While gerrymandering leaves the winning team drawing the field of play to their perpetual advantage, the dark money that finances political campaigns in America today leaves politicians in thrall to special interests and in an endless state of fundraising.
This is the other ailment undercutting democracy in the United States, Democratic Ohio Auditor candidate Zack Space said in a sit-down interview with Plunderbund last week. Space has courageously centered his campaign around combatting these two ills, gerrymandering and unaccountable campaign finance.
In an article Monday, we covered his take on the disastrous results of gerrymandering, its disenfranchisement of voters, and radicalization of political discourse. Today we will explore the campaign finance side.
“It’s shocking and objectionable, and it really does represent the institutionalization of corruption,” Space said of America’s current free-for-all system of funding political campaigns. “It’s just the way the rules are now. It’s the way the game is played. To be successful – unless you’re independently wealthy – you have to raise money.”
Space, a former congressman, said he wishes he could afford to not raise money.
“I wish I could communicate my message without money. It’s not possible,” he said. “And the rules of the game when it comes to money are so broad and open, it’s like the Wild West. Corporations can now give to political action committees with no revelation as to who’s giving.”
He pointed to tens of millions of dollars spent against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in 2016 when he challenged Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman – dark money that nobody knows from where it came except that it came from out-of-state.
“Tens of millions of dollars before Labor Day almost exclusively spent on negative ads designed to destroy the reputation of a good man, and it worked,” Space said. “It’s wrong on so many levels.”
It’s wrong because fundraising all the time is a colossal waste of a legislator’s time, Space said, it’s wrong because it improperly influences policy and regulation – which it does in a big way, he said – and it’s wrong because in the end it compromises the faith and the confidence that people have in the process.
“When Donald Trump said that the American system is rigged in the lead-up to his presidential win, he was right. He was right about that. The system is rigged. It is clearly rigged,” Space said. “It may be the only thing Donald Trump was right about, but I think there’s been a loss of faith in not just the institution of government and democracy but the institution of political parties.”
Trump’s election was every bit as much a repudiation of the Republican Party as it was the Democratic Party, he said.
“He touched a nerve. In a way I’m touching that same nerve with my message,” Space said. “My message to Trump voters is that I understand why you voted for Donald Trump. If you feel the system is rigged, you have every right to feel that way, but let’s think about how we can fix this process. My message is about fixing the structure of the democratic process. Once we’re able to do that – if we can mitigate against the influence of money and self-interested politicians and how they draw their district lines – we can objectify a process that has become subjectified. We can bring reason back.”
If America has any chance of tackling the monumental issues that face us today, we can only do so rationally and objectively, Space said.
“If we can restore faith and confidence in the process and begin to use reason to tackle these problems then I think we’re on the right road,” he said. “At its very core, the essence of my message lies in honesty.”
Space admits that as a congressman, he has participated in this process and wasn’t above it. So he knows the power and influence of these malignant forces. This is what gives courage to his campaign now for Ohio auditor, taking these issues head-on.
“It’s time that politicians or leaders on both sides of the aisle start being honest with the people they represent or want to represent,” he said. “I think people respect honesty. You can have a different ideology from someone and still respect them as long as honesty is in the air. For me, it starts with honesty, and then from there it goes to transparency, fairness and justice. But we’ve got to be honest with the people of the state of Ohio about how their government really works.”
Space said he wishes every middle school and high school in the country had a class on civics that taught students the way government really works – about campaign finance rules and what one person with a lot of money can really do to impact and affect the system.
“I do sense that there’s a growing awareness,” he said. “Technology has brought us a lot of risks and dangers and there are questions about our ability to keep pace with changes in technology culturally and socially and economically, but one thing I think it has done is bring forth this information. People now know. People are beginning to understand the influence of money on politics.”
He pointed to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tapping into that growing understanding and frustration in 2016 – two people from the opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.
“So I think this is something that we can come together over,” he said. “It’s a mistrust of government that is well-placed. So let’s fix the process.”