“Destroying Us From the Inside”: Retired Politicians Launch Attack on Big Money Politics

The 108-member, bipartisan ReFormers Caucus endorses much but not all of a strong campaign finance reform agenda released this summer.

Issue One, Nov. 5, 2015 Photo: Issue One

A bipartisan group of 108 retired high-level politicians called for fairly ambitious reforms of the U.S. campaign finance system at an event on Capitol Hill on Thursday. The ReFormers Caucus, a project of the advocacy organization Issue One, includes 23 former senators, 82 representatives, 16 governors, 8 cabinet secretaries, 10 ambassadors and one vice president, Walter Mondale. (The numbers add up to more than 108 because many of the caucus members have held more than one office.)

In its own words, the ReFormers Caucus endorses:

  • greater transparency measures, such as an executive order mandating federal contractors reveal their political contributions
  • stricter enforcement of laws, including reforming the broken Federal Election Commission
  • lobbying and ethics reform that ensures everyone plays by the same common-sense rules and
  • giving Congress and state legislatures broader abilities to oversee money flowing through politics

This covers much but not all of an extremely strong campaign finance reform agenda released this summer by 12 U.S. public interest groups. The biggest difference between the two frameworks is that the ReFormers Caucus does not call for a national public system of national matching funds, such as that advocated by current Rep. John Sarbanes, D.-Md, and endorsed by Hillary Clinton.

There are 79 Democrats in the caucus, most from the party’s more liberal wing, including former House majority whip David Bonior, former Rep. Pat Schroeder and former Sen. Byron Dorgan. However, some are from the Democrats’ corporate wing, like former Rep. Harold Ford, or are now corporate lobbyists, like former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard Gephardt.

The 29 Republicans are likewise largely from their party’s once-thriving liberal wing, including former New Jersey Govs. Thomas Kean and Christine Todd Whitman and former Rep. Connie Morella. Some, though, are significantly more conservative, such as former Sen. Alan Simpson.

At the event, former Democratic congressman and Ambassador to India Tim Roemer was quoted as saying that “The influence of money is destroying us from the inside. … One of the greatest threats to us internally is the influence of money on our political system.”

According to Daschle, “We used to have to arrange schedules around senators’ fundraisers and it was considered the exception, but now it’s the rule. … If we want to continue to lead around the globe, we must fix this.”

Bill Brock, a Tennessee politician best known for defeating Al Gore’s father, Albert Sr., in a 1970 Senate election, said, “Republicans have at least as much to say as any Democrat about reforms to a problem which calls into question the faith the people have in their government. We need groups like this.” Brock also served as chair of the Republican National Committee and secretary of labor during the Reagan administration.

The success of the ReFormers Caucus in signing up members suggests that many politicians do in fact recognize how big money thwarts democracy, as well as how the pursuit of it is personally degrading for them — but until they leave office they’re naturally loath to change the system that put them in power in the first place.

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Disclosure: Issue One receives financial support from the Democracy Fund, which is funded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is founder of The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media.

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