What’s the most importance race this year for those who want to see outside money banished from politics? Matt Stoller of Salon thinks it’s the New York gubernatorial race pitting establishment Democrat Andrew Cuomo against constitutional law professor Zephyr Teachout.
Can the Democratic Party return to its populist roots?
It’s an odd question. Unlimited corporate money is pouring into politics after the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. Dramatic economic inequality is being exposed by best-selling economist Thomas Piketty. Politician Elizabeth Warren is ascendant in the Democratic Party. So the answer would seem to be yes. At the same time, Hillary Clinton, an extremely Wall Street-friendly candidate, is attracting the bulk of liberal support. Other candidates for the 2016, such as Martin O’Malley and Jay Nixon, may run, both solely as competent technocrats. In 2016, despite the seemingly potent moment, no serious candidate is directly challenging corporate power. It seems as if liberal Democrats are, to put it mildly, confused.
The answer to this question may best be answered by looking at an improbably important race in New York state, for governor. A year ago, this race looked like a snooze, with a popular and powerful incumbent Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, cruising to re-election. But that was before two things happened. One, federal prosecutors began investigating possible criminal activity by Cuomo in tampering with a New York state anti-corruption panel known as the Moreland Commission. And two, Zephyr Teachout, a constitutional law professor and corruption scholar, began her campaign to challenge Cuomo, on this same question of corruption. And Teachout’s campaign, though a longshot, is no laughing matter. Larry Lessig, the reform advocate who has raised $12 million for a campaign against corruption, calls this “the most important money in politics race this year.” It’s not just a race about corruption; it’s the first shot of what might be a real revolt in the Democratic Party.
Cuomo is a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party establishment — he’s a former Clinton cabinet official, New York attorney general, son of legendary liberal Mario Cuomo and a potential future presidential candidate. In the last six months, 16 billionaires have dumped money into his campaign. He has, as a lieutenant governor running mate, Kathy Hochul, a (non-registered) bank lobbyist and former upstate Democratic congresswoman with a long history of anti-immigrant activism. Teachout is an insurgent, a scholar of corruption and corporate influence in politics, as well as a longtime activist in Democratic politics. She chose as her running mate Columbia law professor Tim Wu, a specialist in internet law and former Federal Trade Commission official who coined the term ‘net neutrality’.
What makes this race unusual is that Teachout and Wu have made addressing corporate power the centerpiece of their campaign. One of Teachout’s first specific policy proposals was to use New York government to block the Comcast-Time Warner merger in the state. This is more revolutionary than it looks. Everyone in New York City hates Time Warner, and telecommunications companies are among the least popular companies in the country. But when was the last time anyone got to vote against their cable company? That’s the chance Teachout and Wu want to give voters. They have also pledged to take on the perceived monopolistic power that Amazon is wielding over the publishing industry, which is centered in New York City. Their platform lists public financing of campaigns and caps on corporate contributions to political parties as critical mechanisms to root out corruption and run a government for the people.