Conan O'Brien Wants to Help Lincoln Chafee's Campaign

Here at the Prospect, we had intended to be your No. 1 place for Lincoln Chafee news. You know, Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor (and former Republican) who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination?

If we’ve been neglecting our duties, it’s only because, well, it wasn’t clear anyone actually wanted to read Lincoln Chafee news. In a 1,001-person poll last month, Chafee received absolutely zero votes, and his perhaps most well-publicized social media incident happened when his wife posted to his campaign’s Facebook page, asking if anyone on staff knew the password. He’s still polling at 0.0 on Real Clear Politics.

In answer to the glee many are feeling regarding Chafee’s long-shot campaign, comedian Conan O’Brien is making it his mission to get Chafee from 0 percent to 1 percent, at least in polling results. “Let’s be honest, I’m not trying to get him elected,” he said on his late-night show on Wednesday.

O’Brien offered his audience some facts about Chafee, including the candidate’s support for affirmative action, same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, and adopting the metric system. “So that should easily win over African American lesbian stoners who are also CEOs of companies that manufacture measuring cups,” O’Brien joked before noting that Chafee is also a professional ferrier (which is a bit reminiscent of Mitt and Ann Romney’s Olympic dressage horse ownership).

The O’Brien effort to get Chafee at least on the board also includes a campaign song, performed by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo to the tune of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” Here’s the video of the Chafee-devoted Conan segment, and the lyrics to the song:

Used to be Republican

Switched to Dem in 2010

The pride of Rhode Island

His horse’s hooves were stylin’

Wants the metric system for the U.S.

A plan with zero gram’s chance of success

He’s Lincoln Chafee

For president

You don’t have to vote for him

Just get him to 1 percent

He’s only got 12 Facebook friends

He looks like Chris Matthews on a juice cleanse

He’s Lincoln Chafee

Let’s get him 1 percent

He’ll never be president

Just get him 1 percent

Chafee showed himself to be a good sport in responding to the segment, thanking O’Brien for the attention, and offering to “come on the show to help his ratings.”

I’d say stay tuned for more Lincoln Chafee news, but unless O’Brien’s plan is more effective than the “Colbert Bump,” it might be a while before we have more to write about.

Unionized Charter Teachers in Chicago Reject Merit Pay

Last week, unionized teachers at three schools operated by Civitas—a subsidiary of the Chicago International Charter School network—negotiated a new contract that no longer has merit pay in it. This means 31 out of 32 unionized Chicago charter schools have now rejected merit pay. And the one unionized charter that still has it—Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy—is currently negotiating a new contract and teachers hope to remove it there as well.

Merit pay, a policy that ties teacher salaries and bonuses to student standardized test scores and evaluations, is one of the most controversial tenets of the education reform movement. The idea has been tossed around for decades, but has never really gained steam. Most teacher salaries are tied to their level of education and the number of years they’ve been teaching.

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor for Washington, D.C., schools, says merit pay is needed to create the kind of culture “where excellence is rewarded.” Proponents believe that this kind of policy would incentivize high-quality teachers to enter the profession. The Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top program encouraged states to implement merit pay systems within their schools.

(Photo courtesy of the Council of State Governments)


While teacher salaries are notoriously low, many teachers have generally opposed merit pay because they do not think the system in which they’d be evaluated could ever really be objective or fair. They also worry that it could have unintended consequences, like incentivizing cheating or teaching to the test. 

Brian Harris, the president of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, said that when his school unionized in 2009, they first tried to improve their “really awful” merit pay scheme by negotiating more objective metrics into their evaluation system. Teachers aimed to reform merit pay, not remove it.

Over time, according to Harris, teachers began to feel increasingly frustrated with even their new-and-improved merit pay system. When I spoke to Harris in April as I was reporting my When Charters Go Union piece, he had told me, “the opposition to merit pay at my school has grown insane.” Four months later, it’s now gone.

I asked Harris if anyone in his union wanted to keep merit pay and he said he has no idea. “Nobody has been brave enough to tell me to my face that they like merit pay.” He did note that some who like the idea of paying teachers who work really hard more money, acknowledge that it is really difficult to do so fairly. “Even a lot of people who were evaluating us acknowledged that this stuff was unfair,” Harris said.

