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Mondaire Jones: Why I’m Not Taking Corporate PAC Money

by Mondaire Jones

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln famously insisted that government must be of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Because corporations are not people, I firmly believe any Democrat seeking the nomination for New York’s 17th Congressional District in 2020 must unequivocally reject all corporate PAC money. Unfortunately, too few of my competitors have joined me in this pledge.

Corporations have distorted our democracy to enrich themselves at our expense. Our broken campaign finance system–aided and abetted by a series of Supreme Court decisions, the most infamous of which is Citizens United–has allowed a torrent of dark money to flood our political system. This has pushed our democracy into crisis, and nowhere is that more apparent than in our legislative process.

Corporations have a staggering amount to gain from influencing our legislative process, because they have a significant amount of business before Congress. Congress spends $63 billion every year on subsidies for Fortune 500 corporations. Thanks to Donald Trump’s tax scam–led by then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who received $1.5 million in corporate PAC contributions in 2016 alone–corporations paid $91 billion less in taxes in 2018 than they did in 2017. Corporate PACs spent $441 million on campaign contributions to congressional candidates in the 2016 election cycle,and if that was considered an investment, it certainly paid off.

It’s not just Republicans who give out these benefits to big corporations at the expense of ordinary Americans: Democrats do it, too. In 2015, Congress attempted to close a loophole that saved the casino, hospitality, and real estate industries over $1 billion in taxes. But then-Senator Harry Reid, who had received tens of millions of corporate PAC money throughout his career from those industries, intervened. The influential Senator made sure his corporate donors had their loophole preserved, costing the American people $1 billion in tax revenue.

For Congressional candidates who take corporate PAC money, there is extreme pressure not to bite the hand that feeds them. The result is that many members of Congress fight for their corporate donors–not their constituents.

In this election cycle, Democrats have been talking about enacting big, systemic change. But we cannot just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk.

In order to tackle the big challenges facing Rockland and Westchester Counties, we must take on entrenched corporate interests and challenge their power. Fighting the existential threat of climate change means taking on the fossil fuel industry. Guaranteeing health care for every American means taking on the health insurance industry. Freeing the federal government to negotiate fair prices for prescription drugs means taking on the pharmaceutical industry. Offering free public college and student loan forgiveness, in order to liberate an entire generation of people to rent and own homes in this expensive district, means taking on lobbies for the for-profit education and financial services industries. Reducing inequality by lowering middle-class taxes and making corporations pay their fair share means challenging powerful corporations that have collected record profits and handed out exorbitant executive compensation.

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How can the people of Rockland and Westchester trust a candidate to solve these problems if that candidate is funded by the very corporations causing them?

Since announcing my campaign for Congress, political insiders have been telling me that my pledge not to take corporate PAC money is foolish. They say, “The first rule of running for office is: never leave money on the table.” But thanks to my many grassroots small-dollar donors–80% of contributions to my campaign are $200 or less–I have defied their dire predictions at every stage of my campaigning, outraising all but one of my competitors in the Democratic Primary.

My competitors and I are running for United States Congress. Members of Congress are supposed to be leaders, and that starts with how they campaign.

Mondaire Jones is a resident of South Nyack.  A graduate of East Ramapo public schools, he is a former Justice Department staffer under President Obama and lawyer in the Westchester County Law Department.  Currently, he is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 17th District, which includes all of Rockland County and parts of Westchester County.

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