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Week of 10.20.06

Votes for Sale?

Web-Extended Interview: John Rauh on His "Just $6" Campaign

John Rauh, is the Founder and Chair of Americans for Campaign Reform, a group that supports public funding for federal elections—the House, Senate, and Presidency. This is an edited, extended transcript of a conversation he had with NOW for this week's show.

NOW: Why do you believe that elections should be publicly funded?

John Rauh RAUH: This nation and this world faces huge challenges. I believe challenges greater than ever experienced in the history of this country. The risks are tremendous, whether it's risk of nuclear war, global warming, and what have you. And, I believe, as we look to the future, we're going to need the finest leaders this country can elect to meet those challenges.

We can't guarantee with public funding of elections that we will elect those leaders. But, we have one heck of a lot better chance than we do with this private system. The private system limits the pool from which we can elect our leaders to those who have the financial resources, those who have the contact to raise those financial resources, or those who have a famous name ... It will cost us about $6 a citizen a year. You know, what court costs? Two hundred dollars a citizen a year. We won't save all that $200, but we'll save one heck of a lot more than the six.

NOW: Is this about cleaning up a system that is somehow dirty or corrupt?

RAUH: Well, clearly we're seeing some corruption today. And, one can't be as sure that we will not see some corruption in the years ahead even with public funding. But, let's be frank. When we eliminate private contributions to most of the candidates—the candidates take public funding—we eliminate a lot of the opportunity—not all—for corruption ...

Let's back up for a moment and take a look at the current private financing system ... Under this system of few Americans in this great democracy. A few Americans are funding our political elections. That makes no sense. Our Forefathers would all roll over if they knew that. This is a democracy. We all need to be involved. The only way we all need to be involved is to get rid of this private financing system on a voluntary basis and go to public funding which would come from an expenditure of the Congress.

But, to allow a few Americans to fund political campaigns, to buy access, and in some cases influence? It's unacceptable. We are the only democracy in the world that relies to the extent that we do on private financing. We can make adjustments. We've made them before. You realize it wasn't too long ago women couldn't vote? You realize this nation began with slavery? Let's be frank about the problem. It's a very clear and understandable problem. It's limit to the few who can write the checks to fund these campaigns.

And, let's change it. And, we will. There is no question in my mind as to whether or not we will publicly fund our elections. The only question is when.

NOW: Your organization is looking at the issue of public funding of elections on the federal level. Do you think the time is right for this or should this be worked out on the local or state level first?

RAUH: I would not have founded Americans for Campaign Reform if it was not for the excellent work that's been done at the state level. And now, in some of our cities too, publicly funded state and local elections, that's begun the movement. But, I believe now the American people are so concerned, so dissatisfied with their Congress on both sides of the aisle. This is non-partisan ... So, yes. I think it's time.

Will we get public funding passed by the Congress, signed by the President next couple years? I would think probably not. But, if you don't start somewhere, you never get there. And, let's remember, when Abraham Lincoln came into office and took a look at the opportunity to abolish slavery, what happened first? The American public, the opinion leaders got there first. And, Lincoln followed. Lincoln ultimately became a tremendous advocate for abolishing slavery. But, where did it begin? It began with the people. And, that's is where this is going to happen.

NOW: A number of high profile former senators have signed up for your cause.

RAUH: We have four, very well known, very respected former United States Senators. Two Republicans—Alan Simpson of Wyoming, and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire. And, Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. What has brought them to the point of verbally supporting this, going out and speaking on this issue is from their experience ...They understand the problems with the private financing system. They understand what it's like to dial for dollars ...

I've dialed for dollars. I was a candidate for the United States Senate. And, you know who sat next to me? Senator Paul Simon of Illinois. I'll never forget it. Paul Simon, United States Senator, me, just a candidate from New Hampshire, for the United States Senate. Each of us dialing for dollars. Paul would dial three days a week for three hours. And, at the end he'd look at me. He'd say, "John, that was repulsive." He'd slam down the phone. And, you know what he did? Which many others have done. Got re-elected and left and went home to teach.

I'm not saying we don't have some awfully good members of the Congress today. We're going to need to have more. And, they're going to have to learn to work together. And, this private financing system where they have to appeal to market segments to get the special interest money divides them and you see them going at each other. We're going to have to work together to meet with these challenges. I think public funding gives us a better opportunity to do that.

NOW: What is the Just Six Dollars campaign?

RAUH: It points out how inexpensive it is to publicly fund the Congress and the White House. Specifically what it means, for a little less than $2 billion a year divided by all of our citizens, 300 million citizens, one arrives at a number of $6. This is what it would take from the federal budget to publicly fund our elections.

Would we have a tax increase? Absolutely not.

NOW: Why did you decide to engage in this cause?

RAUH: Why do I get up in the morning and spend more than full-time doing this? The people of New Hampshire gave me that honor. I was their Democratic nominee for the United States Senate and almost won in 1992. But, what I had was an opportunity to get inside the political system. And, I was appalled.

What appalled me was how the pool was so small from which we could pick our leaders, that it just wouldn't work. I come from the corporate world. Leadership I believe is extremely important. And, this system just limits the opportunity to run for office. Wonderful people across this country could help make a difference, help us meet those challenges.

So, when I came back home after that losing experience and started to reflect on the system, I went on the Board of Common Cause. I learned a lot about public funding. And, decided it was time.

NOW: Did you consider engaging in approaches to election reform that were more measured, such as putting a cap on election contributions?

RAUH: There is no way to regulate the private financing system in a way that will work specifically in a way that will broaden that pool so we can run for office those leaders that we wish. It will not work. We're going to have to completely change the system to a voluntary public funding system ...

We're not going to accomplish this alone. The other reform organizations are not going to accomplish this alone. It's going to take all of us together to light a fire across America, to educate America about the solution to a problem the Americans already understand.

I believe in order to attract bipartisan support, one needs to talk about this in fundamental terms, what it means for our democracy. What it means to the American people to have control again of their system. And, for us at ACR, very important, what it means in terms of the opportunity of who we can run and elect to office.

We begin with the challenges this world and this nation faces. We know democracy is not static. And, we need to move it forward with this particular change.