Commentary: Elections Suffer from a Pay-to-Play System

Since 1999, over 200,000 people in the U.S. have died from prescription opioid overdoses. Thousands have been from Minnesota. For context, over 116,000 Americans lost their lives in World War I. It’s an epidemic that crosses all demographics, socioeconomic statuses, and communities.

This crisis is exacerbated by a broken political system that’s been flooded with unchecked special interest money. It’s corrupting Washington and directly hurting Minnesotans.

Politicians pander to special interests like Big Pharma that are ready to shell out tens of millions of dollars to elect politicians who will protect their profits.

One of the worst offenders of this pay-to-play system is right here in the 3rd Congressional District, Congressman Erik Paulsen.

Since joining Congress in 2009, Paulsen has abandoned his job as a representative of the people to do the bidding of the special interests. The numbers are telling.

Over Paulsen’s career, the pharmaceutical industry has been his third-largest donor, contributing over $360,000 to his campaigns. That kind of money buys a lot of campaign ads in Minnesota. And it buys a lot of influence in Congress.

While stuffing his coffers with contributions, Paulsen also voted against requiring that certain small business health plans ensure coverage for opioid abuse treatment, as well as voting to repeal the requirement that all health plans cover substance abuse treatment. He’s also voted for a bill that would bring back the Medicare “donut hole” and raise prices on prescription drugs for many seniors.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Paulsen’s campaign is consistently a top destination for special interests looking for a Congressman who will protect their interests. Last September, thousands of Minnesotans woke up to find that their personal information had been stolen when Equifax was hacked. Just months before, Paulsen voted to reduce federal oversight of the financial industry. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think there was a connection between the $1.3 million dollars he took from Wall Street and the banking industry and his vote.

On top of that, Paulsen has taken $7.8 million from PACs since 2009. The numbers start to explain why Paulsen keeps putting special interests ahead of the families in his district. His history of siding with special interest mega-donors over his constituents landed Paulsen a spot on End Citizens United’s Big Money 20 , a list of some of the worst of Washington’s pay-to-play system.

There is an alternative. Dean Phillips, the 6th generation Minnesotan challenging Paulsen, believes we can end this broken system by getting special interest money out of politics — it’s a key pillar in his campaign. He’s practicing what he preaches by rejecting all PAC and special interest money in his campaign.

By Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, a campaign finance reform organization based in Washington, D.C.

Click here to read the original posting on (5/31/18).


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