Washington needs more people like Senator Warren Rudman (+video)
Sen. Rudman, who passed away last week, was perhaps best known for his legislation on deficit reduction. But he also fought tirelessly for campaign finance reform and citizen-funded elections. And he was willing to work across the aisle and stand up to his own Republican party to do it.
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Nor was he unwilling to revise his own positions in light of new evidence, although it benefitted him nothing – a trait not often found in politics. Testifying opposite his former Senate colleague and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky in the Senate Rules Committee in 2007, Rudman cited the exponential rise in campaign costs and outside influence as reasons for his newfound support of citizen-funded Fair Elections, an alternative funding system piloted in the states that replaced private money with small donations and matching public funds for qualifying candidates.Skip to next paragraph
“Times have changed and so have I,” said the well-known budget hawk about the need to contain the undue influence of special interest groups through public funding. Mr. McConnell was not impressed.
Rudman’s reasons for supporting citizen-funded elections were straightforward and reveal, in part, what I came to know as his no-nonsense Yankee approach to public service. “A healthy part of the American dream has always been the notion that anyone can hold public office,” Rudman testified. “Increasingly, candidates' qualifications are being measured by the size of their wallet, not the strength of their ideas. Public funding would once again allow Americans from every walk of life, and income level, to contemplate public service.”
Whether the Republicans or President Obama will take up campaign finance reform after a $6 billion election featuring record amounts of secretive outside spending remains to be seen. But the cost of continued delay, according to Rudman, was clear: The influx of private money in politics, he testified, “distorts our nation's agenda, undermines our democratic values, drives voters away from the polls and limits electoral competition.”
As a young policy director with Americans for Campaign Reform in 2007, I had the privilege of accompanying Rudman to that Senate hearing and assisting him recruit dozens of other Republican and Democratic elected officials to the cause. His steely resolve opposite Sen. McConnell made a strong impression. So did his warmth and good humor, his encouragement that I heed the call of public service, and his modest manner, which lacked the pretensions I am accustomed to finding in the corridors of power. Even when illness moved to center-stage in recent years, he refused to step down.
For the sake of his memory – and for the country to which he dedicated a lifetime of public service – let us hope that Warren Rudman was not just an “old fashioned sentimentalist” for placing public service ahead of politics.