About eight months ago, their union released a document with guiding principles for contract negotiations. Beyond killing merit pay, other contract goals include advocating for smaller class sizes, increasing teacher voice, and securing protected time during the workday to grade, plan, and collaborate.

It will be interesting to see if the momentum that unionized charter school teachers have created in Chicago motivates other non-unionized charter teachers who are dissatisfied with merit pay to consider unions of their own. It will also be interesting to see if this creates any pushback from the public—a majority of public school parents say they support the idea of merit pay.

O’Malley Joins Sanders in Calling for Public Campaign Finance

Yesterday, Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley added a new plank to his campaign platform: public campaign financing for congressional elections within five years. The former Maryland governor had previously supported a public-funding model in his state and had hinted on the campaign trail that he would come out with a substantive policy on the federal level soon.

The move comes as the Democratic field is being pushed by campaign-finance reformers to go beyond just calling for a repeal of Citizens United by endorsing robust public campaign financing. Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he would introduce legislation that would institute a federal public campaign-finance model.

Earlier this week, prominent campaign-finance reformer and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig said he is considering a presidential run as a referendum candidate, with a sole focus on restoring democracy through election reform.

Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is heavily reliant on mega-donors, has made vague platitudes suggesting support for public campaign-finance models in addition to her support for overturning Citizens United, but as of now she hasn’t articulated a clear policy.

While O’Malley’s plan would expand public financing to congressional candidates, it doesn’t specify whether it would be done through public matching funds, vouchers, a grant model, or something else. Nor does it address how to fix the ailing presidential public funding system. And it certainly doesn’t offer a realistic path for managing to get such a measure through Congress, but to O’Malley’s credit, nobody has proposed a cure for Republican ineptitude … yet.

Grassroots Coalition Pushes the Fed to Support a Real Recovery

If the Fed’s upcoming decision on whether to hike interest rates seems a little beyond your reach, you’re not alone. But economist Robert Reich wants to change that—and so does a growing group of activists, union leaders, and policy experts. Together with the Center for Popular Democracy, the AFL-CIO, and two dozen other unions and community groups, they’ve launched Fed Up, a nationwide coalition aimed at connecting monetary policy with the interests of ordinary Americans.

Fed Up’s goal is a more “pro-worker” Federal Reserve, and their first step is stopping the Fed from hiking interest rates before wages and employment have a chance to catch up with the recovery. Building on a similar action last year, the coalition began circulating a petition this week demanding the Fed keep rates low until wages and employment rise. With a combined membership strength in the millions, the coalition’s 25 groups are mobilizing ahead of the Fed’s annual symposium at Jackson Hole on August 27-29, where they plan to deliver the petition and plead their case. 

By design, most of us don’t have much say over how the Fed operates. The Federal Reserve’s decisions do not have to be ratified by Congress or the president and it doesn’t rely on Congress for funding. Its leadership is also skewed pretty heavily toward the 1 percent: Of the 108 current directors of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks, 91 come from banks and financial institutions. Just two of them officially represent workers (by law, 72 are required to represent the public).

The Fed is also incredibly powerful. Its decisions can have a dramatic impact on unemployment, wages, inequality, even who becomes president. The Fed can make it easier or harder for you to find work, pay down debt, or get a raise. Fed policy can fuel a speculative bubble, promote wage growth and full employment, or plunge the economy into deep recession—all without Congress or the president having to lift a finger.

Which is exactly why the folks behind Fed Up want working people to have a greater say over Fed operations, particularly as it considers raising rates as soon as next month. As Robert Reich explains below, that would be a big mistake:

As Reich argues, while the unemployment rate of 5.3 percent is the lowest it’s been since 2008, there’s plenty that number doesn’t show. Wage growth, for one thing, recently hit its slowest rate since 1982. In fact, wage growth has been below the Fed’s 2 percent target almost consistently since the recession ended. At the same time, while the official jobless rate has been improving, the employment-to-population ratio is nowhere near what it was when the recession began—meaning there’s a large number of Americans who have given up looking for work. According to the Economic Policy Institute (also a member of the Fed Up coalition), returning to the economy of December 2007 would mean adding three million more jobs. In other words, there are millions of Americans the recovery has not yet reached, and whom it may never reach if the Fed hits the brakes too quickly.

