I read with interest Ken Block’s rejection of the People’s Pledge on the following basis:
“I support comprehensive campaign-finance reform,” Block said. “But I won’t do it piecemeal.” And a People’s Pledge wouldn’t address the disadvantage he’d face against incumbents such as Raimondo, “who has spent three full years as treasurer raising money for this race,” he said.
Something similar to “I won’t do it piecemeal” is a common refrain I hear among supporters of change or reform; most notably among left-wing opponents of the ACA (it didn’t go far enough!). I have no desire to rehash that particular battle, but suffice it to say, we have to deal in political realities, not political desires.
It’s a weird thing for a Republican candidate to oppose the People’s Pledge on the grounds of it doesn’t do enough to address the problem. Republicans of the Citizen’s United-era have been generally anti-campaign-finance reform. And if Block is keeping his previous position of “moderate,” a People’s Pledge would be in line with the model New England “moderate” Republican Scott Brown.
The argument that the Pledge is piecemeal is particularly flimsy. Citzen’s United has made the goals of the campaign-finance reform movement relatively unachievable; the striking down of McCain-Feingold’s section of unlimited corporate and union spending has made so-called “dark money” an increasing reality in all campaigns. And the People’s Pledge is proven to work at reducing that dark money spending.
Ideological stringency can be well and good. Refusing to support something over a matter of principle can be quite admirable. Opposing things as not going far enough when they would be ineffective or damaging is sensible. But this is neither of those cases. The Pledge notably advances the campaign-finance reform movement’s goals while providing proof to skeptical citizens that reform has an impact. Furthermore, while Block’s support of reform is proven and well-known, his ability to get it passed is non-existent. Democratic efforts, notably those under Rep. Chris Blazejewski, have been far more successful (unsurprisingly), though they often run into First Amendment issues and sometimes work indiscriminately when a targeted approach is called for.
One factor gone unsung in this is that the People’s Pledge has been a defining issue of the Democratic primary campaign, I think largely because the campaign-finance reform movement in the Democratic Party is far greater than that in the Republican Party (which is next to non-existent as far as I know). Block’s refusal to support it keeps him from supporting a “Democratic” issue, but also gives him space to keep up his usual attack line of the “ineffectiveness” of Democratic policies. However, it also provides the opening for Block’s primary opponent Allan Fung from having to take a stand on the Pledge one way or the other until the general election (should he beat Block, which seems likely).
As a final thought, Block’s criticism of Raimondo rings hollow. After all, what are we to believe Block was doing for the last three years, not preparing to run for governor?