A Mailman’s Message
Letter from Washington
By Jonathan Melegrito
Recent announcements by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio that they all want to be President, have signaled the start of the campaign season. Already, these candidates have visited Iowa, where the first major electoral event of the nominating process for US President takes place. Soon, voters in this state will be bombarded with media interviews, phone calls, door knocks and hand-outs.
I know. I was there during the 2008 Iowa caucuses campaigning for Hillary, driving through snowy roads and walking up icy driveways. All to deliver a message.
Here in the nation’s capital, a man from Ruskin, Florida chose a daring way to deliver his political message about an issue he feels strongly about: campaign finance reform. On a Wednesday afternoon in April, Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman, landed his one-person gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol. He said it was part of a protest against corruption in American politics. “Let them know that you demand a government that works for the people,” he said, urging his supporters to call their representatives in Congress. Hughes was promptly arrested for violating the District’s no-fly zone.
The anti-corruption copter was definitely an eye-catching protest. Recent surveys confirm that a growing number of voters are outraged by the way big money has corrupted American democracy.
Supreme Court decision
From all indications, campaign finance reform is a non-partisan issue. It was a Democrat (Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin) and a Republican (Sen. John McCain of Arizona) who sponsored the bill in 2002. It regulates the financing of political campaigns by prohibiting national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to federal limits. It also prohibits so-called “issue advocacy ads” that are paid for by a corporation (such as Right to Life or the Environmental Defense Fund) or a union. But the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned this provision.
It is this Supreme Court decision that has given Big Money undue influence in national and local elections. And it’s this misguided action, which favors corporate interests, that prompted the mailman from Florida to write 535 letters to 535 members of Congress, each one stating:
"I'm demanding reform and declaring a voter's rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson's description of rights in the Declaration of Independence. As a member of Congress, you have three options. 1. You may pretend corruption does not exist. 2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform. 3. You may actively participate in real reform."
These populist demands resonate well with conservative extremists. The Tea Party, apparently, is critical of Republican leaders who are tied to big banks and special interests. The defeat of Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) by a Tea Party insurgent in the 2012 elections was due in large measure to Cantor’s ties to big money. His fall was cited as “a clear repudiation of the unfettered campaign spending that GOP leaders have unabashedly embraced, and that tea party candidates have assailed,” said Eliza Newlin Carney of Congresssional Quarterly. Carney also quoted David Donnelly, Executive Director of Public Campaign Action Fund, who wrote: “Whether you're a tea party Republican or a progressive Democrat, you want an elected official to work for you and not for their donors.”
The mailman from Florida may indeed be sending a powerful message that could be a winning strategy for both party candidates. Candidates with bold proposals to reform the way elections are funded in the U.S. could have an advantage. As a campaign theme, ethics and campaign finance reform is high up there, along with income inequality and national security. In a 2014 survey, a majority of likely voters among Democrats (75%), Independents (64%) and Republicans (54%) see the wave of spending by Super PACS as “wrong and leads to our elected officials representing the views of wealthy donors.”
Though Republicans view Super PACs significantly more favorably than do Democrats, both sides benefit from the influx of cash to the tune of $43.4 million for conservatives and $41.9 million for liberals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in its review of the 2014 election cycle.
This survey bodes well for Hillary Clinton if she makes this a central issue in her campaign.
“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment,” Clinton has said. Pundits have widely assumed that she was lamenting the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that has allowed a deluge of outside spending to flood recent federal elections. Last summer, Clinton suggested she would “consider” supporting an amendment that overturned the ruling, an idea President Obama has also backed.
Meanwhile, Hillary and the Republican candidate have to raise billions of money. They need to, in order to become President. Once elected on a platform of campaign finance reform, they will need to act on the message delivered by the mailman from Florida, one that resonates with voters across the country.
“There's no question that we need government, but we don't have to accept that it's a corrupt government that sells out to the highest bidder,” Hughes said. “We can have a government that works for the people, that answers to the people, that can only take money from the people in small amounts.”
Recent surveys suggest that Republicans enjoy a slight edge among Filipino Americans because many are devoutly Catholic and conservative, and a crucial segment of the Filipino population is made up of military veterans and servicemen. This may be changing, however, with younger voters, who are more progressive than their parents. They are going to the polls in larger numbers.
Among Asian Americans in general, surveys further indicate that Democrats have the upper hand. In 2008, Obama won two-thirds of Asian American votes, a significant increase from the 32 percent who voted for fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. Reasons cited for this rise include issues Democrats have been identified with among the electorate: women’s rights; health care; immigration reform and gay rights.
Moreover, these are issues that particularly appeal to young Filipino American voters like Romeo Ymalay, a public affairs professional in Washington, DC and co-Chair of KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress, a progressive organization advancing policies and issues that affect the Filipino American community.
Democrats Irene Natividad (left) and Irene Bueno smile with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (Dem.-Calif) during the Ready for Hillary event in Washington, DC.
Although KAYA has not yet endorsed a candidate, “we believe that all Americans deserve a president who will embrace progressive solutions to the most pressing issues facing our country today,” Ymalay says. “They include protection of civil rights and fixing our broken immigration system.”
With KAYA’s resolve to “increase our electoral power, advocate politics that affect our community and develop leaders to represent us at every level of government,” Ymalay is confident Filipino American youth will once again mobilize their peers to cast their ballots and be counted. Born in Dumaguete City in the Philippines, Ymalay was raised in the Bronx, New York, then moved to the nation’s capital to work for the D.C. Public Schools.
Irene Bueno, a political consultant and former special assistant in the Clinton White House, is co-chair of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander’s Ready for Hillary, main organizer of the January fundraiser. “I enthusiastically endorse Hillary’s candidacy,” she declares.
Bueno adds, “Hillary will promote an agenda that provides the opportunity, support and tools AAPIs need to realize their potential and hopes. Her candidacy will address the challenges facing the AAPI community, including immigration reform, access to education, health care, housing, opportunity for entrepreneurs, eliminating gaps in services to seniors, and job training to help address income inequality.”
To Vangie Matreo, 59, a labor organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Hillary’s official announcement means her union will soon start planning to deploy activists to various parts of the country.
“I knocked on doors for Hillary in Iowa in the winter of 2007,”she recalls. “I look forward to doing it again because I want to see a woman in the White House in my lifetime. This time, I know she will win.”