Cheap Eats, Valuable Democracy
Will you be chowing down with Michelle Obama at the fundraising luncheon for her husband to be held at the Basketball Hall of Fame today? Tickets start at $1,000 a person—$2,500 if you want your photo snapped with the First Lady. Couples who plunk down $10,000 get the choicest seats, presumably not right by the bathroom doors.
Or maybe you’ll be heading out to Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater this afternoon for another Obama fundraiser, featuring James Taylor. Tickets run as high as $10,000 a pop, although a mere $125 will get you into the cheap seats. Or perhaps you’ve been saving your pennies for the no-this-is-not-a-typo $20,000 soiree this evening at Gov. Deval Patrick’s little weekend getaway in Richmond.
Those kinds of ticket prices cause indigestion in at least one local political candidate. “That our Democratic Party and its candidates have come to rely so heavily on money from those who can afford such amounts, as well as large checks from the corporate PACs and lobbyists who represent interests we should be fighting against, is simply unacceptable,” Bill Shein, a Democrat running for the 1st Congressional seat, recently posted on his campaign blog. “For too long, that money has narrowed the agenda in Washington, shifted policymaking to the right, and left us with a democracy, economy, and environment in crisis.”
Shein is competing in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary against incumbent U.S. Rep Richie Neal and Andrea Nuciforo, a former state senator and now Middle Berkshires Register of Deeds. (With no Republicans running for the seat, the winner of the primary will be the de facto general-election winner.)
A major focus of Shein’s campaign has been the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics—on his party as much as the GOP. “Over the last quarter-century, rank-and-file Democrats have been told by party leaders and longtime Democratic incumbents that our party needs to raise corporate money, and accept large checks from lobbyists and wealthy individuals, if we’re to win elections,” Shein writes. “But don’t worry, we’ve been told, because all that money won’t impact the Democratic Party’s ability to stand up for working people, create a fair economy, do what’s necessary on the environment, or advance the political reform that will make our democracy work for everyone.
“Well, it hasn’t turned out that way.”
Shein’s campaign will accept no contributions greater than $99 and takes no money from political-action committees, lobbyists or executives from organizations that employ lobbyists. And tonight, he’ll host his own fundraiser, at his home in Alford, about a dozen miles from the governor’s abode, with a rather more modest ticket price: $2 per person. (Oh, you’ll also have to bring a potluck dish.) Attendees will discuss “how to advance public financing of elections, universal voter registration, jobs programs to put unemployed Americans to work right now, a freeze on all foreclosures, increasing taxes on the wealthy and global corporations, and massive action on climate change that begins by passing the ‘Save Our Climate Act’ to put a price on carbon pollution.”
Shein acknowledges that his event probably won’t rake in the $400,000 that Patrick’s Obama shindig is expected to raise; after all, at two bucks a person, Shein would need to invite 200,000 people to hit that mark. (“The last time we had that many people over (for the ‘Seinfeld’ finale, maybe?) we were cleaning up for weeks. I vowed never to do that again.”)
But, well, it sounds like Shein’s OK with a more modest showing: “I’m running for Congress because we need Democrats who will speak out against this unacceptable status quo, and not offer the shrugs, excuses, and rationalizations so common among those incumbent Democrats who refuse to do anything to change it.”