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John Sarbanes
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I recently introduced the Government By the People Act that fundamentally changes how Congressional campaigns are funded.
I recently introduced the Government By the People Act that fundamentally changes how Congressional campaigns are funded.

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This week I discuss the House leadership’s continued focus on the IRS and the establishment of a select committee to further investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi. I also focus on the bipartisan bill regarding charter school funding, the Supreme Court ruling regarding legislative prayers, the White House’s report regarding climate change, and testimony I heard regarding ACA premiums being paid.


Transcript:
This is Congressman John Sarbanes telling you what happened on the House floor in Congress the week of Monday May 5th, 2014.
We did a few things, not a whole lot that was constructive unfortunately. The House Republican leadership continues to beat on the issue of the IRS supported targeting of conservative non-profit groups.  They won’t let that go, even though the evidence suggests there was no witch-hunt underway. That there might have been some clumsiness going on there at the IRS, but there was no dedicated program to try and single out conservative nonprofit groups when it came to grants tax-exempt status. This is just a case of them I think wanting to get political points with some in their party. That also included putting through a resolution that would find Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she took the 5thAmendment, as she has a right to do, in the oversight committee. But it’s all part of the same messaging that somehow there is something to hide here. Two of these things were put forward I voted against both of them because I think it’s politics I don’t think it makes senses and frankly I think most Americans are tired of hearing about it. In that vein this week we also had a vote on establishing a select committee to further investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi in 2012, this has gotten so much air time, so much play I don’t think there is a whole lot here additionally that needs to be known or learned. But it’s again a topic that the Republican majority in the House wants to pursue, and they are very focused on what talking points were used on Sunday morning talk shows, instead of moving past that and just thinking about, well how can we make sure that next time the security situation is improved. So I voted against that because again I thought that setting up this special committee doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The question now is should democrats participate in it, is it going to be done in a serious fashion, we will have to see how that goes forward. So those were some proposals that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. There was a bipartisan bill that we passed that had to do with charter schools providing funding over the next 5 years for quality public charter schools across the country with certain accountability provisions in place. I did vote for that I think it makes sense and a majority of Republicans and Democrats did the same. A couple of other things, that we addressed in this past week, in our committee we had some energy items we looked at some provisions or bills relating to domain names, things of that nature. I do want to note that aside from what happened in Congress the Supreme Court allowed legislative prayers in cases were there is explicitly Christian prayers, I have some concern about that  in terms of the line between Church and State and except to hear more in that debate as time goes on. The White House released a report from a scientific panel that showed that climate change is already having major effects and that we can point to some of these violent weather instances as examples of that. And we also had testimony in the Energy & Commerce Committee where I serve, that 80-90% of that premiums that need to be paid for people who are signing up under the new Affordable Care Act exchanges have been paid and that’s a good trend.
These are some of the things that we addressed during the week of May 5th, and I will be back when we are back in session to give you an update of our work on the House floor. Take Care.
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This week on Commuting to Congress, I discuss the two appropriations bills that passed in the House last week, a bill that will create a 100th anniversary commemorative coin for the National Parks Service, activities surrounding the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and the Senate hearing where Justice John Paul Stevens spoke about his concerns about how big money is affecting our campaigns and affecting how government works.

