Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a senior writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Searching for Worker Voices at the White House

A recent labor summit highlighted the administration's uneven record on workers' rights.  

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik President Barack Obama speaks during a conversation co-hosted by Coworker.org at the White House Summit on Worker Voice, Wednesday, October 7, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. N obody knew quite what to expect at Wednesday’s White House Summit on Worker Voice, which brought labor leaders, worker rights organizations, low-wage workers, and “high-road” employers together to talk about how to ease workers’ path toward collective action. Some labor advocates openly worried that the focus of the event would skew toward newer organizing avenues and cast collective bargaining as a clunky relic of labor’s past. Others were skeptical about the authenticity of the event, wondering if, in light of the recent agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, this was just the White House’s attempt at appeasing disgruntled labor leaders. But for many in attendance, those apprehensions were allayed. “I am a big believer … of collective bargaining...

The Labor Prospect: Minding Minimums

Cuomo's new minimum wage plan hits a snag, the NEA endorses Hillary, and Uber drivers are one step closer to collective bargaining in Seattle. 

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a rally after the New York Wage Board endorsed a proposal to set a $15 minimum wage for workers at fast-food restaurants with 30 or more locations, Wednesday, July 22, 2015 in New York. S an Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced today that they would chair a 2016 initiative campaign to raise the minimum wage in America’s mega-state to $15 by 2021. Signatures are currently being collected to qualify the measure, which was initiated by SEIU and has been endorsed by more than 100 other organizations, for the November ’16 ballot. The measure would raise the statewide minimum to $11 by 2017 and by a dollar a year thereafter until 2021 , after which it would be indexed to the annual cost of living increase. A recent survey by the Field Poll (whose track record makes it perhaps the nation’s most accurate) found 68 percent support among California voters for such a measure. California, it’s worth...

Bernie Wants to Get Money Out of Politics. So Where’s His Plan?

While Bernie isn’t short on rhetoric about getting money out of politics, he remains curiously short on specifics.

For the past couple months, I’ve been chronicling the emerging debate over the role of money in politics and the increased calls for campaign-finance reform within the Democratic field. The most notable development in the political discourse on the left has been a move beyond the boilerplate talking points about overturning Citizens United toward a commitment to a public funding mechanism for federal elections—a policy point that campaign-finance reform advocates have become more adamant about.

As government reformer Zephyr Teachout told me in an interview back in July (before any candidate had really talked much about public funding), “We’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing.”

A couple weeks ago, Hillary Clinton came out with a highly ambitious campaign-finance reform plan. Then last week, Martin O’Malley unveiled his own detailed plan.

This raises the question: Where in the world is Bernie’s plan? More than any candidate, he’s been calling for reducing the influence of money in politics. Yet he hasn’t really specified exactly how he intends to do that. His campaign website has a policy section called “Getting Big Money Out of Politics,” but it’s rather sparse. Two of his listed key actions include his introduction of legislation to overturn Citizens United and a pledge to only appoint justices who are committed to rolling back the Roberts jurisprudence on campaign-finance reform. Another is the fact that he voted for the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would work to uncover dark money, which nearly got passed before a last-minute Republican filibuster.

Sanders has an advantage in that he can use his senatorial record and the legislation he introduced to serve as a surrogate to a patchwork of detailed policy papers. For example, while Clinton pledged to pass an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose dark-money spending, Sanders was one of a handful of senators who wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an order of his own.

He also announced early in August that he would introduce legislation that would institute public funding for federal elections—his office says that small-donor matching is a tenet of the proposed bill. However, it’s been about two months and we’ve yet to see any specifics on it. 

Seeing the language of the bill would help us see just how robust a public-finance system Sanders envisions. Senator Dick Durbin has already introduced the Fair Elections Act in the Senate, which would institute a public-finance system for federal elections—it will be interesting to see whether a Sanders plan would be different.

