Legendary ’90s sitcom star Jason Alexander has joined efforts to squash the rampant use of money in political campaigns. Alexander, who once co-starred alongside Jerry Seinfeld in the hit comedy Seinfeld, is now starring in a 30-second spot demonizing money in politics.
The video begins with a political disclaimer announcing who the ad is “paid for by.” Then there’s another. And another. And another. As the disclaimers begin to blend together, little gray boxes displaying text of the same disclaimers fly across the screen. Enter real-life George Costanza. Alexander walks forward, dodging the onslaught of “paid for by” disclaimers.
“Paid for by. Paid for by. Do you know what paid for by really means? It means a billion dollars in the last election. Our government is filled with people who have been paid for, but no one should have more influence than you,” Alexander says.
He concludes by saying “help us make a world where ‘paid for by’ …” and then he gets interrupted by another disclaimer. This time for the PAC paying for HIS video. Alexander rolls his eyes, chucks the disclaimer and finishes, “is a thing of the past.
The irony here is that the Mayday PAC established by activist Lawrence Lessig about six months ago is exactly what it was created to fight – a Super PAC. Or is it?
The Mayday PAC raised more than $10 million between April and October. That’s a lot of money. It’s less than some of the larger national PACs, but still nothing to scoff at. However, those funds were brought in not by hordes of wealthy donors or deep-pocketed corporations. The funding was crowd sourced.
Unlike traditional Super PACs that have been criticized for contributing to a lack of transparency in political spending, Mayday lists its donor data directly on its website. They have brought in nearly $11 million from nearly 70,000 donors. That’s an average donation of just $157 per donor. Compare that to, say, the committee formed to combat Florida’s medical marijuana ballot initiative, where one person, Sheldon Adelson, contributed more than $4 million, and it’s suddenly pretty impressive.
Despite the grassroots power of Mayday and a growing contingency of support, the PAC was hugely unsuccessful during the midterms. Mayday threw its weight behind eight candidates this election. Six of those were defeated and the two who won probably would have won with or without Mayday’s support.
The group’s website notes that the 2014 efforts were just a jumping-off point intended to test the waters. The group plans to launch a much broader effort in 2016 with the goal of electing a Congress committed to campaign finance reform. Their reform goal has four steps.
- In 2014, we will pilot the idea of a superPAC intervening in elections to support candidates who favor reform. The objective of this pilot intervention will be to both (a) convince Congress of the salience of this issue to voters, and (b) determine how best to intervene to move voters on the basis of this issue.
- Based on what we learn in 2014, in 2016 we will engage in as many races as we need to win a majority in Congress who have either cosponsored or committed to cosponsor fundamental reform legislation.
- In 2017, we will then press to get Congress to pass, and the president to sign, legislation that fundamentally reforms the way elections are funded.
- After a Congress has been elected under this new system, we will push for whatever constitutional reform is necessary to secure the gains from this reform.
Despite its seemingly noble efforts, The New York Times notes, winning primary elections based on campaign finance reform is likely to be an uphill battle.
“The number of freshman Republicans in the House facing their first re-election fight will provide some potential opportunities. But unless Mayday can persuade Republican primary voters to unseat incumbents on the issue of money in politics, winning a legislative majority that will change the current campaign finance rules looks dubious.”