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Joe Biden on Money in Politics: “A Hell of a Way to Run a Democracy”

July 17, 2015 | Adam Smith

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Generation Progress summit yesterday and said if the country is going to address any number of pressing issues, we have to “get private money out of the political process” and he encouraged Democrats to take on the issue head-on.

Some highlights:

– He said on a variety of issues, nothing is going to happen until we address the broken system. “If you could do only one single thing, only one, to increase fairness, equity, opportunity to middle class, pass rational gun control, deal with immigration, etc. What would it be? I can tell you one thing I would do. It would be get private money out of political process.”

– He specifically called out the argument that candidates can’t “disarm” because their opponents won’t. “The first place you’ve got to start is the Democratic party. No matter how much you love me or somebody else, you have to demand of us that we demonstrate we understand. We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money.”

– He said addressing the problem will restore trust in politicians: “Folks, don’t underestimate your ability to influence all of us who are tempted to yield to temptation to go ahead and do the same thing and, again, rationalize. If I don’t, I’m not going to be able to win and all the good I can do will be gone. Even though the way I have to do it, even if it doesn’t compromise me, convince average middle class people that I don’t care about them and they therefore won’t trust me.”

– And he believes change is possible: “You know, we have to speak up. You have to speak up. I know a lot of what I just said sounds Pollyannish to you. But I’ve been around longer than these other guys. I’m telling you it can be done. It always is done with generations like yours.”

You can watch a clip of the speech here or see the full transcript below.

Want to get involved? Here’s what we’re doing to address the problems Biden is talking about. Join us.


 

Vice President Biden’s Remarks at Generation Progress

“If you could do only one single thing, only one, to increase fairness, equity, opportunity to middle class. Pass rational gun control, deal with immigration, etc. What would it be? I can tell you one thing I would do. It would be get private money out of political process.

“The first bill ever introduced that I’m aware of, at least the generation at the time, was a bill I introduced in 1973 calling for a limitation on how much could be spent on a congressional election, a senate election. Guaranteeing challengers would have as much money as the incumbent and capping.

“I ran in 1972 as a middle class kid who just paid off his college and law school loan with a law firm that was just getting on to its fee. I was able to organize campaign because I could organize people with 300,000 people.

“Today, I ask myself, if I were in the same exact position, 29 years old in the state of Delaware…and I wanted to run for the United States Senate with the same ideas and same ability to organize. Could I possible be able tho do that? I’d have to raise multiples, multiples of $300,000 dollars.

“Folks, what are we doing? What are we doing? We’re cutting access for so many of you. So many bright young minds. The only way they can get engaged is you have to go where the money is. Now where the money is, there’s almost always implicitly, some string attached. Nobody buys anybody, that doesn’t happen, if it does its rare. It’s awful hard to take a whole lot of money from a group you know has a particular position then you conclude their wrong, vote no.

“So ladies and gentleman, I predict one day that the American people are going to wake up and they are going to demand change. Today it’s going to require a constitutional amendment. I introduced the first constitutional amendment on this…

“So everybody when I raise it these days says no no no we can’t do that. We can’t do that. So what do we have to do? When they are running for Congress, Senate, or president, while I can’t disarm. I’ve got to do the same thing. We can argue our interest groups are better than their interest groups. We can argue they are less self-serving than the other team and that may be true, but guys why do you think the middle class thinks things aren’t on the level? What change do you think we have to get the kind of income tax system I’ve been fighting for my whole life? What do you think the chances of getting that are? People aren’t going to supply money against their own interest. They’re not bad people. But I’ve been pushing to change for my entire career the way we treat under income. It’s outrageous.

….

“Folks, we ought to start in our own party. You ought to be demanding of all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn’t rest on millionaires and billionaires. They’re good people, they’re not bad per se, and I really mean it. It’s a hell of a way to run a democracy.

“The first place you’ve got to start is the Democratic party. No matter how much you love me or somebody else, you have to demand of us that we demonstrate we understand. We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money. We can demand that people who we support don’t yield to millionaires and billionaires. Take their money in limited amounts. But what are we doing? I know a lot of people are going to read into this part of what I’m saying something I’m not intending. I’m not talking about any individual. I really am not.

“But if we can’t even start in our own party. I’m willing to start in their own party and say OK, in the general election don’t disarm and do it there. But in our own party? Look, we can get support even when we’re outspend significantly. This is not hyperbole. If we have you. We, the party, have you. You, the young, passionate advocates.

“If I get a chance to go on television with millions of dollars or I’m able to put 2,000 volunteers on the street, I’d take 2000 volunteers for free. Folks, don’t underestimate your ability to influence all of us who are tempted to yield to temptation to go ahead and do the same thing and, again, rationalize. If I don’t, I’m not going to be able to win and all the good I can do will be gone. Even though the way I have to do it, even if it doesn’t compromise me, convince average middle class people that I don’t care about them and they therefore won’t trust me. You know, we have to speak up. You have to speak up. I know a lot of what I just said sounds Pollyannish to you. But I’ve been around longer than these other guys. I’m telling you it can be done. It always is done with generations like yours.”

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is Every Voice's communications director.