||Republican Party Platform Plank #61: Thou Shalt Buy One's Way Into Office||
-- July 14, 2003
Can political office be bought?
That's an important question, and one that is hardly trivial in recent years. More and more, millionaires have used their personal fortunes to purchase election bids and shove better qualified but less wealthy rivals off the road to office. This is not to denigrate wealthy candidates simply for being well off: some principled candidates have pledged to refrain from using family wealth in their campaigns. Others, like Republican Rick Renzi of Arizona, have no such qualms. Let's look at Renzi's case as an object lesson regarding the application of money by Republicans and its consequences for liberty in public policy.
The 2002 race for Arizona's first district was very close, with George Cordova running neck-and-neck with Rick Renzi. In the end, Renzi got more votes; having spent more money (source: Open Secrets), Renzi obtained a greater name recognition (offline source: Northern Arizona University Social Research Laboratory Report released 9/17/2002).
And where did Rick Renzi (who moved to Arizona from out of state in order to obtain this office) get the extra money he used to get his name spread across the geographically huge district he was running? $436,590 came from Renzi's own deep pockets.
A significant portion of the remainder came from out of state. As the Open Secrets report mentioned above shows, Renzi received more than twice as much in contributions from the Washington, DC area than he did from Flagstaff, Arizona, the largest city in his district. Renzi took about $66,000 more in contributions from out of state than his Democratic competitor. Within the state, Renzi received a huge amount of contributions from the conservative hub of Phoenix and its ritzier suburbs -- these areas are outside Renzi's district. Indeed, of the ten zip codes contributing most to Renzi's campaign, only two were actually from within Renzi's district.
In sum, Renzi moved in from out of state to spread word-of-mouth about his campaign substantially from his own deep pockets. When Renzi didn't rely on his own big-roll bank account, he gathered contributions largely from out-of-state and out-of-district sources. This is the kind of "outside candidate" the Republican Party loves to see.
Now that Renzi has gained his office using his insider money and outsider contributors, what have the constitutents of Arizona's first district seen in return?
What is the Price of a Political Purchase?
Using all the means at his disposal to secure office, Rick Renzi has not looked back, pursing a conservative agenda that makes many of his constituents blanch. The following stand out as the low points of Renzi's congressional pursuits:
- Confusion on the Big Issues: As Arizona Citizen Action reports, Renzi can't seem to decide what his own policy positions are. Does he support or oppose throwing social security accounts into corporate managers' hands? Renzi waffles. Does he support prescription coverage for seniors? Seems to depend which day you ask him. Rick Renzi needs some help here.
- Wants to Use Taxpayers' Money to Fund Anti-Choice Operations: Rick Renzi has lent his official support to House Resolution 233, which endorses the use of public money to support the operations conducted by anti-choice activists. Posing as "preganancy counselors," these activists lure pregnant women into an office under the pretext of providing medical care and then bombard them with political tracts. Rick Renzi wants to give these politically-charged operatives taxpayer support.
- Lord it Over Local Schools: Rick Renzi doesn't trust communities to set their own school policies. If a town decides collectively to make contraceptives available upon request to students in its high school, should the town be able to do so, and should the rest of us mind our own business? Rick Renzi says no. He has lent his official support to H.R. 926, which would deny federal funding to school districts that choose to make contraception available to high school students. Does Rick Renzi know better than the rest of us, or does he just enjoy imposing himself on others?
- Restrict Gun Victims' Legal Rights: When someone has been victimized by a person or a corporation, the American legal tradition allows that victim to bring a lawsuit to a court, in which a judge or jury of peers decides the merits of the case. Rick Renzi doesn't trust judges or juries of citizens to decide these cases. Instead, Rick Renzi has lent his support to legislation that prohibits citizens from bringing gun manufacturers to account via civil legal action. Judges and juries would no longer decide, according to this action. Rick Renzi has already decided for us. In Renzi's world, protecting gun makers is more imporant than protecting gun victims. Yet again, Rick Renzi chooses to impose his priorities on the rest of us.
Having lived in Arizona for a time, it's pretty clear to me that Rick Renzi stands against the state's traditional embrace of liberty that says, "I know what's best for me, so don't go regulating my life." When Rick Renzi isn't confused, he seems especially interested in passing laws that would keep people in their local communities from deciding what's best for them. Instead, he'd like his constituents to live in Renziland, where everyone his own quirky sense of morality is legally promoted and other little people's ideas about living their lives are actively discouraged and even prohibited.
I know that's not what I stand for. If you can't abide by Rick Renzi's self-righteous moral regulation, either, then let it be known! Make it publicly clear that it's time for Renzi and his ilk to go. In pursuit of this goal, you can do two things:
- Local Action: When 2004 rolls around, contribute to and volunteer for Renzi's opponent (check this space for links when the election season is in swing).
UPDATE! Paul Babbitt is running for Congress against Rick Renzi. Can you lend him a hand?
- Local Action: Don't wait for it to be too late: if you've got a bumper to spare, make room for one of the following statements:
- National Action: Don't just think locally: there are hundreds of Republicans like Rick Renzi out there, funded by out-of-district groups, working in a coordinated fashion to subvert democracy. To stop the G.O.P., it's time for progressives to hold their noses and get involved with the alternative. Although the Democratic Party is not perfect, the years since 2000 demonstrate that the Republicans and the Democrats are not the same. By getting involved with the Democratic Party at the local level, you can participate in real grassroots politics to shape the party from the ground up.
- National Action: The single most important action we can all take is to lop off the beast of Rich Republicanism at its head: George W. Bush, member of the Lucky Sperm Club, personifies the problems that result when money corrupts the political process. We need to work together to replace this deeply flawed leader. Do what you can -- Anyone but W in 2004.