If former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley had his way, Super PACs would be rendered illegal because they’re threatening American democracy. In an interview with The Fiscal Times, Bradley, author of We Can All Do Better, which goes on sale May 8, spoke fervently about the corrupting influence of money in politics – and offered up solutions to fix it.
Bradley, 69, a Democrat, made a run for the presidency in 2000 and for 12 years has worked in venture capital, investment banking, and money management. It’s clear he hasn’t lost his passion for public policy and politics. “The only way to deal with the issue [of the Super PACs] and the money issue generally is by a constitutional amendment,” he says. “Since the Supreme Court in Citizens United said that corporations can contribute unlimited amounts of money – and that a corporation is a person – limiting a person’s right to free speech is a violation of the First Amendment. It’s a ludicrous ruling. The only way to change that is by a constitutional amendment that says, very simply, that federal, state and local government can limit the amount of money spent on a political campaign.”
Part two of the fix, adds Bradley, is “to have public financing of congressional and Senate races. For roughly $3 billion a year out of a $3.5 trillion budget we could take all the special interests out of the legislative process, and then legislation would be influenced more by argument and facts than by dollars.”
In the current presidential campaign so far, he believes there’s been too much of a “blamefest. We’ve focused far too little on America’s future.” The GOP primaries were “mean and petty,” he says, and full of “slogans and posturing.” He believes President Obama is “uniquely qualified to lead this country for another term, but he’s got to lay out what he wants to do. And I think he’s starting to do that now.”
Would Bradley campaign for or with Obama in the lead-up to the general election? “If he asked me, I sure will,” he says.
A Princeton University graduate, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and a championship New York Knick basketball player (he played for the Knicks from 1967 to 1977, helping them snag two NBA titles), Bradley has written six books, all New York Times bestsellers. He shared other thoughts about the state of the country from his office in New York City before setting out on his latest book tour.
On Dodd Frank and Health Care:
For evidence that American democracy is under threat, says Bradley, “you need look no further than the contribution cycle of 2009-2010, when Dodd Frank was done. The financial industry contributed $318 million to congressmen and senators. It’s no wonder that it didn’t do anything about ‘too big to fail.’ They did nothing to rein in the investment banks and the large banks, which now have 75 percent of the financial assets in this country, as opposed to 10 percent in the 1990s. That was directly related to the amount of money [that was spent on lobbying].”
He adds: “And look at health care. The health care industry spent $45 million in that two-year period, so it’s no wonder we don’t have a public option in the health care bill. Unless we can get money out of politics, we can’t get done what the vast majority of Americans want to get done, which is moving this country forward, creating jobs, and becoming more stable.”
On the One Percent vs. the 99 Percent:
“Most of the wealthy want to pay their fair share. I think they recognize America is one national community and that government provides extremely valuable functions. I mean, you can’t fly on an airplane without the FAA, you can’t drive on the road without our infrastructure, you can’t take your medicine without the FDA. And I think if you had a solution where you asked something from everybody, they’re fine.”
“In any budget deal that includes revenues, there should be increased contributions from those who have more. Whether it is done through rates, or whether it’s done through loopholes closings, it’ll be one of the two. I think loophole closings are better than rates, but either one achieves the objective.”