We know spending hours of your free time listening to political debates isn’t something anyone (except maybe a few political journalists who live for the thrill of election season) really wants to do right now, especially in the middle of a deadly global pandemic that our current president seems hellbent on spreading far and wide despite public health experts’ dire warnings against shooting for “herd immunity.”
Unfortunately for all of us who would much rather just go home and play with our dog or go for a long walk with our partner, taking an active part in our democractic process — turning in to those debates, researching political action committee (PAC) donors, digging into politicians’ campaign finances, examining candidates’ voting histories and becoming a well-informed voter — is really the only way we can effect change in our own lives and ensure a better future for our children.
It should be much easier to get the information that helps inform our votes. Local journalists, especially those working for community newspapers, used to be able to devote more time digging into candidate backgrounds and campaign finance. Unfortunately, many newspapers, particularly local weekly papers like the Post-Record, have had to make so many cuts just to stay alive that they often have only a handful of journalists (this newspaper has a total of two people on its editorial team: a reporter and an editor) trying to cover everything from elections and local governments to education, the environment, local businesses and community events. Digging into the dark and complicated maze of campaign finance isn’t exactly something that two people can fit into an already daunting 40-hour work week.
And, let’s face it, even if we did, the Republican Party, under the direction of President Donald Trump, has completely cratered public trust in the media, so it’s possible that 50 percent of our readers wouldn’t believe us even if we spent hundreds of hours investigating each candidate’s donors, voting records and policies.
Still, we strongly believe that it is crucial for every voter to better understand who might benefit when they fill in that bubble next to a candidate’s name.
The best way to look into a local or state candidate in Washington is to visit the state’s Public Disclosure Commission’s website at pdc.wa.gov. This site has a user-friendly “Browse” tab that allows people to look up donors who give money to candidate campaigns and ballot measures, browse lobbying reports and find out who might be influencing the voting habits of our local and state candidates.
Researching national candidates, such as those running for Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, is trickier and much more labor-intensive. The Federal Election Commission’s website, at fec.gov, has a “Campaign Finance Data” tab at the top of the page, under which users can search campaign finance by candidate name.
Another good source for all things campaign-finance related is the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that researches the impacts campaign donors and lobbyists have on our national candidates, elections and public policies. The Center operates a searchable campaign-finance database at opensecrets.org.
Here is just a sample of what you can find when you dig into data on the Open Secrets website: The top five 2019-20 donors backing Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler — who represents Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District and is currently running for her sixth term — include:
* Blue Cross/Blue Shield (one of the biggest lobbyists against Medicare for All, a universal health care plan similar to the single-payer health care systems found in Europe and Canada that Yale researchers, in a study published in the peer-reviewed Lancet journal, found would reduce our country’s total health care spending by about 13 percent, or $450 billion annually, and save nearly 70,000 American lives each year);
* the Camas-based Fisher Investments (which has contributed over $275,000 to mostly Republican campaigns in 2020);
* Winning for Women (a campaign-funding organization described by Politico in 2017 as “a conservative counterweight to EMILY’s List, the powerhouse organization that backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights”);
* Pro-Israel America (a PAC reported to have with strong ties to the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group that lobbies Congress in a bid to implement pro-Israel policies and that spent millions of dollars in 2015 to lobby against the Obama Adminstration’s Iran nuclear deal, which permanently blocked that country from developing or obtaining nuclear weapons); and
* a biodefense company called Emergent BioSolutions — a company that, this summer received one of the largest COVID-related federal government contracts — a $628 million Health and Human Services deal via Trump’s Operation Warp Speed to, according to HHS, “advance manufacturing capabilities and capacity for a potential COVID-19 vaccine as well as therapeutics.”
Dig deeper and you may discover that many experts have warned that Emergent BioSolutions’ dominance over the country’s Strategic National Stockpile has, according to a Washington Post article on the issue, “created vulnerabilities” in the pandemic preparedness supply chain. What’s more, the company has, according to the Post article, “negotiated price increases from federal government for some stockpiles medicines after it bought them from competitors” and its “advocacy for biodefense spending over more than a decade was aided by influential allies in Washington and tens of millions of dollars in lobbying campaigns.”
In other words, the company’s payments to influential politicians and lobbying efforts have positioned it to be the only maker of drugs critical to our nation’s pandemic response. We’d say that’s something a well-informed voter needs to understand before casting their vote.
There are thousands of other examples of how donors could potentially influence politicians — on both sides of the political spectrum — who should be basing decisions and policy positions on the very real, life-and-death needs of their constituents over the wants of the privileged few.
Ballots will be arriving in your mailbox soon. Please make sure you follow the money before you vote.