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There's been many calls to end the influence of corporate money on Washington.

Russ Feingold has raised the issue. You hear it echoed by Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. And Lawrence Lessig has a new book out called Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--And a Plan to Stop It.

Different ideas have been floated: laws limiting contributions, repealing the Citizens United decision, and programs which fund politics through small individual donations only.

All of these ideas have merit, but they require action from government - the same folks who are currently taking these donations.

You may not believe this, but I think we might be able to convince some of them without any legislation.

Why? Because it's actually in Democrats' best interests to lead the way in rejecting corporate contributions.  

Here's how:

Dear Democrats,

We get it. You need money to win elections.

You may think we don't understand how hard it is to run for election, but we do.

You have to convince 51% of the voting public that you're the better candidate and that can be difficult.

One of the easiest ways to reach people is through mass media so you raise as much money as you can to get your message out.

When it comes down to it, it's a numbers game. $100,000 equals:

  • 10,000 people donating $10 each to the party
  • 1,000 people donating $100 each
  • A single "bundle" of contributions from a corporate bundler

And what's easier to get? Fewer larger contributions (Note: FEC limitations here).

We understand. But here's where things get tricky.

You've run on a populist platform, but a good chunk of your campaign funding came from corporate interests.

So you try to walk the fine line between the interests of your large donors and those who voted for you.

Someone like Steve Jobs would say that you have a branding problem: you say you stand for one thing, yet your actions make it clear you stand for something else.

If you don't believe me, ask some of your constituents why they're frustrated with the Democratic Party.

I'd be willing to wager that you hear something like "says one thing, does another."

Look at the bank bailouts and financial reform.

Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner? I seem to recall these guys were deregulation advocates.

You turned to the people who created the problem to come up with a solution.

Dodd-Frank? I guess we'll see if it ever gets implemented but it certainly looks like it lacks teeth and was heavily influenced by corporate interests.

Now I don't believe you write legislation based solely on corporate campaign contributions. But I do believe that big money buys a seat at the table and once there, it may be hard to go against their wishes for fear of shutting off the donations.

Is it any wonder people don't trust you?

Your brand is about as popular as Enron.

You likely know all about this Catch-22 though so I won't belabor the point. Instead, I'd like to offer a suggestion:

Stop taking corporate money.

"B-b-b-b-but," you say, "money wins elections and if I don't have it I cede a huge advantage to my opponent."

I know that at first it sounds crazy, but let's look take a closer look ...

First, money does not win elections. Getting a clearer message to 51% of your voting constituency than your opponent wins elections. Money is just one way to do this.

Second, one of the big reasons you're not winning is that you keep undermining your brand. You tell people one thing and then do another. Why should anyone trust you?

You know when you'll win elections this way? When your opponents screw up. Like 2008. Like 1992.

If you'd stop taking corporate donations, this would go a long way to establishing credibility. And if your party stood for something, it would take significantly less money to get elected and you might win based on something other than an awful opponent.

Third, Republicans have gone "all in" as the party of money. By coming out and stating you won't take corporate donations, you suddenly distinguish yourselves.  

Instead of being Republican-lite, you would actually stand for something. Let Republicans stand for "big money," you should stand for something else.

Fourth, you gain respect among Independents (and others) by leading through example.

Fifth, do you know who you're spending all your money with? I'm guessing that a lot of it is with the corporate media. The same corporate media that will run your ads, but write editorials against you endorsing your opponents. Or even worse, corporate media that fills the airwaves with 8 hours of conservative pundits a day.

Why do you keep spending money with them? Spend it instead on alternative distribution channels.

Sixth, there's some significant changes going on the world right now. Not just politically, but technologically. Over the past several years, I've moved from getting my most credible information from the news to getting it from my friends and through people and groups I follow online.

In a few years, most everyone else will too (if they don't already). These methods of communication are significantly less expensive, but, and here's the rub, what you stand for is everything. If friends can recommend something, then you are more likely to trust that recommendation.

Right now I have a hard time recommending the Democratic Party. About the best I can say is that they're better than the alternative. This is not a rousing endorsement.

Seventh, imagine the publicity.

Is this idea starting to sound a little less crazy?

It's bold, I know, and it might take some time to establish what you stand for and develop credibility.

But once you do, it will pay off a thousand fold.

You just have to take the leap.

David Akadjian


I sent this letter to my Congressmen and the Democratic National Committee and anyone else I could think of who might help get it noticed.

Please steal this and bring it to the attention of anyone you feel could help convince Democrats.

With all the attention brought to this issue by Occupy Wall Street, there has never been a better time.    

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wrong! Money DOES win elections (0+ / 0-)

    Sorry, but you're wrong about money not winning elections.  I'm afraid the basis of your argument is incorrect.

    In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning, according to a post-election analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The findings are based on candidates' spending through Oct. 15, as reported to the Federal Election Commission.