The mechanics of monetary policy are not typical fodder for a grassroots progressive campaign. But with the stakes this high, that probably needs to change. Depending on how the Fed acts now, the tepid recovery of the past six years could become a new normal of low growth, stagnant wages, and high unemployment—or the Fed could commit now to supporting a real recovery. 

Surprise! White, Wealthy (Mostly Male) Elites Are Bankrolling the Campaigns

The American political system has been steadily shifting from democracy to, as former President Jimmy Carter calls it, an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.” According to a recent big story from The New York Times, less than 130 families and their businesses account for more than half of the political contributions to Republican contenders and their super PACs.

And a new report from the Every Voice Center, a campaign-finance reform group, offers an even clearer depiction of the increasing political inequality: Many in the donor class are also neighbors. Half of the $74 million in large individual donations to ten presidential candidates have come from just 1 percent of U.S. zip codes.

(Courtesy of Every Voice Center)

Donors living in the posh areas along New York City’s Central Park have already given more money to presidential candidates than all 1,200 ZIP codes that are majority-black. Same goes for the 1,300 majority-Latino ZIP codes. In fact, contributions from the 1,200 majority-black ZIP codes total $1.3 million, and 19 mega-donors have each already donated more than that.

(Courtesy of Every Voice Center)

As Lee Fang notes at The Intercept, the elite donor class is quite white: Of the more than 50 individuals who have already given more than $1 million to the super PACs propping up the stable of candidates (excluding Bernie Sanders), only four are not white.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, when the Republican nominee’s platform—veiled as a “middle-class revival” plan—actually caters to a niche demographic of rich people.

There are some ways to fix this absurd disconnect in our political system. For instance, New York City has instituted a very successful public campaign-finance model that amplifies small donors with matching funds. Donors in the city’s 30 majority-black ZIP codes gave $2.1 million in the 2013 elections—more than those communities have given to presidential candidates in the last quarter.

The Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Finance Institute put out a fascinating study a couple years ago looking at how many more people across the city made small donations in city-council races, which had access to public-matching funds, than in state-assembly races, which didn’t.

Here’s the city’s donor distribution for state-assembly races:

(Courtesy of Brennan Center for Justice)

And here’s the city-council race:

(Courtesy of Brennan Center for Justice)

Clearly, measures like public-matching funds can expand the donor base and make candidates accountable to more people than just those who live on the Upper West Side.

This post has been updated to reflect that the Campaign Finance Institute, in addition to the Brennan Center, put out the study. 

From #BlackLivesMatter to the Bureau of Land Management, Oath Keepers Aim to Intimidate

In the early morning on Tuesday, about half a dozen men armed with assault rifles began walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, which was under a state of emergency following protests on the August 9 anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.

They were members of Oath Keepers, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group,” and they said they were there to “keep the peace”—as if their presence was meant to be anything other than intimidating. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their arrival was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but apparently no police officers confronted the group. The men were all white, of course—as if they could have possibly been met with the same response if they were black or brown.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers arrive in Ferguson early on Tuesday, August 11, to "protect people and property."


CNN was gracious enough to grant one member, John Karriman, the chance to explain his organization’s mission in Ferguson. “We had a calming presence on the crowd because they remember us from last year,” he said. “We were here for them, protecting people and property.” In the interview, Karriman said the Oath Keepers made their presence known to police, who simply asked that they not get in the way. Before the militiamen arrived, the police had told protesters to disperse, arresting those who did not comply.

Oath Keepers interpret political reality through the same prism as the tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter crowd, except with a special emphasis on using their weapons to disobey and resist unconstitutional government overreach and the imminent and tyrannical imposition of martial law.

They’ve also been freelancing their paramilitary and weapon-wielding skills to mining companies in the West. Just last week, Intermountain Mining requested the group come to the White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, to stage a “security operation” and protect the mine from “unlawful action by the United States Forest Service.” The Forest Service and the mine owners are in a dispute over who controls the surface rights to the mine, with Intermountain Mining claiming ownership under the original 1872 General Mining Law and the Forest Service citing noncompliance regarding a structure built on the property.

