Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Is Democracy Strong in Washington State? Not So Much

Every member of Congress from Washington State who ran for reelection in 2016 raised at least eight times more campaign cash than their nearest challenger, writes John Ryan (no relation to the Jack Clancy character you know from the movies) in Seattle's (94.9 FM).

Patty Murray raised $8 million, or 33 times more than her Republican challenger, Chris Vance. Suzan DelBene reeled in 10 times more money than her Republican challenger, Elizabeth Scott. Republican Congressman Dave Reichert raised 23 times more cash than Democrat Jason Ritchie (who dropped out to run for the state Legislature) and 46 times more than challengers, Democrats Santiago Ramos and Alida Skold.

Ryan writes that, "Once in a blue moon, a candidate will win even though they were outspent. But in the past decade... nobody has made it into Congress from Washington state without raking in at least 65% as much cash as their main opponent. So far this year, no challengers are even close."

Washington State isn't unusual in this, unfortunately. According to Ryan, "Nationwide, incumbent candidates for the House of Representatives raised nearly 5 times more money than their challengers between 1998 and 2014, according to the California nonprofit MapLight. The incumbents won re-election 94 percent of the time."

According to the organization, Public Interest Research Groups -- PRIG, 77% of disclosed contributions in 2016's 34 senate races came from donors who lived outside the state they targeted. In the case of swing state races and in the case of spending by external groups in particular, out-of-state money made up a larger share of campaign spending. This applies to both democratic and republican races.

But it's difficult to know just how much outside organizations are spending to influence elections. Political Action Committees -- principally 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s, -- known euphemistically as "social welfare" organizations, don't have to disclose their donors, thus the term "dark money." Who's buying our elections? Who the hell knows?!

It was widely predicted that SCOTUS decisions on campaign financing, e.g., Citizens United, would result in a wild west of money being thrown at various races throughout the Nation. Unsurprisingly, the 2016 Election was the most expensive ever at $6,917,636,161; well over double what was spent in 2000.

Washington State passed Initiative 735 with 65% of the vote to become the 17th state to urge Congress to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate Citizens United and other decisions that opened the anonymous floodgate of corporate and other dark money in elections.

I-735's objective is to get Washington State's congressional delegation to go on record supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Passing it is only the first, "small step for mankind." Holding our legislators' feet to the fire will be harder.

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