Money in Politics: Government Reform Efforts Slowly Taking Shape

June 2, 2014  
Filed under Feature Stories

Rick Hubbard

Rick Hubbard

By Mal Boright

Many believe, and the number is growing, that our ‘alleged” form of representative government is gradually sinking into the political muck we call our nation’s capital. Whatever the form that rears up from the mire, so the critics say, it will not be a form ‘for, of and by the people.”

Among the causes of this dysfunction on Capitol Hill can be found many suspects including at the top of most lists, the tsunami of dollars now flooding into political campaigns from a myriad of sources since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates with its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions.

And while the political dialing for dollars is the area drawing most attention for reform, there are other serious problems that have resulted in Congressional representatives and senators becoming more like a collection of youthful brats screaming for their way or by golly there will be no way.

High on the list for change should be what has become an art form: redesigning election districts for the sole purpose of incumbency protection, a long-time practice known as gerrymandering. Also lengthy election campaigns, closed primaries and careerism of federal and some state elected representatives “of the people” are some others.

Pushing hard for change is retired lawyer Rick Hubbard, 70, of South Burlington. In a recent interview, he was gregarious in a low-key way, but with fire in the belly when it comes to the need for change.

“American citizens are beginning to realize they are not being properly represented in Washington by Congress and others,” he said. “This is a big issue. The political system is not serving the interests of the majority of U.S. citizens.”

Hubbard has survey results that show a growing number of Americans believe that dissatisfaction with government is a bigger problem than health care, immigration, education or hunger.

He cited a December (2013) Global Strategy Group poll that showed 95 percent of respondents consider the influence of money in politics, “a serious problem.”

A January Gallup poll showed 65 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with how government works. That number had risen from 23 percent in 2002 and 47 percent in 2008.

Hubbard believes that any fixes probably won’t come from legislation in Congress, citing the need for either constitutional amendments or a constitutional convention.

The U.S. Senate, through Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt) Judiciary Committee, took up a proposed constitutional amendment June 3 with Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) making arguments in favor while Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was vehemently opposed.

This particular amendment, by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), would allow the states and Congress to regulate outside groups’ political campaign spending.

In Vermont, state Senator Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) is among those pushing for a legislative resolution to pressure Congress to begin the amendment process.

Hubbard thinks that eventually the threat of a constitutional convention may be the “only way to make progress on this issue.”

While some are skeptical of a convention, saying it would open the door to all kinds of good and/or bad changes, Hubbard is confident that would not be the case.

“It takes three-fourths of the states to pass an amendment,” he said, adding that any 13 states can therefore block an amendment.

“The math is the logical answer,” Hubbard said. “Thirteen can block.”

He said fear of a convention may be enough to get Congress to act, recalling a century ago when state legislatures were trying to encourage Congress to pass an amendment for the popular election of U.S. senators who were then elected by state legislatures. Some 34 states approved the popular election (38 were needed) before Congress saw where this was going and went to work.

Hubbard repeated the changes needed, starting with the money in the political system, gerrymandering, lengths of campaigns and careerism, which he believes would be cured by a “more vibrant” political process that encourages more people to run for office.

What will be required to really get the reform job done?

“It will probably take more than one amendment,” he said.

In the meantime, there is a House bill still alive but probably not kicking much. It is the Government ByThe People Act of 2014, with more than 100 cosponsors, all Democrats but one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina.

The bill, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) would provide federal matching funds at a 6-to-1 ratio on individual campaign donations of $150 or less. To qualify, candidates would be required to accept no more than $1,000 per donor. In addition, candidates would agree to raise at least 50 percent of their donations from in-state sources.

Chances for this bill and/or others in the Republican House are practically nil.

But the long march is getting underway. And Rick Hubbard is one of the leaders.

 

RICK HUBBARD: MAN WITH A MISSION

Being taunted during his early school years resulted in Rick Hubbard becoming an advocate for the American citizen.

“I was the youngest kid in the class,” he said in a recent interview with Vermont Maturity Magazine, noting that he was also one of the smallest since his growth spurts came late. “I got picked on.”

Hubbard said that led to his rooting “for the underdogs,” and now he sees the American people as underdogs when it comes to money in political campaigns, plus a few other problems with government functions that seem to deepen with each passing election cycle.

Hubbard, of South Burlington, is retired from a Stowe law practice where he specialized in business and economic law.

“I could look at both the law and economics when a business was being sold or purchased. If there was negotiation or collaboration, I could help,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Vermont, he went on to get a masters degree in business administration at Dartmouth College and a law degree at Georgetown University.

While finishing law school at Georgetown, he worked as an economic consultant in D.C.

Once he had his law degree in hand in the early 70s, the Middlebury native decided to return to Vermont and establish a law practice.

“I wanted to be independent so I set up in Stowe, a small community,” he said.

He became “sensitive” to making government work early on and once in Vermont, contacted Common Cause, a bipartisan national government watchdog organization formed in the 70s as the nation emerged from the Watergate era.

He said he was told that while Vermont had some dues-paying members, the state had no affiliate. So he pitched in and helped organize a state chapter.

Hubbard wound up spending two terms on Common Cause’s national governing board with such well-known advocates as founder John Gardner and former Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Now, having left his law practice, he says he will devote time to the cause of good government by helping organize pressure for constitutional amendments to reform political campaign financing and other ills such as gerrymandering.

“I will put in a significant amount of time because it is so important,” Hubbard said.

He participated in the New Hampshire Rebellion Walk from northern Coos County to the Massachusetts border (185 miles) in January, an effort to get the issue front and center in the next presidential primary.

Hubbard wants primary hopefuls in both parties to be bombarded with this question: “How will you end the system of corruption in D.C.?”

He said that while, at present, Congressional discussions of possible amendments generally have Democrats in favor and Republicans against, the issue crosses party lines.

Hubbard wants to find and link other advocates and form a coalition of good government proponents. He can be reached at (802) 999-3905.

—Mal Boright

 

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