Paul Barton in Washington talked recently to another advocate of cleaner government about the real problem with U.S. Rep. Mike Ross (D-Blue Cross). Anybody whose personal and political wealth flows from special interests is naturally going to be under a cloud of suspicion. He's a poster child for campaign finance reform, a battle in which no Arkansan has enlisted so far.
Professor Lawrence Lessig, head of the Change Congress campaign, says Ross and other members of Congress who raise money from the industries they regulate will always operate under a cloud of suspicion about whom matters most to them – “their funders or their constituents.”
Change Congress – change-congress.org – is raising money to launch a series of television ads against Ross and other Democrats that it believes are standing in the way of health care reform, specifically a public option, needed by their constituents. An example is shown at the bottom of the post above.
The ad against Ross that the group has ready to roll, and is previewed on their Web site, accuses Ross of working against the interests of his constituents while accepting close to $1 million from health-related industries and sources over his nine-year congressional career.
For his 2010 re-election bid, Ross, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with oversight over health care, has accepted close to $100,000 from such sources.
An article on propublica.org alleging Ross got a sweetheart deal from a pharmacy chain on the sale of his Presscott pharmacy further feeds public suspicions about his motives, Lessig said.
That’s particularly the case, he said, when recent polls show Ross' own 4th Congressional District constituents favor a public option.
“I don’t know whether Mike Ross is a crook, I doubt that he is,” Lessig said in a telephone interview with the
Ross has strongly denied the charges made by the propublica.org article, issuing repeated statements that said the article was misleading and that he did not receive special treatment because he is a member of Congress.
Ross has also repeatedly denied that campaign contributions influence his actions while mentioning that fund-raising is something members must do to stay in office.
Ross’s office took note of requests for comment on Lessig’s remarks, saying it would forward them to the House member. Ross issued no response.
Lessig said members of Congress should be relieved of the burden of raising large amounts of cash from the executives and political action committees from industries with a stake in their actions as lawmakers.
Lessig’s group is trying to focus attention on Fair Elections Now Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate by Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Arlen Specter. Specter signed his name to it before he switched from the Republican to Democratic Party. In the House, similar legislation is sponsored by John Larson, D-Conn., and Walter Jones, R-N.C.
The bill would allow congressional candidates who concentrate on small – under $100 – donations from individuals to receive large amounts of public financing to fill out the their campaign funding needs, hundreds of thousands of dollars for House races and millions for Senate contests.
The legislation has 88 cosponsors so far in the House and five in the Senate, but none from
“Special interests pump millions of dollars into elections, giving them more influence over our political system than the rest of us. Until we fix our broken campaign finance laws, these special interests will block real change on issue after issue,” the Change Congress Web site says.
“Especially as our nation faces an unprecedented economic crisis, now is the worst time for our politicians to spend their time begging for campaign contributions from the very special interests that got us into this mess.”
To launch the ads critical of Ross, the group says it needs $15,000. Through the Web site, it has already solicited more than $12,000.
Meanwhile, another progressive or liberal-leaning site, firedoglake.com, has initiated the ad shown at the top of this item that criticize both Ross and Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln for their unwillingness to support the public health insurance option.