Transcript:
Good afternoon this is Congressman Sarbanes, I wanted to give you a brief recap of our events, our work in Washington for the week of April 28th.  We passed two appropriations bills in the House of Representatives. One relating to military construction and Veterans Affairs and the other relating to the legislative branch operations. With respect to military construction, they call it MILCON, and Veterans Affairs the funding for military construction was down from 2014 levels but is still at $6.5 billion, a significant investment. It included funding for the BRAC activities, which is important for Maryland because the Base Realignment and Closure obviously has significant benefits for our state. In particular in the Fort Meade area, which is in my district, that area surrounding Fort Meade is in the 3rd district so I pay close attention to the status of BRAC funding.  Also included within that bill, the military construction and Veterans Affairs bill are the benefits for our veterans. The funding there was almost $65 billion, which is about a billion and a half above the 2014 level. Congress has had significant concerns about particularly the processing of claims, there has been a huge backlog in the VA. So this bill includes language that says that the Department of Defense and the VA have to demonstrate better coordination and interoperability in their medical records systems, in order to expedite the processing of claims that come in from our veterans. So I think it was important to those kinds of strings, those conditions in place to push the agencies to do better in terms of eliminating the backlog.  We also as I said passed a legislative appropriations act, this is the bill that funds the Capital Police, the Congressional Budgets Office, the Architect of the Capital, Library of Congress, Government Printing Office, Government Accountability Office, all these various resources that are critical in terms of allowing operations to continue on a day to day basis on Capital Hill. And also provide important source of information for the public. So those were the appropriations bills that we passed the two that we passed this week.
Then there were a couple of other things this week that I wanted to call attention to.  One was we passed a bill to create a 100th anniversary commemorative coin for the National Park Service. And I’m a big booster of national parks. In particular we are paying close attention this year to the activities and celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 where Fort McHenry, which is a national park, is going to be at the center of that celebration. And on that point I was with the mayor this past week at Fort McHenry announcing the lineup of special events that we are going to be having between now and September 14, which is the 200thanniversary of the Battle of Baltimore. There is going to be a lot of good things for people to do over the course of the summer, so you should definitely look into that and get information about that and the Star Spangle Banner National Historic Trail which I was proud to be a part of establishing in the run up to the bicentennial celebration.
And then just a final point, this didn’t happen on the House side but over on the Senate side this week there was testimony from Justice John Paul Stevens, about the issue of money in politics. And the hearing was called “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Election and Beyond.” So it’s on the topic of big money affecting our campaigns and affecting the way government works. And Justice Stevens has gone public now that he has retired, with his concerns about where the court is headed. Certainly we agree with him on that and that’s one of reasons we are pursuing the Government By the People Act and the MyVoice Campaign, to empower everyday citizens to say “my voice… does count!” So that was an interesting hearing on the Senate side. The Senate was unable to make much progress on a minimum wage bill, unfortunately, so I’m not sure we are going to get the result there that we have been pushing for. I’d like to see the minimum wage raised at the federal level. The Senate did announce additional sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
So that’s a round up of the events of the last week, and stay tuned for next week’s summary. 
Take care. 
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In this week's episode of Commuting to Congress, I discuss the Supreme Court's decision regarding McCutcheon v FEC, and The Government By the People Act.

Transcript:

This is John Sarbanes, I wanted to give you a quick update on the McCutcheon decision that the Supreme Court handed down, I guess within the last ten days. A terrible decision, it gives more money influence to the big donors out there who already have plenty of influence. Let me tell you quickly what it did, and why I think the Government by the People Act is a terrific response to McCutcheon. The McCutcheon case basically said that, whereas before there was an aggregate limit on the amount that a single individual could contribute to all federal candidates, that’s congressional candidates and senate candidates. Now that limit has been lifted. So, a single individual can give the maximum amount, which is $2,600 dollars, in a primary and in a general election. They can give that maximum amount to all members of Congress, all candidates who are running. They can give even more money to political committees. And so, a single individual now, which before was somewhat constrained, because there was an overall limit on how much they could put into all federal races combined, now is not subject to that restraint, and can wield influence over the entire institution of Congress in the same way that previously they were only able to wield influence over, sort of, one member at a time. So all it does is that it makes big money donors, like Sean McCutcheon, who’s the one who brought that case to the Supreme Court, more powerful than they’ve already been up until now. And it makes the everyday citizen wonder how their voice can ever count and ever make a difference. Now I think there’s a way to do it. I think there’s a way to fight back against the McCutcheon decision, and I think it’s the Government by the People Act, which would create a small donor driven, public financing system, that candidates could turn to. If you think about it, the reason Sean McCutcheon and people like him have so much influence right now in our system, and in our politics, is because they’re the only game in town when it comes to raising the big dollars that you need to run a competitive campaign. But what if we could find another place where people could turn to run their campaigns, where candidates could go to power their elections? Everyday citizens, what if that was the place that candidates turn? Then, you could begin to reduce the influence that Sean McCutcheon has, and the big money campaign donors have, because there would be somewhere else to get the money. That’s what the Government by the People Act would do, it would create a system like that, and it would begin to push back on the influence that people like Sean McCutcheon have, and give that power to everyday Americans out there who are demanding to have their voice be heard. So that’s the McCutcheon case, stay tuned for the Government by the People Act and our efforts to move it forward and empower everyday citizens. Thank you.
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In the sixth episode of Commuting to Congress I discuss the Ryan budget that passed in the House of Representatives and Equal Pay Day.

