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Why Getting Money Out of Politics is a Winning Bipartisan Issue

David Callahan

There aren't a lot of causes that can fire up Americans across the political spectrum, but getting money out of politics is definitely one of them. That's the finding of a recent poll-based memo by the DemocracyCorps. 

A majority of Americans see Washington as corrupt, the memo reports, and many blame "moneyed interests" for that corruption -- believing both parties are deeply compromised.

They are right, of course.  

And while it's mainly progressive groups who promote campaign finance reform, this cause is strongly supported by voters in both parties.

More specifically, the DemocracyCorps gauged public support for a new system of public financing, where small donations to candidates are matched by public funds on a six-to-one ratio. Voters in both Democratic and Republican congressional districts backed this idea by significant margins. 

Of course, it's not often that Republican voters voice strong support for a new proposal to spend tax dollars. But public financing apparently strikes these voters as something of a no-brainer. Most people can grasp the idea that the corruption of politics by money results in wasted tax dollars. So it makes sense that people would grasp how preventing such corruption would save tax dollars and be a good investment. 

It's also no surprise that the DemocracyCorps survey and other recent polls would show that campaign finance reform enjoys bipartisan support, since that's pretty much always been the case -- at least among ordinary people. Remember, this was one of the big issues that fueled Ross Perot's rise to stardom and allowed him to win 19 percent of the vote in 1992. And before the GOP moved more to the right, a number of Republicans like John McCain were quite supportive of campaign finance reform. 

All of which raises an obvious question: Why aren't today's politicians jumping on this issue? The DemocracyCorps notes that Republican congressional candidates in particular have a lot to gain from embracing reform. 

Maybe the best answer to this question lies in the self-reinforcing nature of the problem. Politicians need to play the current money game to get anywhere, and criticizing that game in detail runs the risk of alienating the very "moneyed interests" that candidates need to please. It also smacks of hypocrisy. 

In addition, corruption and campaign finance reform tends to ebb and flow as a burning issue among voters. Often, this issue is crowded out by other concerns -- like the economy or gas prices. 

One thing is clear: A new window for reform is definitely opening, with public faith in the purity of government near an all-time low and concerns about the influence of business near at all-time high.