St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bill would ban 3rd-party campaigns for Congress

Eight Democratic congressmen have filed a bill that combines a laudable goal – public funding of congressional campaigns – with a vicious attack on freedom of speech. The bill would effectively eliminate virtually all congressional campaigns by independent and third-party candidates.

The bill, HR 4694, would provide public financing for both Democrats and Republicans in most districts. But Ballot Access News reports that candidates not qualifying for funding would not only receive no government funds, but would also be barred from spending any privately raised money. No government money and no private money means that a non-qualifying candidate would be prohibited from spending any money at all, not one red cent. Not even a business card with the candidate’s name and office sought would be legal under the bill!

Requirements for qualifying for funding would be relatively easy for the major parties but almost impossible for independent and third-party candidates. The bill would provide public funding for nominees of parties that had averaged 25% of the vote for U.S. House in that district over the last two elections. Independent candidates who had averaged 25% would also get full public funding, but unlike party candidates, only the specific individual who previously got those votes would qualify. All others would be required to submit petitions signed by 20% of the last vote cast for full funding, and 10% for partial funding. For example, in Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, a candidate with a party that won less than 25% of the vote in the last two elections would need nearly 70,000 signatures to qualify for the public funding that her/his Democratic and Republican opponents would get automatically, and only signatures from the 2nd District would count. Nearly 35,000 signatures would be required in order to allow the candidate to spend anything at all on the campaign.

In certain districts where a single party is dominant, the bill would eliminate campaigns by the district’s second party as well. Not surprisingly, Democrats (who propose this bill) hold Republican opponents to below 25% in more districts than Republicans do the same to Democrats. If the bill were law today, a Republican campaign in Lacy Clay’s 1st District would be illegal without a massive petition drive. In Roy Blunt’s 7th District, Democrats would be less than a percentage point away from the same fate.

The offensive bill is sponsored by Rep. David Obey (D-WI) and co-sponsored by fellow Democrats Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Barney Frank and James McGovern of Massachusetts, Henry Waxman and Bob Filner of California, Steve Israel of New York, and Tim Ryan of Ohio. So much for standing up the for the little guy.

The Oracle wonders if the sponsors’ support for publicly financed elections is genuine, or if this legislation is merely a disguised attempt to discredit the whole concept.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo, O.

Don't the third (and fourth) parties do a pretty good job right now in making themselves irrelevant in most races?

In the last local Congressional election, the "Libertarian" candidates polled 1 percent of the vote in the 1st and 2nd CDs, and the "Constitution" candidates polled even less than that.

One consequence of the proposed legislation would be that the challenging party would be less inclined to field token (or no) candidates against incumbents.


February 5, 2006 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

Yes, PE, discouraging competition is certainly one of the intended effects of the bill.

I think that's a bad thing. Establishment pols disagree.

February 6, 2006 at 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I argued the contrary position. Rather than run the risk of having to qualify for the ballot in future elections, the challenging party will have to field competitive candidates, rather than placeholders (or no one).

That noted, I'm probably with you on opposing the law.

February 6, 2006 at 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who actually was a third party candidate for US Senate in Iowa (2004)- this bill horrifies me. It goes against the fundamental right to organize political parties, run candidates, and *participate* in our government in the way of our choosing. This bill would codify what is already happening- all political expression would have to be focussed through 2 parties that are almost completely dominated by corporate funding and special interests.

It is not too surprising that Democrats are sponsoring this bill. They seem just as adept at pounding nails in the coffin of American Democracy as the Republicans are.


Daryl Northrop
Green Party Candidate for US Senate, 2004 (Iowa)

February 8, 2006 at 5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daryl, you and a fourth party candidate combined for about 1 percent of the vote.

The winning GOP got about 70 percent of the vote.

The Dem -- who raised only $110,000 -- got about 28 percent of the vote.

It is possible that this bill -- which is going nowhere -- might (if in force) have spurred a better Dem challenger, giving Iowans a better choice.

I still lean against the bill, but I do a good point.

February 8, 2006 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Michael Allen said...

"you and a fourth party candidate combined for about 1 percent of the vote."

Wanna bet that their combined financial resources for the race were less than 1 percent of all money spent on the race? They probably didn't even have "only" $110,000!

February 8, 2006 at 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably true.

And, if you check Mr. Northrop's website, you'll find some progressive stands on issues. He belongs in the political dialogue. He was one of three challengers without enough support to make a dent in Grassley.

My point is that a likely consequence of the proposed bill is a competitive challenger -- a Dem or a GOP challenger hoping to avoid the petition process.

February 8, 2006 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

The argument that the bill could cause third parties to field "competitive" candidates, rather than placeholders, is a red herring. Requiring around 35,000 signatures from a congressional district just to get partial funding and the right to spend any money at all is a prohibitive prerequisite. (In contrast, in 2002, both the Ralph Nader campaign and the Progressive Party fell short of getting 10,000 signatures that could be obtained from anywhere in the state (not just from a single congressional district)). And exactly how can one legally print enough petitions for 35,000 signatures if you aren't allowed to spend any money? As a practical matter, I'm not aware of any MO petition drive that has ever gotten that many signatures without paying people to get the signatures (The 2000 MO Green Party drive that got about 22K is the largest all-volunteer drive that I know of.)

The major parties are desperate to get rid of third parties before the third parties replace them. A couple months ago, a third-party candidate got over 25% in a CA special election for Congress, just 3 points behind the 2nd-place Democrat. Yesterday (Feb 7) a third-party candidate topped 10% in a special election for state rep. This year, Maine's legitimate public financing law is expected to make the governor's race a genuine 3-party tilt in which the Democratic, Republican and Green candidates all have a serious chance to win (Maine already has at least one Green elected to the state house). The "serious" third party candidates are the Ross Perot types who can self-finance, and this bill is designed to illegalize the self-financed candidate who isn't a Democrat or a Republican.

February 8, 2006 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger LocoFocoRampant said...

Alternative parties are irrevlent by design of the dominent two parties. In states where alternative parties can endorse ANY candidate they choose, including a "major" parties candidate, alternative parties are relevant. Check out New York, for example, for more on "Fusion" voting, or follow this link:

I've blogged on this subject as well, you can see it at:

February 9, 2006 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

Well, what do you know, the two major parties finally putting the official nail in the coffin of the myth that anyone outside of their two major parties can do anything at all. I think its high time people realize the canard of electoral politics and "representative" democracy.

February 13, 2006 at 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Jim Frisella said...

St.Louis Oracle: Regarding the article on the "Bill banning 3rd Party Campaigns for Congress", that you wrote. I definitely agree with your viewpoints. I would strongly recommend that ALL Candidates should qualify for Federal Monies. And definitely if they received at least 10% of the vote in the Previous Primary. For example, in the 2004 Missouri Primary in the 3rd District, there were ten candidates. No one received over 25% of the Vote, therefore none of them would have quailified, including the Incumbent Congressman. However, he did receive 52% in the general, which is as I am certain you know, the lowest Percentage a Winner in this district has had in over 50 years. Keep up the good work, I am enjoying most, but not all of your articles, more everyday.

August 24, 2006 at 3:27 AM  
Blogger Pat B said...

I think Dahl said it best, “The citizen body in a democratically governed state must include all persons subject to the laws of that state. . . in any case, how can they (political associations) be prevented without impairing the fundamental right of citizens to participate effectively in governing? ” This would be nothing more than majority might and the misusage of power.

Pat B.

January 19, 2007 at 2:14 AM  
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