Transcript:

This is John Sarbanes, Commuting to Congress. Now I’m commuting back from Congress at the end of the week in which we looked at the Republican Budget, the Ryan Budget that was put on the floor of the House. It passed in the House of Representatives with most Republicans voting for it, and most Democrats voting against it. The budget’s a disaster. The budget would gut many programs that assist working families across the country. It would cut Pell Grants by $145 billion dollars. It would cut assistance to student loan programs. Meanwhile, the Medicare voucher is back in the Ryan budget. He would turn the Medicare program into a voucher system, he’d raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, and he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to close the donut hole that has been such a burden on seniors. So that donut hole would no longer be closing, because the ACA would be repealed. Beyond that, he wants to repeal the whole rest of the Affordable Care Act, which would increase the number of uninsured significantly over the next ten years. So, the Ryan Budget basically does everything you could possibly do to move the country in the wrong direction. And, of course, the whole time it’s also proposing to increase tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and actually add to the tax burden of middle class Americans. So that’s what we spent this week doing, voting on the Ryan Budget. Now that will get, that won’t make it through the Senate. Obviously, the President would veto a budget of that kind. So, it’s more of a message document, but it’s pretty valuable because of the message it tells us that the Republicans in Congress want to put forward to the country, which is a message of going backwards, not forwards. The other thing we did this week, was we celebrated Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, which is the recognition that women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work in this country and we’ve got to recommit ourselves to trying to improve on that situation. There are millions of women across the country who work in jobs where they do not achieve the promotion that their male counterparts do, and otherwise suffer from a bias in the workplace when it comes to compensation. So, Equal Pay Day was an opportunity to shine light on that persistent disparity and highlight the ways in which we can try to address it going forward. So that’s our week in review, this is Congressman Sarbanes signing off.
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In the fifth episode of Commuting to Congress I report from the side of the road in New Hampshire about the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Transcript:

This is John Sarbanes, I’m walking along the side of the road in New Hampshire with Lawrence Lessig, who’s leading the New Hampshire Rebellion, which is an effort to showcase the need to reform the way our elections are funded in this country, to give a voice of the people back in the way our government is run. He’s here walking in a tribute to Granny D. Haddock, Doris Haddock, who, at the age of 88 years old, back in the year 2000, walked all the way from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. It took her 13 months. She walked over 3000 miles with a sign on her back that said “Campaign Finance Reform.” So, here in New Hampshire over the last 10 days, a group of individuals has walked from north of the northern New Hampshire boundary, and will be finishing in Nashua. And I join them today on their 18 mile march from Concord to Manchester. All is part of this effort to showcase the need to reform the way we fund our campaigns, to break our dependence on big money and special interests, and give a voice back to everyday citizens. And soon, we’ll be introducing as part of that effort the Government by the People Act, which will create a system of public funding for congressional campaigns and hopefully transform the relationship between everyday citizens and their government, and what happens in Washington. So, signing off from the side of the road, this is John Sarbanes.
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In the fourth episode of Commuting to Congress I discuss the budget agreement that was passed in the House of Representatives.

Transcript:

So, this is the first of a series of voice memos that I’m going to be doing as I commute back from Washington. We just passed a budget agreement in the House of Representatives, which will put off a government shutdown for another 2 years, so that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, it didn’t include some things I would have liked to see, such as extending unemployment benefits for those who are going to see their benefits run out over the holidays. But it did get us out from under some of the sequester cuts that have had a very significant negative impact on our economy and on important programs that help to improve the quality of life of all Americans. So, there was a reason to support this and it gives the public a little bit of respite from the budget wrangling that we’ve seen over the last couple of years. A little bit of relief from that, which I know that the average person out there could definitely appreciate. So that was the vote we took today and we’ll keep trying to put together these bipartisan solutions, although I don’t predict that it’s going to be easy.

Thanks for listening to Commuting to Congress with John Sarbanes. If you would like to keep up with the Congressman’s efforts in between these episodes, be sure to go to his website: www.johnsarbanes.com, where you can find links to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
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Click the link below to listen to my third episode of Commuting to Congress. I discuss my concerns about the upcoming Supreme Court Case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

Transcript:

