Shared from the 10/7/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition

Fundraising made Jones supporter of finance reform


Right off the bat, Gina Ortiz Jones was told to raise $300,000.

When Gina Ortiz Jones started thinking last year about launching a campaign for Congress, she sought the advice of some veteran politicos.

By that point, Jones had, in the space of 36 years, put together a formidable set of credentials: Master’s degree in economics from Boston University, Iraq War veteran, Air Force intelligence officer and senior adviser and director of investment in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

She had no political experience, however, and wanted to know the basics.

Right off the bat, she was given a high viability hurdle to clear: Would she be able to raise $300,000 in the first three months of her campaign? The implicit message in the question was that if she couldn’t do it, there was no point in making the effort.

“I was maybe naive in thinking, ‘I've got a record of public service. I know exactly what it's like to grow up in the community that I did and why it’s so important that my community has a voice,’ ” the John Jay High School graduate said.

“And I thought that was going to be enough, right? But given our campaign finance laws, this is, unfortunately an expensive endeavor.”

Jones didn’t get to that $300,000 mark in the first three months of her campaign (not quite making it halfway there), but she subsequently stepped up her fundraising game to the point where she out raised her general-election opponent, U.S. District 23 Republican incumbent Will Hurd, in the second quarter of 2018.

There’s a bigger lesson, however, in the Jones story.

Whether you agree with the Democratic challenger’s support for Medicare for All or her advocacy for gun-control legislation, there’s no doubt that our politics would benefit from more candidates with the kind of résumé and expertise she brings to this campaign. But before she entered the District 23 race, Jones found herself wondering if the fiscal demands would be prohibitive.

“Raising $300,000 in three months is daunting for somebody that, frankly, if you come from this area, you probably don’t have the personal or professional networks that lend itself to that,” Jones said.

“To think that service and wanting to serve your community would not be the most important factors in determining whether somebody could be part of the political process is fundamentally wrong. I look forward to changing that.”

Jones made a declaration of her commitment to the issue Thursday, when she joined 106 other congressional challengers in a letter calling on the 116th Congress to make campaign-finance reform its first priority in January.

“We must all acknowledge the corrosive role money and special interests have played in shaking the American people’s faith in the system,” the letter states.

We all know the amount of money in our politics is obscene. Much of the scrutiny devoted to campaign fundraising focuses on the way that elected officials are compromised — either consciously or subconsciously — by accepting the generosity of high-powered donors.

We often overlook two other negative effects of the money demands that come with our politics: the way potential candidates are blocked from the process unless they can pay for the exorbitant ticket to ride; and the time drain of fundraising on elected officials.

David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida, has talked about how the process of running for office turned him into a “radical campaign finance reform advocate.”

Jolly says he was informed when he launched his first campaign that he would need $14,000 to $18,000 per day in fundraising to have any hope of victory. He also said members of Congress are forced to spend 30 to 40 hours a week (time that could be spent mastering the intricacies of policy or listening to the concerns of constituents) raising money.

While federal election law puts fairly tight limits on direct contributions to congressional candidates ($2,700 from individuals and $5,000 from political action committees per election), the challenge is controlling the flow of so-called soft money to political parties and independent advertising from corporations and other organizations. That flow of money was unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United decision.

These forces are particularly evident in District 23, the sprawling 29-county swing district that inevitably draws major interest from the national congressional campaign committees for both major parties.

The 2016 District 23 race, which Hurd narrowly carried over Democratic rival Pete Gallego, became the most expensive U.S. House race in this state’s history, with total spending topping $20 million. Two months ago, Hurd predicted the total bill for this year’s contest could exceed $25 million.

No one thinks that’s healthy for our system. But everyone knows that solutions won’t come easy.

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