Skip to main content

Can big money be squeezed out of politics? Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, thinks so and that it must happen if we are going to salvage what’s left of our electoral system.

Getting Money Out of Politics

Earlier this week, Cohen went on CNBC to unveil his most recent project, The Stampede: Get Money Out of Politics.

“We need to get big money out of politics…so that politicians are no longer beholden to those that pay them big money, i.e. corporations, unions, whatever, …” stated Cohen.

When pushed to clarify how any candidate could be competitive in this age of powerful media and multinational corporations without relying on big money, Cohen responded with a suggestion for public financing of campaigns. “If we give everyone in the country a $100 voucher to give to any candidate they want, it will level the playing field.”

Getting Money Out of Politics

This is a bi-partisan issue and most American want caps on campaign financing, as this recent poll shows

We need to defeat big money so that candidates don’t spend time raising funds instead of meeting with the people they will be representing. The question is, can the interests of the ultra-wealthy and corporations be diminished in relevancy and clout?

The short answer is yes, but only if millions of Americans get on board.

How do I know? I am currently trying to accomplish this feat on a local level running as a candidate for the City of Pasadena’s District 1 City Council seat.

For many years as a community organizer I have observed the corrupting and damaging effects of money in politics, so I have decided to do something about it by running a campaign on very little funding.

For many years as a community organizer I have observed the corrupting and damaging effects of money in politics, so I have decided to do something about it by running a campaign on very little funding.

Very quickly I learned first hand why candidates end up relying so much on large donations. Once you start the process of filing for candidacy, you are bombarded by companies that want to help you to run your campaign. Who knew that 150 yard signs would cost about $1,000? Or that a beautiful tri-fold brochure would cost another $1-2,000 to design and print? And that doesn’t even include the money to acquire voter lists and the postage to mail flyers to voters.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

There is another way.

The secret to getting the word out without money is: relationships. People vote for those whom they know and trust, especially in local elections. Of course there are public candidate forums where all the candidates can speak. There are also interviews with the media as well as various groups and organizations. In addition to those traditional avenues, my campaign has focused on person-to-person connections.

In the past month and a half, friends and neighbors have hosted 15 ‘Living Room Conversations’ for me that have averaged between 7-8 neighbors per event. Slated for two hours, these discussions frequently continue past the appointed time because folks are fired up by the fact that a candidate is willing to spend so much time with them and talk about the issues that matter.

Getting Money Out of Politics

We are also hosting weekly gatherings called, “Bagels with Biery”, at neighborhood coffee shops that provide the opportunity for folks to drop in and say hello or even stay and chat. These events create hubs of community activity that could lead to greater involvement and organizing. They also support local businesses and encourage their participation in the civic engagement process.

My campaign is also relying on walking the streets and talking to people where they live. In order to cover large sections of our district my supporters and I decided to fortify the ‘walking precincts’ strategy with volunteer participation. We call them ‘Neighborhood Hikes’ and have covered over 4,000 households with 26 volunteers on three separate occasions, passing out flyers and talking about my candidacy and the issues. Repeatedly residents have thanked me for actually taking the time to visit their homes.

My campaign has even started a new trend! We have made and painted our own yard signs out of used cardboard boxes and cheap paint.

My campaign has even started a new trend! We have made and painted our own yard signs out of used cardboard boxes and cheap paint.

We have held four sign painting parties and engaged over two-dozen supporters in the creative process of visual communication. Each sign is unique, made of recycled materials and can either be recycled later on or reused.

Another important tool we have heavily relied on is the internet. In this age of global communications where we can reach the opposite side of the planet in just a few seconds, using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, web sites, etc. is an obvious strategy. Best of all, it costs very little!

For many of us it is easier just to write a check - even a small one - for our favorite candidate. But if we truly want to have a voice in politics and a representative democracy, then we have to do more than just sign our name.

With amazing volunteers, creative events, relationship over glitz, and a bit of elbow grease and shoe leather, a candidate can indeed reach voters and share their platform effectively without having to raise tons of money.

It is not so much whether or not we can we run campaigns without the influence of moneyed interests. It is more a question of whether we want to or not, and whether we have the will to get back to, as Cohen states, “one person, one vote.”

Getting Money Out of Politics

Brian Biery

Brian Biery
I Believe in Northwest Pasadena