Jim Rubens - My Testimony to the Texas Legislature on Political Money Corruption

Testimony of Jim Rubens for HJR-146
Before the Texas Select Committee on State & Federal Power and Responsibility

Good evening Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
 
While I’ve travelled here from my New Hampshire home, I’ve got some wonderful roots here in Texas. My dad bailed out as a Madison Avenue Mad Man and came here to found UT Austin’s advertising program, which became the top undergrad program in the country.
 
I have served as a former Republican state senator from New Hampshire; New Hampshire GOP Platform Committee Chair; senior policy advisor and spokesman for former US Senator Gordon Humphrey for Governor; activist and advisor in many GOP campaigns; and Republican candidate for US Senate 2014. I am a serial small-business entrepreneur and investor in New England-based high-tech start-ups.
 
I’m here in Texas today as a volunteer to disabuse Republicans of any notion that Washington’s corrupt political money system gives us any advantage in advancing conservative principles. Fixing Washington’s corrupt political money system is not just an issue for Democrats.

This system protects business as usual politics and enriches crony capitalists with obscure tax code distortion, pork barrel spending, and regulatory and diplomatic favors.
 
I can report from direct experience in 2014 that this corrupt money system imposes a money primary in elections before voters even get to make their choice. Candidates and incumbents perceived or proven willing to trade favors with a small number (in the hundreds) of entrenched, big-dollar interests lock up most of the campaign money. This money primary suppresses voter choice among candidates, narrows the range of issues debated, and thereby stifles resolution of major political challenges, harming our nation and souring the public on our beloved Republic. 
 
  • For three decades now, Washington politicians -- in both parties and in every election –- have promised us fiscal responsibility. Instead, they’ve loaded our kids and grandkids with a millstone of debt. They’ve robbed prosperity from our future and weakened our capacity to pay for our nation’s security in a dangerous world. Most of this spending and unfunded promises is payback to campaign contributors.
  • Our tortured, convoluted tax code is a direct result of this system of corruption. Tax breaks are carved out for big money campaign contributors, paid for with higher rates on ordinary Americans.
  • This system puts corn ethanol in our gas tanks, driving up food prices, depressing gas mileage, and harming the environment.
  • Congress is unrelenting in its defense of the Export-Import Bank, where in 2012, 80% of taxpayer-guaranteed loans were provided to one highly profitable company, Boeing Aircraft.
  • Last December’s bi-partisan CRomnibus spending bill, once again does nothing to tackle spending or deficits, but does stick ordinary Americans with the downside risk of derivatives trading by five Wall Street megabanks.
  • While the US government is the world’s largest buyer of pharmaceutical products, over $100 billion per year, Congress continues to forbid Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices – which for Americans are highest in the world. The simple explanation for this rip-off is the drug industry’s $435 million in spending over the past two years on campaign contributions and its 1,400 Washington lobbyists. Mark me: I’m not against the drug industry, I make a part of my living investing in pharma startups. It’s that I back the free-market where the government does not distort capitalism by picking winners and losers.
  • Most dangerous to our Republic is the tens of millions of dollars (likely much more that we don’t know about) given indirectly by foreign governments and foreign nationals to potential candidates, their close relatives, and to their affiliated organizations. While direct contributions from foreign sources are illegal, foreign governments wanting to bend American policy -– sometimes adversely to US national security interests -- are now exploiting this gargantuan campaign money loophole. The New York Times reported this week about speaking fees given to Bill Clinton and contributions made to the Clinton Foundation by individuals and companies associated with Uranium One who were simultaneously and successfully advocating that US and other uranium assets be sold to Rosatom (a Russian firm controlled by the Russian government) during the time Mrs. Clinton served as Secretary of State, had authority to approve or deny the transaction, and was well known to be a likely candidate for President. I note this news highlighting clearly perceivable political money corruption, not because it involves Democrats, but only because it is the most recent and blatant.
These seven examples of special interest privilege and crony capitalism and are not cherry picked anomalies. A ground-breaking 2014 study tested the political outcomes in 1,800 contested issues over a 20-years period and found this:  little surprise that economic elites and organized business interests had substantial impact on policy. The stunner, average members of public have essentially zero influence over what Washington does.
 
Whatever your issue or ideology, we must confront Washington’s corrupted, immobilized political system, accountable to a tiny number of favor-seeking big money donors rather than, as things should be, to the American people.
 
Our Constitution’s framers anticipated a Congress that could become corrupt and unaccountable, unable and unwilling to reform itself. For that reason, the framers included the state-led method of proposing amendments to Constitution in Article V.
 
HJR-146 does not tell us how we will change Washington’s system of political money corruption. It asks that the states engage in debate about the varied approaches because Congress will not.
 
Personally, I do not see a need to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. My suggested approach is to remove all limits on direct candidate contributions and combine that with instant online disclosure and the establishment of a $50 per voter tax-credit voucher system for campaign contributions to broaden the base of potential contributors.
 
Because Congress refuses to address the corrupt political money system, it’s up to the states. Please vote for HJR-146 and add Texas to the Missouri Senate, the New Hampshire House, and the growing number of states already on board and ready to work together to find a solution.

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jim Rubens