Teachout in Huffington Post: New York Can Change the Country [Op-Ed]

How April in New York Can Change the Country

The Huffington Post

Zephyr Teachout

March 4, 2013

So you’re depressed about Citizens United, and you feel there are no options. You want a theory of change, how we get from candidates raising all their money from one-percenters to candidates raising all their money from $50 donations? There is a theory. Its already happening, its being run by a coalition called Fair Elections New York, and it could all start happening in April in New York. If you’ve got nothing going on, maybe you should come to the state house and hold a sign.

Let me tell you what can happen if the right things happen in April in New York.

Step 1: If Governor Cuomo decides to push for Fair Elections, and use real political power to get a few reluctant legislators on board, New York can pass Fair Elections.

The new law will basically be what already happens in New York City: Candidates who raise $50 will get $300 in public funds. (I’m making these numbers up; it will be some kind of match like that). In New York City, each dollar a New York City resident donates up to $175 gets matched by $6.

Step 2: The new law will train all New York legislators in a different way of doing politics.

Right now, state candidates spend their days trying to calibrate policy for PepsiCo, Pfizer, JP Morgan and Citigroup, whose richest employees gave over half a million dollars to state legislative candidates last cycle. If they are talking to people who can give thousands and want lower taxes, they aren’t going to talk about higher corporate taxes. Their stump speeches to the public and their private speeches to donors don’t connect.

To raise half a million according to the new law, state candidates collectively will need to get 1,500 $50 contributions. (1500 * 50 * 7 = $525,000). Instead of trying to hide their tax favors to Citigroup, the candidates can raise their $50 from the same pool of people that vote — their stump speeches will be their fundraising speeches, instead of having two different versions.

The new way of raising money will lead to a new Albany. I’m not saying everything will be 99 and 44/100th percent pure, but it wont have the Citigroup distortion that destroys it now.

Step 3: The new law will train the national press corps about Fair Elections.

We’ve got a fairly cynical and fast-moving press corps. They get that money in politics is a problem, and they will write that story. But they haven’t shared with the national public that there is a working model — from Connecticut, Maine, Arizona, and New York City — that actually changes who runs for office and who they work for.

Lots of the press corps lives in New York. Once they see it in action and start seeing how it works and that it can work on a state level, they will start describing it, and make it part of the vernacular of political reporting. Instead of only cynical stories, they’ll have to tell stories about a different kind of responsiveness.

Step 4: Two politicians from New York, trained in this system, will run for president in 2016.

This is just a hunch. I’m thinking two folks whose names start with C. But they will run on this platform, and use their power to push it, because they know that that the country is looking for a an alternative.

Step 5: Under massive pressure echoing the populist pressure of the early 1900s, national public fair elections laws will pass.

Once we’ve got presidential candidates on board, and the national press corps having told the public about it repeatedly, we can move to Congress and get national legislation passed.

All of this depends on Step 1, and Step 1 depends on Cuomo and Albany realizing that the country is paying attention. So please, pay attention.

Zephyr Teachout teaches Election Law at Duke University School of Law. She is the former National Director of the Sunlight Foundation, Director of Online Organizing for Howard Dean’s Campaign, and Researcher at the Center for Investigative Journalism in Bosnia-Herzogovenia.

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