the same as the field of education - which is where I usually live - but I am so deeply concerned about the future of this nation and about making sure that I take every step possible to help, that I feel a strong calling on this one.

Voting in Off-Year Elections

Odd-numbered years are considered off-year elections. For instance, in 2015, we had the opportunity to vote for an Ulster County Legislator position and for the Ulster County Executive Position - and for a few other things that, at the time, I didn’t quite understand or think much about.

Well it turns out that in my town of Plattekill, NY, even though we have nearly even numbers of Democrats and Republicans, the Republican Legislative candidate won (by about 99 votes). Pretty close actually. But get this: Only about 30% of Democrats in my town came out to vote - while about 37% of the Republicans came out to vote.

You don’t have to be Einstein to realize that if these proportions flipped - and 37% of Democrats came out while only 30% of Republicans came out, the incumbent Republican legislator would have been unseated.

If you are a Democrat, you better think about this fact. Because that was then, and this is now.

Republicans Control the Ulster County Legislative Chamber!

So to see in even more detail how tragic this all is, think about this. In Ulster County, according to the New York State Board of Elections, about 68% of registered voters are Democrats, with close to only 30% being Republicans. With a proportion like this, you would think that Democrats would control the legislative assembly, right? And you would be WRONG! Think again.

Of the 23 legislators in the assembly, 12 are Republican and 11 are Democrats - so Democrats make up 68% of the registered voters in this county, yet their representatives make up only 47% of the legislature. Seriously.

If you’re like me, you immediately see connections with national-level politics here. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, won the popular vote by about 3,000,000. Yes, that is THREE MILLION! Yet the White House and both houses in congress are flooded with Republicans.

I see this all as a lesson in when democracy fails. When our representatives end up mismatching the interests of the majority of the people - and when this happens at all levels of government, then we’ve got a problem on our hands. And we are not functioning like a democracy.

Are You Planning to Vote in the Next Off-Year (2017) Election?

If you are a Democrat and are outraged by the direction that this nation is taking, as I see it, you don’t have the luxury of sitting back and hoping that someone else fixes the problem. There is WAY too much at stake. My wife and I have two kids - and I know full well that it is up to me to take any and all steps possible to help make sure that they and (one day) their kids have the extraordinary opportunity to live in the United States of America. With this in mind, we cannot let the values that form the foundation of this nation fall by the wayside.

And we need to grab this country by the grassroots - and take advantage of each and every opportunity we can to get this nation back on track.

Do I think I’m going to win the election for Ulster County Legislator, District 12 on November 7? Well I sure hope so. But this said, I will say that I am optimistic. Sure, I think I have a good set of experiences and skills and I know that my heart is in the right place. But to be honest, I don’t think that all is going to get me the seat in Kingston.

What is going to get me that seat is the groundswell of Democrats who have been awoken by the current national situation. It is the uprising that is going to get me to Kingston. The same uprising that flooded Washington, DC and municipalities around the world for the Women’s March. The uprising that flooded SFO, JFK, and airports throughout the nation in protest of a highly xenophobic and anti-American travel ban. The uprising that got scientists, who are largely introverted, out to march in political rallies from sea to shining sea. 
Not My President's Day Rally, SUNY New Paltz; February, 2017

Bottom Line

As I’ve written about in the past, the Tea Party was very successful in flooding seats at all levels of government with Republican and conservative candidates. Well guess what? That was then - and this is now. And to my mind, the Uprising that we have on our hands now makes the efforts of the Tea Party look like kid stuff.

My money says that the Democrats in Plattekill - and in places like Plattekill around the nation - come out in unprecedented numbers in the 2017 off-year election. I sure hope so, because this will allow me to put my money where my mouth is and take direct steps as an elected official to help effect positive change in Ulster County - and beyond.

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

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.