McGovern vows not to accept corporate money

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern speaks during the 32nd annual Pulaski Day celebration, Oct. 8, at Pulaski Park in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/3/2019 11:49:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Since Democrats won the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections, campaign and ethics law reform has emerged as a legislative priority.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern held a town hall event at the World War II Club to address the powerful influence that major corporations have on American politics – and pledged to no longer accept corporate donations.

During the forum, McGovern discussed the first major legislation introduced by the new Democratic-controlled House, called For the People Act of 2019, which aims to make it easier for people to vote, to end the dominance of big money in politics, and to ensure that officials work for the public’s interest.

In pledging to no longer accept money from corporate PACs, McGovern becomes the 51st member of Congress to do so, and as chairman of the House Rules Committee, the first congressional committee chair to take such an action.

“People want to know that the first thing any of us think about is them,” McGovern said.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 70, McGovern said that questions commonly posed to him over the years have included: Why are tax bills passed by Congress largely benefiting large corporations? Why does every credible scientist say there is a climate crisis, yet so much of U.S. policy favors the fossil-fuel industry? Why is it that prescription costs continue to skyrocket to astronomical levels?

“The answer is money,” McGovern said. “It’s the powerful influence of well-financed corporate lobbyists.”

Among proposals included in the bill are same-day voter registration on the day of an election and early voting.

Perhaps most notably, the bill would make Election Day a federal holiday, a provision that prompted Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to accuse Democrats of a “power grab.”

“I thought his head was going to explode,” McGovern said to laughs across the room. “We are just trying to make it so that everyone who can vote, votes. What the hell is wrong with that?”

Joining McGovern at the town hall was Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United (ECU), a group that supports the overhaul of campaign finance laws.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5-to-4 decision was reached based on the principle that regulating corporate spending is a violation of First Amendment rights.

“I do town halls all over this country and I think that it is rare to see such passion and energy for an issue as we do around getting money out of politics,” Muller said. “That’s because all of you understand that right now Congress is just working for a few big interests rather than working for you.”

Muller said that in 2008, $143 million was spent on elections by “outside groups.” After the Citizens United ruling, in 2018, $1.3 billion was spent, a 900 percent increase, according to Muller.

“Congressional members are no longer controlling the debate,” Muller said. “Outside groups that are funded by just a few key special interests, or a few of the wealthiest Americans, are controlling the debate. That’s not a democracy, that’s an oligarchy.”

Established in 2015, ECU seeks to elect candidates who support finance reform, to pass pro-reform laws in states, and to raise the issue of money in politics as a national priority.

The grassroots group is made up of more than 4 million members from across the country, Muller said. In the 2018 midterms, the group raised $40 million — with an average donation of $13 from 500,000 donors — to help flip the House of Representatives, according to Muller.

“Out of the 63 new Democratic members of the House, over half of them are also no corporate PAC members,” Muller said. “That’s fundamentally changing how we do business in D.C.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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