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Monthly Archives: April 2018

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Fair Share Campaign Financing

By Brian T. Lynch, MSW

RahmAndWilson

On April 21, 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel added $1.7 million to his campaign in a single day. The explanation that followed encapsulates what’s wrong with our campaign finance laws. As in other states, the Illinois campaign donation system is set up like a board game, specifically a corporate board game.

If you are an actual carbon based person in Illinois you cannot donate more than $5,600 to a political campaign, unless you own a business. If you own a business you can contribute twice that amount on behalf of your business. And if you register as a political action group you can donate nearly 10 times the individual contribution limit, up to $55,400. These campaign limits are entirely lifted if one candidate in a race decides to give their campaign $100,000 of their own money.

That’s what happened in Chicago. Emanuel’s Republican opponent, Willie Wilson, boosted his campaign with $100,000 of his own money. Twenty-four hours later the Mayor added a million dollars to his campaign from just three wealthy donors plus another $700,000 from other donors.

In the Citizen’s United decision the US Supreme Court said, in effect, that money is a form of free speech. This may be true in some intellectual perspective of the court, but if true in the real world, how can there be a $5,600 free speech limit on voters? How can there be any limits at all?

In our Republic we have this bedrock principle that says, “One person, One vote.” Everyone has an equal say in who represents their interests. Corporate governance operates on a different principle that says, “One share, One vote.” You get one vote with every share of the company you buy. The bigger your financial stake is, the greater your say is within the company. Wealthy shareholders like this system because their voting power is proportional to their financial power.

The concept of one person, one vote is an anathema to them in our democracy. They feel their greater financial stake in the economy should also entitle them to a greater political say in our government. This is why they have rigged the campaign finance system.

As a thought experiment, try imposing the “One person, One vote” principle to campaign financing. One person’s donation limit in Illinois is $5,600. That means one vote is equal to that amount or less, mostly less. Most voters don’t contribute to political campaigns. Even if they do, the individual donation limit may be well beyond their means. The median income for a family of four is close to $56,000 a year, so a maximum political donation would cost them 10% of their annual income. Even a 1% donation would be well beyond their means. One tenth of one percent of their income, or $56 dollars, might be feasible for most voters, and this amount is 100 times the current limit.

If you go with the “$5,600 limit equals one vote” rule, then being a business owner gives you three votes, one personal vote and two votes for your business. Join another business owner to form a political action committee you get eight votes, five votes for your half of the PAC, three for your business and one personal vote.

Then Willie Wilson upsets the apple cart in Chicago by donating $100k to his campaign. Now just three wealthy donors get a total of 180 votes or more for Mayor Emanuel’s campaign. The actual impact on how a candidate might responds to donors is enhanced by the fact that tens of thousands of voters contribute nothing. Additionally, because individual donor limits are 100 times what the average voter can afford, the impact of those three big donors in the mayor’s race is more like 180,000 votes. So, if you are Rahn Emanuel, who are you going to listen to?

Money is not free speech. Money is power.

If we agreed to pair the power of money to the power of the vote, then one voting share should have the same price tag for every eligible voter. It should not favor businesses or the wealthy as it does now in our corporate governance style of campaign finance. This also means only eligible voters should be able to donate; No PACs or businesses. If a businessman or organization wants to lobby for a special interest, they should lobby directly with the people to gain influence rather than lobbying our politicians. It would mean that fair share campaign finance limits would either be equal and affordable for everyone, or without donation limits but with maximum transparency so every voter can see exactly which candidates the big donors are buying.

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Jane Addams, A Great American Hero

JaneAddamsPortrait

On our trip to Chicago, my wife and I visited Hull House, one of the first Settlement Houses in the United States and home to Jane Addams. It is now a museum located in the middle of the University of Illinois, but 130 years ago it stood in the middle of the worst immigrant slums in Chicago.

Addams was born into privilege, yet in 1889 she and her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, decided to moved into a house in the heart of the immigrant slums of Chicago. Their initial idea was to providing daycare for children living in poverty. In the process they came face to face with the great hardships and disadvantages or poor immigrants all around them. The focus or their mission kept growing to meet the endless needs. Daycare was supplemented with preschool and educational services. They opened the first playground in Chicago. She saw that child labor practices prevented theses children from having a full childhood, so she advocated for laws against child labor. Her mission grew to serve the parents and others adults.

Addams recognized that there were community and systemic issues that prevented the poor from improving their lives, things beyond their control. For example, the stench of garbage filled the streets and created unsanitary conditions. People were getting sick because the city wouldn’t regularly pick up the garbage in their neighborhood. She fought the city and won regular trash pick-up. When she learned that there were only 5 bathtubs in the whole community, she built a pubic bath beside the Hull House where hundreds of people came every week.

Intervening to help the poor and to lift their burdens on multiple social levels became her pattern. She took in homeless families, listened to their stories, helped them find housing and then advocated for better housing. She sheltered woman who were abuse by their spouse, listened to their stories, helped them get on their feet and used what she was learning to advocate for social change. Moreover, the work of Addams and Starr at Hull House attracted some of the best and brightest woman of the day to study the conditions of the poor and and disenfranchised, and to organize social movements for social change.

Addams became a prolific writer and prominent national spokesperson for social change in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The data she and other collected on the social issues of the poor, and social research at Hull House, helped inform her writings. Her advocacy and social ideas got her labeled as the most dangerous woman in America by none other than the Daughters of the American Revolution. Herbert Hoover’s FBI compiled lengthy files on her anti-war activities during WW I. Still she persisted.

Jane Addams was among the early pioneers of an effective method for improving peoples lives. It includes:

Meeting the immediate needs of a person in need


– Listening to their stories face to face


-Empowering them to get back on their feet through their own efforts whenever possible


– Collecting data on the problems and issues they presented


-Making observations about the local circumstances and social barriers that contributed to their problems, and


– Using that information to advocate for broader changes in laws, policies, funding and greater  social awareness 

This intervention methodology is the foundation for the profession of Social Work. This is the mission of social work and what sets it apart from psychology and other helping professions.

In 1931 Jane Addams became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work at Hull House.