    Continuing a trend seen election cycle after election cycle, the biggest spender was victorious in 397 of 426 decided House races and 30 of 32 settled Senate races. On Election Day 2006, top spenders won 94 percent of House races and 73 percent of Senate races. In 2004, 98 percent of House seats went to the biggest spender, as did 88 percent of Senate seats.

    Money wins elections

    •  Convincing 51% of people to vote for you wins (0+ / 0-)

      Money is simply one way to do this. And maybe the most statistically likely one right now.

      Does this mean we shouldn't be working to change this?

      I believe there are other ways to win that would not require large corporate contributions.

      •  Campaign finance reform is critical (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have supported Russ Feingold and anyone else who realizes how money is corrupting our government and empowering the 1%.  What you suggest is unilateral disarmament.  You can't change these corrupt rules unless you are elected and have the power to change them, and the data shows you can't get elected unless you play in the current corrupt system and raise lots of money.

        You are suggesting the Dems not raise the money needed to win elections, which means the Republicans will win and any hope of fixing this corrupt system will be lost.

        •  Another option is to stand for the 99% (0+ / 0-)

          I've supported Russ and his efforts as well.

          But I'm interested in exploring other possibilities.

          And I'm starting to think that unless we can find other ways to help politicians win, we will never get rid of the corrupting influence of money on politics.

          I used to think winning the money arms race was the answer, but I don't believe it's worked. Obama won the money arms race. Did he fight for campaign finance reform?

          I think we might be better served if we simply took a stand. And then found other ways to win.

          Yes, we might lose at first. But what will happen is that suddenly the Republican Party will be the only party of corporations.

          And Democrats will be standing for the interests of the 99%. All the money in the world won't help Republicans then.  

        •  (elected) Democrats don't want to fix it, either. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          •  Agreed, and that's part of the problem (0+ / 0-)
            •  Nonsense! 75% of Dems fight for it, NO Repugs (0+ / 0-)

              This false equivalency is pure BS.

              Go here and look at who supported McCain/Feingold!  You'll see similar results on ALL efforts for campaign reform.

              vote on McCain/Feingold

              Now, where's your data that shows Democrats don't want campaign reform.

              •  Good for them, yet that was 2001 (0+ / 0-)

                I think that's great.

                Why haven't Democrats done anything to address the Citizens' United decision?

                Why didn't Obama and Dems bring this up when they had a majority in Congress?  

                Keep in mind, I'm not arguing against campaign finance reform. I think that would be great.

                I just don't think it's going to come from the top.

                That's why I'm proposing a bottom up approach where we work to help politicians win in different ways and to convince them that they can win without money.  

                •  The Democrats (most of them, at least) (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  understand this. The DISCLOSE Act - a piece of legislation which would have end-run the most egregious aspects of Citizens United, passed in the House by 219-206, and every single Democrat and Independent - every single one! - voted for cloture on the companion bill in the Senate. It was defeated, as too many good bills were in the 111th, by GOP abuse of the filibuster.

                  The Democrats have many faults, and I am one of the first to point them out. A reluctance to tackle corporate dominance of politics, oddly, isn't one of them. The Democrats gave it their all in the 111th Congress, and now they don't have the House in the 112th, so they can't do much about it.

                  While I applaud your aims, I believe that they are impractical to embrace in their entirety - at least at the moment. Having said that, I would support the Democrats in voluntarily limiting the amount of their money (absolutely or as a proportion of their fundraising) which they take in from corps as a good first step, and one which doesn't render them financially toothless against GOP opponents.

                  Better would be to have citizens lobbying groups start up. The big donors get remembered and kowtowed to? Fine - pool together, and instead of 1,000 $10 donations, the Democrat gets a bundled $100k donation from this town or that citizens group. S/he will remember that far more than any one of the $10 donations.

                  •  With you on the small contributions ... (0+ / 0-)

                    You make a good point about limiting corporate contributions. I think that would be a good first step. Should have mentioned that as I'm not against limiting to smaller contributions.

                    I'd be interested in your thoughts though about why it would be impractical for Dems to simply do what they want to legislate.

                    I think you might lose short term, but I believe that's going to happen anyways.

                    I also believe Dems have already lost the funding arms race so I'm not sure why we're still trying to compete rather than thinking about better tactics.

                    I don't think they have a lot to lose. And I think they have everything to gain.

                    •  If the Democrats legislate it, (0+ / 0-)

                      it binds the GOP, too. If they volunteer, it binds only them.

                      Also, there's "losing" funding races as in "Oh noes, the other guy has about 10-20% more cash than me", and then there's really losing the funding - as in, "the other guy has five times my money".

                      Electoral votes may be winner-take-all, but funding races are not. How much more the 'winner' has is just as important as who has more in the first place.

              •  I'm still waiting for you to post some. McCain/ (0+ / 0-)

                Feingold was tinkering around the edges. More rearranging of the deck chairs, if you will, and a prop in the kabuki theater.

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