It’s worth talking a bit about this 1872 law, which is, incredibly, still on the books: Passed by President Ulysses S. Grant—yes, Grant—to encourage western development, the law lets mining companies buy land (at 1872 prices) and extract valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties (an estimated $100 million a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts). The taxpayers are left with the bill for environmental damage and abandoned mine cleanup, which is considerable. Last week’s dam breach in Colorado that leaked millions of gallons—and counting—of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River happened when the EPA was performing a cleanup of the Gold King Mine, abandoned since 1923.

It is this industry Oath Keepers are defending in Montana, just as they defended rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government or pay years’ worth of fees for having allowed his cattle to graze on public land. A report released on Tuesday by the Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as a nonpartisan conservation group, linked the efforts of extremist groups like Oath Keepers to Western state lawmakers who use anti-government rhetoric in their efforts to transfer ownership of federal lands—and the minerals underneath them—to state and local government.

But rhetoric is one thing, and assault weapons are another. The founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, wrote on the group’s website after the shooting in Chattanooga that Oath Keepers should “Go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness.” The group has denied that its mine protection in Montana is a “standoff,” though if I were a Forest Service employee, I would be a bit reluctant to approach armed men who not only believe my agency is unconstitutional, but also are prepared to “do sudden battle” with supposed agents of tyranny.

And if I were a protester in Ferguson, or one of the countless unarmed victims of police violence, I would also be more than reluctant to believe this country has an accurate idea of what constitutes a threat, or of who or what needs protecting.

Using Tech to Improve Government

In the modern digital era, a growing number of individuals and organizations are trying to figure out how to harness technology to improve democracy. I have written previously about the Personal Democracy Forum—an annual conference of civic tech groups in New York City—and while these spaces can certainly give rise to overblown hype (think HBO’s Silicon Valley but for Washington, D.C.), some innovations really do create opportunities to improve civic life.

One interesting new tool is called Balancing Act. Created by Engaged Public, a Denver-based company, Balancing Act is pitched as a public-budget simulation that local residents can use to better understand how their tax dollars are being spent. It also allows users to share their personal budget priorities, and to explore how to make that work given the available amount revenue. So, for example, if someone wants to see more money allocated for park maintenance or education, they’d have to take money from some other budget line, or indicate that they’d be willing to increase taxes elsewhere.

The tool should not be confused with “participatory budgeting”—a process first developed in Brazil in 1989—in which local community members come together to deliberate how a portion of a public budget should be spent. Balancing Act is about helping citizens engage with the entire budget, and reckoning with how governments really spend the bulk of their tax dollars.

After launching this past spring, Balancing Act is currently being used in HartfordSan Antonio, the state of Colorado, and the Meridian Library District in Idaho. Governments pay annual fees to use the technology—ranging typically from $891 to $3,141 per year—and from there, the governments transfer their data and budgeting info into the system.

I am a bit skeptical of civic tech tools that prioritize engagement over power. This summer, I read Democratizing Inequalities, a terrific book that looks at how we have increasing levels of inequality alongside an ever-expanding number of opportunities to “participate” in civic life. Some scholars have rightly noted that many digital tools offer the illusion of openness and inclusion without actually providing more political power to those who have the least.

Right now, governments can claim to be “transparent” or “open” if they publish extremely long PDFs on their websites; few citizens actually have the time or expertise to comb through these dense documents and make sense of what’s going on. Democracy is consent of the governed, but if citizens can’t understand what their leaders are doing, then consent means little. Balancing Act breaks the information down in a way that is easier for the average citizen to sift through, and that’s important.

“We want to help create the basis for a much more intelligent and thoughtful conversation that reflects people’s actual priorities,” said Chris Adams, the president of Engaged Public, who also thinks that these types of tools can foster more trust between citizens and government. According to the Pew Research Center, just 5 percent of Americans think state governments share data very effectively, and only 7 percent think local governments share data very effectively. When trust in government is low, participation drops.