However, I find it curious that Sanders has yet to set in stone a money-in-politics plan. While the other two candidates have already staked out very strong policies that are pulled from reformers’ wish lists, having clarified policies on everything from FEC reform and SEC disclosure rules to independent redistricting, Bernie needs to push out some bold specifics if he wants to maintain his brand as the money-in-politics reformer of the race. 

If Small Donors Were Amplified, Bernie Would Be the Frontrunner

Under public-financing plans proposed by candidates like Clinton, Bernie's grassroots fundraising would put him over the top.

AP Photo/Paul Beaty
AP Photo/Paul Beaty A supporters holds up a sign as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks at the University of Chicago, Monday, September 28, 2015, in Chicago. T his Wednesday was the last day of the third fundraising quarter for presidential campaigns, which means we got an inside look at how the candidates are doing—financially speaking. Not surprisingly, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton came out in front, having raised $28 million in the past three months—that’s more than any non-incumbent candidate ever and puts her on track to raise $100 million by the end of the year, according to a Clinton aide . A bigger surprise (though maybe not for his avid supporters) was that Bernie Sanders, who has sworn off PAC money, declined to establish a super PAC, and heavily leans on small donations, has raised $26 million in his third-quarter fundraising haul. What’s more, Sanders held just seven fundraisers during that time, compared to Clinton’s 58—meaning...

O'Malley Follows Clinton with a Money-in-Politics Plan of His Own

Today, former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley unveiled his detailed plan to limit the rampant role of money in politics. Like Hillary Clinton, who released her plan a couple weeks ago, campaign-finance reform advocates widely applaud O’Malley’s ambitious plan. (It’s worth noting that Bernie Sanders has yet to release a specific money-in-politics plan beyond a short section on his website.)

“Martin O’Malley has provided a strong plan, focused both on reducing the barrier of big money and raising the voices of everyday people in politics,” says David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a campaign-finance reform group.

His plan is largely modeled off what’s essentially a wish list for reform advocates that was released by a number of reform groups back in July, as well as off the Government by the People Act, a bill sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes that has earned widespread Democratic support.

Like virtually every candidate on the left, O’Malley vows to fight to overturn the Citizens United decision. At this point, this is boilerplate policy for any Democrat, but given the immense obstacles that must be overturned to do so, it’s kind of wishful thinking.

Reform advocates have increasingly been pushing to institute a public-financing system for federal elections. Sarbanes’s bill, which O’Malley pledges to pass if he’s elected, institutes a small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Every donation under $150 would be matched with public funds six-fold; if a candidate pledges to only take small donations, that ratio jumps to 9 to 1.

Again, calling for public funding and small-donor empowerment has become the party line. Clinton’s plan calls for a public system for all federal elections, though it doesn’t specify the matching ratio. That O’Malley failed to outline a fix for the broken presidential financing system is a major flaw for advocates. Clinton has also pledged to sign an executive order that requires government contractors to disclose their dark-money spending, another point that O’Malley did not address. Reformers have long been pushing Obama to sign such an order, but so far he has not.

However, there are still some aspects of campaign finance that O’Malley is strong on. Clinton’s plan was criticized for not addressing issues of enforcement, à la the broken FEC. O’Malley devotes an entire section detailing how he’d overhaul the commission. Most notably, he’d restructure it to be headed by one administrator, rather than a perpetually gridlocked board.

One thing worth noting is that he comes out in support of the bipartisan redistricting commissions that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which is somewhat ironic given that he oversaw one of the most gerrymandered district maps in the country while governor of Maryland.

Despite the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ plans, it’s clear that money-in-politics is now a top-tier policy issue on the Democratic side.  Considering that Bernie, Hillary, and Martin have all gotten somewhat in the weeds on campaign-finance reform and political spending more generally, we can expect the issue to be a major focus in the first Democratic debate.

“Considering all major Democrats in the race have similar ideas for how we can fix our broken system,” says Every Voice’s Donnelly, “the upcoming debate would be the perfect opportunity for them to discuss what they’ll do to put everyday people at the center of our democracy.” 

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