(CNN)As a freshman member of Congress in 1997, one of my first speeches was about campaign finance reform. I warned that unregulated contributions were threatening to undermine our democracy, and said, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that our current campaign finance system is broken and needs to be fixed.”
Fast-forward to 2019, and things have only gotten worse.
The Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010 led to the rise of dark money groups (nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors) and super PACs, political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations and spend it on behalf of candidates as long as they don’t hand the money directly to them.
It’s notable that big corporate interests that donate generously to campaigns scored a huge tax break while middle class families were an afterthought in the 2017 Republican tax bill. Many Republicans also refused to act on climate change as extreme weather events ravaged communities and hurt our economy — just what the wealthy CEOs of dirty energy companies would want. While most climate scientists agree that global warming is caused by human activity, many members of Congress seem to listen to the fossil fuel industry that fund their campaigns instead of the facts.
This is not the political system our founders envisioned. Of course it takes money to win elections. But the never-ending fundraising required to win an election takes too much of our attention away from the real work of serving our constituents and our country. It also makes individuals who are not well off or well-connected think twice before running for office.
That’s why I’m proud that the new Democratic majority in the House proposed, as one of our first items of business, H.R. 1 — a sweeping elections and campaign reform bill that will remove the roadblocks many eligible Americans face on their way to the ballot box and help end the dominance of big money in politics. As the new chairman of the House Rules Committee, I look forward to bringing H.R. 1 to the floor for debate.
But I’ve also come to believe that I must do more than just support legislation to end the dominance of big money in politics. I need to change the way I run my own campaign fundraising.
Over the past year, I’ve been asked by my constituents whether I would stop taking corporate PAC money for my campaign. I’ll be honest — at first, I was reluctant to consider such a big change. And It’s important to state that I’ve never let a donation from anyone influence my vote. If corporate PACs have tried to buy my vote by cutting me a campaign check, they’ve ended up with a low return on their so-called investment. My voting record speaks for itself. Still, I was hesitant that I would put myself at a disadvantage against a well-funded opponent.
But our country is in trouble. Our system is rigged to favor those at the top. And I believe the perception of corruption, even where it doesn’t exist, must be addressed if we’re going to restore faith in our government. My constituents want me to lead by example — and I will.
I will no longer take corporate PAC money for my campaign. It’s what the people of Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District want. And it’s the right thing to do.
I’m proud to join dozens of other members of Congress who have made this decision, including my Massachusetts colleagues Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan. I’m also grateful to the PAC End Citizens United, which is funded by grassroots supporters who hope to bring accountability and transparency back to Washington.
Fundraisers, lobbyists and even some of my colleagues will surely tell me this is a terrible idea. They’ll say the first rule of running for office is that you don’t leave money on the table. As chairman of the Rules Committee — a committee that touches every piece of major legislation that comes to the House floor — I probably stand to lose a lot of campaign dollars. But when voters see economic policies that favor the rich, and inaction on climate change despite all the evidence of its impact, they’re left wondering who politicians are working for. I don’t want there to be any question about whom I’m working for.
I think the public will reward this transparency. In November, citizens banded together to raise millions through small donations for candidates they believed in. Many of these $10 or $20 donations helped elect candidates who are now supporting H.R. 1.
A government of the people and for the people should be funded by the people. Try as they may, Republicans will never succeed in convincing Americans that corporations are people. I’m proud to take this step to ensure there is no question as to whom I’m working for when I call the Rules Committee to order.
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