Reflections on Citizen Koch

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Civic Nebraska’s Director of Voting Rights reflects on the screening of Citizen Koch and panel discussion at Film Streams in Omaha. The event was co-hosted by Civic Nebraska and Common Cause Nebraska.

On Tuesday over 150 attendees joined Common Cause Nebraska and Civic Nebraska at a screening of Citizen Koch at Film Streams in Omaha. Citizen Koch follows three life-long Republican Wisconsin government employees during the infamous battle between Governor Scott Walker and local unions that (spoiler alert) ultimately ended with Scott Walker winning his recall election.

Over 150 attend screening of Citizen Koch.
Over 150 attend screening of Citizen Koch.

Civic Nebraska has been interested in campaign finance reform on the basis that it really is the other side of the voting rights coin. What is the point of accessible and modern elections if a wide variety of candidates that are representative of their community (regardless of party affiliation) do not have equitable access to being a part of our representative democracy?

The movie did little to explore the policies behind campaign finance laws and the impact they have on who in running for office and how campaign contributions move the needle. Instead they focused on what Charles and Dave Koch have spent their money on – an interesting study, just not what I was expecting. Lucky for me our panelists were more than happy to discuss policy and here were some of the highlights:

From left to right: Moderator Erica Kirby, Sergio Sosa, Frank Daley and Scott Lautenbaugh
From left to right: Moderator Erica Kirby, Sergio Sosa, Frank Daley and Scott Lautenbaugh

Panelists: Frank Daley with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, former state senator and former Douglas County Election Commissioner Scott Lautenbaugh, and Sergio Sosa, Executive Director of Heartland Workers United.

More taste, less filling: To describe the evolution of campaign finance laws, NADC commissioner Frank Daley harkened back to that old Miller Lite commercial, describing the competing sides debating between campaign spending limits and more disclosure. However, once the Supreme Court struck down public finance and spending limits in Arizona (which in turn caused Nebraska to remove its spending limits and public finance program), he has found the “more disclosure” proponents have changed their tune. Scott Lautenbaugh, a lawyer and former state senator who has frequently challenged campaign spending restrictions, argued that in removing Nebraska’s spending limits we’ve seen a decrease in independent expenditures and those looking to impact elections are giving directly to and coordinating with candidates. This type of contributing and coordination requires the same disclosure that candidates provide during an election cycle.

There’s a ceiling: Both Frank Daley and Scott Lautenbaugh (rarely in consensus) did come to one conclusion – there is only so much impact money can make on an election. They both feel there is diminishing returns with campaign spending money, Scott Lautenbaugh quipping “Just ask President Romney”

The Silver Bullet: All three panelists agreed an engaged and informed electorate is the silver bullet to campaign spending. Frank Daley encouraged those in attendance to research, if you get a mailer from a non-descript group google them. If who they are and how they’re funded is not obvious, then ask yourself if you really want to listen to what they have to say. Sergio Sosa shared his experience working to pass legislation to provide DACA dreamers with driver’s licenses declaring that civic engagement is key to maintaining a representative democracy.

A big thanks to Common Cause Nebraska for asking us to be a part of this event, thanks to Film Streams for hosting us and a big thanks to our panelists for their insight, comments, and reflections on money in politics.

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