My Point of View: Greatness comes from strengthening the bottom

Published 10:00 pm Monday, September 3, 2018

My Point of View, By Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

The ideas that “money is free speech” and “corporations are people” are rotting our political system and crushing working families.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Our political choices have been narrowed to an unhealthy extent by the amount of money it takes to run for office. Especially at the national level, candidates have to be independently wealthy and/or constantly beg for cash from donors. Often they rely on wealthy donors because their gifts adds up more quickly.

At the federal level, our members of Congress spend 30 to 70 percent of their time raising funds for re-election. Think about that. They only work part time for us, we the people they are supposed to be serving full time. Though it’s more pronounced on the Republican side, both Republicans and Democrats are implicitly beholden to large donors even if there is no explicit “quid pro quo.”

That is why majorities of the public can favor an idea and Congress may not give it a committee hearing, much less a floor vote. One of the biggest items with broad support is “Medicare for all,” an idea that 70 percent of the U.S. population supports, according to a recent Reuters poll.

Yet last year, Congress almost passed a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, a much more modest health care reform. It was only Sen. John McCain’s late night thumbs down that potentially saved an estimated 16 million people from losing health insurance coverage over a 10-year period, which would have been a huge step backward.

More Americans are figuring out that health care premiums are so taxing already that paying taxes for a single-payer system instead could be a better deal. They could also change jobs or start their own businesses without worrying about losing employer-sponsored health insurance benefits.

Why don’t big donors who distort the legislative agenda want the rest of us to have that freedom? Maybe it’s because they’re protecting the wealth they extract from the current system at the expense of everybody else.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they also stand in the way of 77 percent of Americans who want more limits on campaign donations by individuals and groups, a finding from a Pew Research Center study earlier this year. Meanwhile, as our Republican-controlled Congress ignores the issue, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court has gutted existing campaign finance restrictions for corporations and individuals with its decisions on Citizens United in 2010 and McCutcheon vs. FEC in 2014.

Some of this deluge of money infects our local state representative race as well. In 2016, our House 27A candidates had fairly high spending on their own campaigns in this swing district, and Republican Peggy Bennett outspent DFLer Gary Schindler almost 2 to 1 ($55,000 to $28,000).

The biggest difference, though, came in outside spending for or against the candidates. I delved into the 2015-16 State of Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board report and found a huge gap between Bennett and Schindler. Think back to all the fliers littering your mailbox and the onslaught of commercials. Much of it was paid for by outside groups, and Schindler had over $80,000 more spent against him than Bennett did. Whereas Bennett received a net $45,500 spending on her behalf, Schindler had a net $10,000 spent against him.

The bottom line is, if mass media or a mass mailing doesn’t come from a candidate or their campaign, toss it or ignore it. Hearing from the candidates directly and news coverage are much more informative.

Representative Bennett votes consistently more conservatively than our district, and she will be rewarded for it again by outside groups with relatively few individual donors who spend big money against her opponent.

Terry Gjersvik is a candidate who can beat this tide of outside money.

Gjersvik is the best fit for our district, which traditionally leans DFL in high turnout election years (a better reflection of the district’s true inclination than results in low turnout years). He’ll work to improve access to affordable health care and educational opportunities to give working families a boost.

Plus, Terry Gjersvik is a great guy. Have you met him yet? He’s door-knocking at a sprint and racing around at parades, meeting as many people as possible.

Truly, our greatness comes from strengthening the bottom up, not capitulating to the agenda imposed on us by wealthy donors who have warped the system in their favor with their unlimited “free speech.”

Vote for Terry Gjersvik for House 27A in November.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.