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Our Views: Democracy drowning in flood of campaign cash

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Republican insiders are tickled over Team Ryan raising massive sums for the House speaker and many other GOP candidates, but Team Ryan's success should alarm anyone concerned about the integrity of our democracy.

Paul Ryan's status as a fundraising juggernaut has made his district less competitive, discouraging Democrats from running against him. The Gazette has endorsed Ryan's candidacy many times over the years, but democracy thrives only when voters have choices and candidates debate the issues.

By almost any measure, Ryan has had a tumultuous year. Ryan shepherded through Congress a health care bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would result in 23 million people becoming uninsured. He reversed course on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, opting to side with President Trump's populist position to scrap it. And there's also the looming cloud of Russian meddling in U.S. elections.

Democrats should be eager to run against Ryan given these issues, but the only one to declare his candidacy so far is David Yankovich, a carpetbagger from Ohio. His greatest skill appears to be tweeting to his 92,000 Twitter followers. There's still time for local contenders to emerge, but if Yankovich ends up being it, his candidacy would be a sad commentary.

Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, 1st Congressional District voters deserve to hear Ryan and his opponent debate the issues. Last year, Ryan refused to debate his opponent, Ryan Solen, though Ryan had nothing to fear and defeated Solen by a whopping 35 percentage points.

Ryan skipped the debate because he knew he could.

As reported by Frank Schultz in Monday's Gazette, Team Ryan raised $65.5 million during last year's election cycle. Nearly $20 million went to Ryan's campaign fund and the rest to other candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Solen raised a paltry $23,749.

Put another way, if campaign funds were bodies of water and each dollar represented one gallon, Ryan's war chest would have filled almost 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Solen's tiny stash of cash would have topped off a modest-sized backyard pool.

The shocking part about this disparity is it's perfectly legal, and Republicans aren't the only ones to partake in hobnobbing for dollars. At a national level, Democrats arguably do it better, as the Hillary Victory Fund showed last year, gobbling up more money—$529.9 million—than Team Ryan and Donald Trump's committees combined.

Voters realize something is amiss.

Rock County voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum last fall calling for a constitutional amendment aimed at curbing money's influence in elections. The referendum seeks to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that has turned elections into spending free-for-alls.

The referendum is a reasonable ask, but few people expect the Beltway to voluntarily reform its ways. America has a dysfunctional democracy, corrupted by the vast quantities of money sloshing around campaigns. Only privately wealthy candidates or those with ties to the parties' fundraising apparatuses have any chance of mounting a serious campaign for federal office.

True democracies don't answer to Team Ryan or any other fundraising group. True democracies answer to one group, the people.

 



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