Everywhere I go, no matter whom I talk to — whether it’s Democrats, Republicans or Independents — we all agree on one thing: there is too much money corrupting Washington.
We’ve been dealing with paralyzing partisan gridlock for nearly a decade, and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon. Nor does Congress seem concerned with doing anything positive for middle class Americans.
Case in point: we have a zombie health care proposal which is dormant right now, but will continue to live to fight another day with the current Congress despite the fact that only about 17 percent of Americans support that Republican AHCA proposal.
Yet with billions of dollars of tax breaks for the wealthy tucked away in that bill, it’s hard not to get the sneaking suspicion that wealthy interests are exactly why this health care bill simply won’t die.
That indicates a fundamental imbalance in the concentration of political power in our country.
In 2014, Princeton and Northwestern universities conducted a study on the public’s impact on policy in Washington. Their study found that the average citizen has a statistically insignificant impact on the adoption of a policy.
This is not encouraging for the 90 percent of Americans not considered “economic elite” in the study. The numbers look a little different if you have money to burn — especially in the form of large corporate or special interest groups.
The study indicates policy with low support from wealthy special interests is adopted around 18 percent of the time, while policy with high support from wealthy special interests is adopted about 45 percent of the time.
How is it that our representative democracy has become so one-sided when it comes to influence? Look no further than the way we fund our elections.
The hard reality of our current situation is that it takes a lot of money to run for office — especially thanks to the 2010 Citizens United ruling which has since flooded our elections with special-interest and corporate money.
But I am not running to represent special interests or the wealthy. Call me idealistic, but I believe that the average American should have — and is constitutionally owed — a true voice in our representative government. To me, people deserve a voice regardless of whether or not they can write a check.
At the outset of this campaign, I knew I wanted my fundraising strategy to be a grassroots effort. And I am proud to say at this early point in the race, the campaign has more than 1,400 individual donors.
At the end of the last quarter, more than 70 percent of the donations to my campaign were less than $100. We are the only campaign that has received no PAC money, and we’ve received by far the greatest amount in small-dollar donations (listed as un-itemized donations on the FEC report).
Despite that, we still finished the quarter with significantly more cash on hand to go toward the primary election than any other Democrat in the race.
But the real comparison comes when you look at our current Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. He has raised $442,000, with more than 70 percent of it coming from PACs, and less than half of 1 percent from small-dollar donations.
This explains so much about why he voted to take away health care from 57,000 of his own constituents to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country.
Those 57,000 people aren’t funding his campaign – but the ones who wanted those tax breaks certainly are.
Campaign finance reform is one of the ways we can clean up our act in Washington, and in turn, enact policy more favorable to working and middle-class Americans.
This means moving toward a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen’s United ruling, banning former members and staff from becoming lobbyists for five years, providing tax incentives for small-dollar donations for the average American, setting up a publicly financed campaign system so that real, working people can actually run for office, transparency in political advertising, and more.
We can reform this system if we show we have the will, and that means supporting grassroots campaigns like this one.
This campaign is bigger than a single candidacy – or even this election. It’s about mobilizing people from the ground up to get engaged and give voice to those of us who have been silenced by a damaged system for far too long.
I hope you’ll join me in building this movement to finally return the power of self-government back to the people.
Katie Hill, an Agua Dulce resident, is a Democratic candidate for California’s 25 Congressional District seat now held by Rep. Steve Knight. She currently serves as executive director and deputy CEO of PATH, a not-for-profit corporation with the mission to end homelessness for individuals, families, and communities across California. Hill holds a Master’s in Public Administration. For more information, visit www.katiehillforcongress.com.