Adams hopes this tool will be attractive to adults, but he acknowledges that it can be challenging to get people to actually use it. Playing around with budgets, even accessible and comprehensible budgets, isn’t exactly fun. The tool may turn out to be much more valuable for teachers, who can use it as a way to augment civic education. Even if kids don’t want to use the budget simulations after they graduate, at least they’ll have developed a deeper understanding of how budgets actually work.

It’s possible that government agencies will eventually work to make their information more accessible in-house, rather than contract out these responsibilities to various companies. But technological change within the government moves quite slowly, so I wouldn’t expect that any time soon.

Lawrence Lessig's Curious Candidacy for Campaign-Finance Reform

Last night, The New York Times reported that prominent campaign-finance reformer Lawrence Lessig is considering a Democratic run for president.

His civic-minded platform is simple, and his plan is rather curious. If he can raise $1 million in small donations by Labor Day, Lessig will run for president with the sole purpose of passing legislation—the Citizen Equality Act of 2017—that would make Election Day a national holiday, end gerrymandering, and institute a robust public campaign-finance system based on vouchers and matching funds. If elected, Lessig says he will resign after passing the act.

Lessig is comparing his candidacy to that of Eugene McCarthy in 1968, who ran a single-issue campaign against the Vietnam War because he feared the Democratic Party wasn’t making it a prominent part of its platform.

The most prominent Democratic contenders—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley—have all pledged their support of overturning the Citizens United decision. Last week, Sanders took it a step further and introduced legislation that would expand the public campaign-finance system to all federal elections.

Clinton and O’Malley have both voiced support for public campaign finance but have not come out with any sort of particular policy or plan.

Lessig is the former head of the Mayday PAC, a super PAC to end super PACs that support candidates who are committed to reforming campaign finance. The group’s efforts in 2014 were largely unsuccessful. A couple weeks ago, I spoke to Lessig’s replacement, Zephyr Teachout, about the presidential race and she made it clear that paying lip service on finance reform isn’t enough.

“[I]f you are silent on private financing in elections and aren’t actively supporting some model of public financing, that’s a problem—you’re a pro-corruption candidate,” Teachout said.

It’s interesting to note that Lessig has already targeted his most pointed critiques to Sanders’s candidacy, whose policies and supporters are most comparable to Lessig’s.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Greenhouse, Lessig articulated exactly why he thinks he is a better candidate than the Vermont senator:

“Bernie is pushing a different equality. Bernie is talking about wealth equality, economic equality. And while personally I agree with much of what he says about the incredible harm that’s been done by the incredible inequality that’s been produced, the reality is: America is not united around the idea of wealth equality the way America is united around the idea of equality among citizens. So what I’m pushing is a big idea that I think could actually unite America—and what Bernie is pushing is a big idea that, while many of us in the progressive part of the Democratic Party love it, all of America does not love.”

That’s a bold assertion to make, and he places a lot of faith in the saliency of such wonky, unsexy issues like public campaign finance and gerrymandering. But if he ends up running, it will be worth seeing what kind of impact Lessig has on Sanders’s surging momentum—and whether Hillary Clinton’s campaign will even acknowledge his existence. 

The CEO Lobby Is Mad About the SEC's Pay Ratio Rule

When Congress passed Dodd-Frank in 2010, the most substantial piece of Wall Street reform in years, it included a provision that required most publicly traded companies to disclose the compensation ratio between its CEO and its average worker—a symbolic measure that Democrats included as a way to shine light on income inequality. 

Last week (more than five years later), the SEC finally approved, along party lines, a rule that requires such disclosure. As a way increasing transparency over exorbitant executive compensation and allowing for more informed, socially-responsible investment, most publicly traded companies will now be forced to show in simple terms how many hundreds of times more its top executive is paid than its employees.

As research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has shown, it will likely not be a favorable number for most corporations. In 1965, the average CEO-worker pay ratio was 20 to 1. In 2014, it was 303 to 1. The average compensation for a CEO in 2014 was $16.3 million.

