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POLITICS: Campaigns

Ted Cruz: 'Our democratic process is broken and corrupt right now'

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Supreme Court,Campaign Finance,Ted Cruz,Campaigns

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, denounced the current electoral rules as "broken and corrupt" because they favor incumbents, as he responded to retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' argument in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to cap campaign donations.

"Our democratic process is broken and corrupt right now because politicians in both parties hold on to incumbency," Cruz said during a Senate hearing Wednesday. "We need to empower the individual citizens."

Stevens made a series of arguments in favor of "reasonable" limits on campaign donations. "All elected officials would lead happier lives and be better able to perform there public responsibilities if they did not have to spend so much time raising money," he told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee before Cruz spoke.

The Texas freshman didn't dispute how limits would affect the happiness quotient for politicians. "Campaign finance reform is all about 'lower the limits, lower the limits, restrict the speech, restrict the speech,' and what happens is the only people who can win elections then are incumbent politicians, because incumbent politicians have armies of lobbyists and entrenched interests that raise the money and fund them, and any challenger that comes across has to raise the money," Cruz said. "And if you don't have an army of thousands upon thousands of bundlers, you cannot effectively challenge an incumbent. And that is not the unintended effect of these laws, that is the intended effect."

If Stevens' rules had been in place in 2012, Cruz would likely have lost badly to Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his Senate campaign.

"Dewhurst has hauled in more than half a million dollars from business PACs, which is 33 times Cruz's take from business PACs. K Street lobbying firms are siding with Dewhurst, too," as the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney wrote during their campaign. "The PACs of Greenberg Traurig, K&L Gates, McGuire Woods and other lobbying firms have donated to Dewhurst.

"One Dewhurst-supporting lobbyist in attendance told me, however, that the crowd was more 'Texas-heavy' than K Street-dominated," Carney mentioned while reporting on a particular fundraiser -- an observation that makes sense given Dewhurst's broad power over the Texas legislature by virtue of his position as lieutenant governor and president of the Texas Senate.

Cruz, a relatively unknown candidate, relied on grassroots donors from around the country and conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.

Stevens' preferred policy would have cut off such out-of-state funds. "Voters' fundamental right to participate in electing their own political leaders is far more compelling than the right of non-voters, such as corporations and non-residents, to support or oppose candidates for public office," Stevens said.

Cruz isn't the only outsider, insurgent candidate to win a major upset victory by relying on tactics frowned upon by campaign finance hawks.

"Barack Obama rejected public funding for the fall presidential campaign yesterday, a dramatic blow to 1970s good-government reform that has been overwhelmed by an explosion of private money," as the Boston Globe reported in 2008.

"In a video message to his supporters, Obama explained his reversal by asserting that the public-financing system is irreparably broken and he is instead involving the public through his 'grassroots movement' of 1.5 million donors, many of whom give small amounts."

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