Third Parties See Red Over Bill

Third Parties See Red Over House Bill
by Rob Busweiler
February 22, 2006

A bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives aimed at campaign finance reform has third parties worried it could shut their candidates out of the race should it pass.

Drafted by United States Congressman David Obey (D-Wausau, Wisconsin) and sponsored by seven other House Democrats, including Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge), HR 4694 would serve to amend the federal elections campaign act of 1971. Aimed at reforming the distribution of public campaign funding, the bill would establish a sliding scale of public funds to be distributed based on previous election results.

The bill would serve to create the Grassroots Good Citizenship Fund, which individual citizens can contribute towards with private donations. The fund also is supported by a fee charged on corporate profits of 1/10 of 1% on taxable income above $10 million. The fund would provide each congressional district with an amount to be distributed among the candidates based on the median family income within that district.

Nominees of parties that had averaged 25% of the vote from the previous two elections for the US House of Representatives in their district would be eligible for the public funding. If one of the parties was to garner 60% of the vote in the last election, their candidate would receive 60% of the money for that district. The same would go for independent and third-party representatives. Other candidates are then able to qualify for an amount equal to the highest funded candidate by submitting petitions signed by voters from the congressional districts. Getting 10% of the total voters would qualify the candidate for partial funding while 20% gets them full support.

The bill also would deny those who did not make the signature cut the ability to spend any privately raised money towards a campaign. The resolution is being billed as a campaign finance reform package, but third-party officials see it as a direct attack on their very existence.

"I don't think very much of it," said Suffolk County Green Party Co-chairman Roger Snyder. "Who knows what they'll try in the future?"

According to Green Party officials, they would need to collect 22,000 signatures in order to qualify their candidate for public funding during the next congressional election, 8,000 more than is required to run for New York State governor or president of the United States.

"If this went through, I wouldn't be able to run," said Green Party member John Keenan. Keenan last ran against Israel in 2004 for the congressional seat. "The amount of signatures we would need to collect would be near impossible."

According to Israel, however, this bill is something that is sorely needed in today's climate of campaign contribution scandals.

"It levels the playing field," Israel said. "And it gets private money out of the process."

He also said that the accusation that this bill was created in order to eliminate third-party candidates was, "thoroughly irresponsible."

Dubbed "Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act," the bill is expected to go through some tough sledding as it works its way through the House, according to Israel. "It is as uphill a battle as I have mounted in this place," Israel said, adding that special-interest lobbyists may prove to be the biggest hurdle to this bill reaching the floor. "I don't let those obstacles get in my way."

"It's not likely to go very far," Snyder said. "It doesn't seem like it has gotten widespread support." According to Israel, this bill would have provided more than $100,000 to a third-party candidate in the last election, money that would not have been there otherwise. "Yes, in some regards it still may increase our campaign coffers," Keenan said. "But if it is done with taxpayer money, shouldn't we do it more fairly?" Keenan also was concerned with the Green Party's loss of ballot status during the last congressional election hampering their efforts and those of other smaller political parties in terms of getting their people recognition.

"There is no alternative candidate choices anymore," Keenan added.
kimberly wilder
"It's not just a Green Party issue," said Green Party spokesperson Kimberly Wilder. "It's a third-party issue." She added that considering that voters in the 2nd district often face the choice between a right-wing Republican or a right-wing Democrat, it is even more important that third parties exist.

If passed, the bill would allow the Federal Election Commission to conduct a major advertising campaign at the beginning of each year to alert the public about the existence and purpose of the fund. Israel does not yet have a date for when the bill would be approved for a hearing. As for Keenan, he does not see himself running up against Israel in the near future, but plans to continue working for the party.

Scott McLarty
Feb, 23 2006

To the Editor:

Campaign finance reform is vitally important to restore democratic fairness to elections, but HR 4694 is a Trojan Horse bill ("Third Parties See Red Over House Bill", Feb. 22). It uses campaign finance reform to conceal a ploy to bar third party and independent candidates from congressional elections.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge), one of eight Democrats backing HR 4694, rejects the Green Party's complaint that his bill creates prohibitively difficult requirements for candidates who aren't Democrats or Republicans to run for Congress. But it's quite likely that the requirements will be found unconstitutional. Why are they necessary in an otherwise valuable bill?

In fact, three of HR 4694's supporters, David Obey (Wis.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), and Mr. Israel, have faced Green competition in recent elections, suggesting that HR 4694 is retaliatory. A better name for HR 4694 might be 'The Third Party Panic Act'.

Elections that privilege two parties over all others cannot be called democratic. Rep. Israel is either sabotaging his own stated dedication to reform by co-sponsoring a bill that would restrict the political field, or undermining campaign finance reform with a bill that contains patently unfair and unconstitutional provisions.

Scott McLarty
Media Coordinator
The Green Party of the United States