The SEC rule’s passage is being lauded as a big win for financial reform advocates like Elizabeth Warren, who consistently berated the commission for taking so long to pass the mandated rule. But Republicans and the CEO lobby are feeling a little victimized and upset. A Republican SEC Commissioner, Daniel Gallagher, quipped, “To steal a line from Justice Scalia: This is pure applesauce.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has dubbed it a “name-and-shame tactic,” saying in a statement: “Congress added this disclosure to Dodd-Frank as a favor to union lobbyists who misguidedly think it will help their organizing efforts. When disclosure is used to advance special interest agendas rather than provide investors with better information, it is a step in the wrong direction.”

While the SEC has said it will cost companies a measly $73 million to comply, the Chamber of Commerce contends that the costs will be an “egregious” $700 million a year.

“It’s cost without a purpose,” John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, a Washington association of CEOs, told The Los Angeles Times.

No doubt, the powerful business lobby will continue to sound the hyperbolic alarms, claiming what seems like some pretty basic arithmetic amounts to a costly and burdensome government regulation that will stoke the class-warfare fire and force CEOs to spend their hard-earned income on anti-pitchfork insurance.

But maybe it’s a good thing that big business is a little uneasy about making public just how large its pay disparities are. While transparency doesn’t always lead to change, there are those who are optimistic that the new rule will have a real impact.

“I used to think this was symbolic,” Larry Mishel, president of the EPI, told The Los Angeles Times. “But the fact is, the pay of people in publicly held companies drives the executive pay market—for people in privately held firms, for universities, for hospitals.” 

Bernie Knows Repealing Citizens United Isn’t Enough. Does Anyone Else?

Earlier this week, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced that he will introduce legislation that will create a robust public campaign-finance system in an attempt to beat back the unhinged influence of big money in the U.S. electoral system.

“The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. “Let us be frank, let us be honest, the current political campaign finance system is corrupt and amounts to legalized bribery.”

The announcement comes in light of a New York Times blockbuster report that as of June, roughly 130 families and their businesses are responsible for more than half of all money raised for Republican candidates and their respective super PACs.

“We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward oligarchy, toward a government owned and controlled by a handful of extremely wealthy families,” Sanders said. 

This new bill will come on top of Sanders’s marquee policy position that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also recently pledged that, if elected president, he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning the decision.

Still, despite grassroots support for a constitutional amendment, such a route remains more of a political pipedream than reality. Sanders’s new call for a public campaign-finance system is reflective of a shifting strategy within reform circles—one that emphasizes not only a repeal of Citizens United, but also gives imperative to changing the funding mechanisms of elections.

“What that means in terms of electoral races is that we’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing,” campaign-finance reform advocate Zephyr Teachout told me in an interview last week. “They cannot, like Hillary Clinton, talk about a constitutional amendment and not talk about the most obvious and easiest thing to do, which is switch to a public-financing model. You’re not an anti-corruption candidate if you’re not talking about public financing.”

The thinking is that even if Citizens is repealed, it would only be going back to the campaign-finance world of 2009—hardly a democratic utopia. By instituting a robust public-finance system, small donors’ concerns would be amplified through matching funds and the reliance on mega-donors would be minimized.

So while Sanders makes it clear he understands that campaign finance reform isn’t one-dimensional problem, has anyone else?

Most Republicans have remained mute on the subject of campaign-finance reform and it’s rather unthinkable to imagine a conservative supporting the use of public money to fund campaigns—Mitch McConnell has likened it to “welfare for politicians.”

And while the current Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, supports the overturning of Citizens United, she’s refrained from articulating a position on public campaign finance. 

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is in favor of overturning Citizens United, and has voiced support of public campaign finance—though he’s yet to come forward with a formal proposal. “I think a lot of cities are moving to publically financed campaigns and as more cities successfully do that, it’d be nice to see that kind of bubble up,” O’Malley said at a New Hampshire campaign visit in March. “I haven’t advanced a proposal on this; I’d certainly be open to it.”

Other public campaign-finance bills have been recently introduced in the House, but so far to no avail. So while the feasibility of Sanders’s getting any kind of similar bill pushed through a Republican Senate is unlikely, he is bolstering his surprising campaign surge by acknowledging what most in the campaign-finance-reform world have been saying for some time now: Repeal doesn’t mean much if there’s no public financing that goes with it.