Hello, this is John Sarbanes, thank you for tuning into Commuting to Congress, the online reflections of the lawmaker who, by day, gets an insider’s view on the nation’s capital, and at night, leaves the D.C. bubble and heads back home to the district. Today I wanted to talk about the McCutcheon case, which is a case the Supreme Court, in the last few days, decided to take. It’s a case that challenges the current limits that are put in place for the amount that a single contributor can give to all federal campaigns. These are limits that have been in place for decades, and the fact that the Court has taken this case causes me great concern because we’ve seen what they did with the Citizens United case recently, in terms of beginning to take limits off of what happens in the funding of our campaigns. The challenge in this case is to rules that say that the total amount of money that can be given across all congressional campaigns and federal campaigns by a single donor is $123,000 dollars. And if the Supreme Court decides to lift that limit, they might also go further and lift the limit on the amount that can be contributed to a single candidate from a contributor, which is now $2,600 dollars in a primary and $2,600 dollars in a general election. If they do that, if they take those limits off, then the Sheldon Adelsons of the world can come in and give $200,000 dollars to one candidate. And that will only contribute further to the perception that the public has that lawmakers, basically, are being owned by the special interests and aren’t responding to the concerns of the average person out there. It’s why I’m pushing so hard to try to reform the way we fund campaigns and, at least, create an option for candidates, grassroots candidates, to go out there, build support from grassroots donors and have that support matched with public dollars to amplify their voice. I’ve introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act, which would do just that. We’re going to keep up the fight to try to promote grassroots-funded, citizen-owned campaigns. At the end of the day, it comes down to the fundamental question of who’s going to own your government? Is it going to be special interests and big money, in which case, when it comes times to make policy, that’s the direction the institutions of Congress will lean towards. Or is it going to be the average person? Is it going to be you, the folks who can make a contribution, 5, 10, 15 dollars, and in return, just ask that their government respond to their interest and not the special interests. We’ll keep up that fight. I appreciate your being connected to this issue as we move forward, this issue of money in politics. Again, I’d like to thank you for tuning into Commuting to Congress. If you have any questions about this episode, or have an idea for an episode you’d like me to do in the future, please email me at info@johnsarbanes.com, send me a tweet @JohnSarbanes, or post your idea on my Facebook page. Thank you.
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Below is my statement on the House floor regarding the Government By the People Act (HR 20).
www.governmnetbythepeopleact.com

In early February of this year, I introduced the Government By the People Act with over 125 original co-sponsors.  If enacted, this legislation will create a new way of funding Congressional campaigns that reduces the influences of big-money donors and special interests and instead lifts up the voices of ordinary Americans.
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Click the link below to listen to my second episode of Commuting to Congress. I discuss the possible negative mental/emotional effects Super PACs many have on members of Congress.

Transcript:
This is John Sarbanes with The View from Inside and Outside the Nation’s Capital. Inside, because, I’m one of the members of Congress who’s got an insider’s perspective, but outside, because, I’m one of those who can come home every night and look back on Washington, D.C. and kind of put it in perspective. Today I wanted to talk to you about what I call “money drones.” It’s my phrase to refer to super PACs out there and I’ve been talking a lot about money in politics. And I use that term, “money drones,” because if you’re a candidate or a member of Congress and you’re walking down the sidewalk, just running your campaign, suddenly you might hear a humming sound behind you, and next thing you know, one of these super PACs has dropped a half million dollar payload on your head of negative advertising and that’s the end of you, politically. I was at a conference recently at Duke, at the Sanford School of Public Policy, and one of the students, after I described these money drones, actually asked a pretty insightful question. They didn’t want to know about the effect on a campaign, they didn’t want to really know about sort-of the money equation so much. What they asked was, “How does it affect you mentally and emotionally if you’re a member of Congress and you have to worry about these strikes from these money drones, from these super PACs coming in?” It’s a great question. I’m one of the members of Congress who’s in a district where I don’t need to worry as much about one of these super PAC attacks, although, frankly, there’s no member of Congress who can ignore them. So it maybe hasn’t affected me directly, in terms of agitating my mental and emotional state, but I can certainly say that there are colleagues of mine who face this kind of opposition, this kind of onslaught every time they run their campaigns every two years. And there’s no question that it’s affecting them, there’s no question that it’s affecting their world view. It makes them nervous, it makes them anxious, it makes them wonder whether they’re going to be able to last in the job that they’re trying to do in representing people. So, there’s something perverse about this new impact, or influence, of super PACs on our system and we have to do something about it. So I’m going to continue to talk about these issues and concerns, but I wanted to mention in particular that question that I got from that student in North Carolina because I think she hit it right on the head when she raised that question. Again, this is John Sarbanes with The View from Inside and Outside the Nation’s Capital. I hope you’ll continue to listen in to our podcasts. If you want to learn more information about what we’re doing to fight back against big money in politics, you can go to www.grassrootsdonor.com. And if you want to follow us on Twitter, our handle is at GrassrootsDonor. Again, we look forward to hearing from you with any questions you have you can email us at grassrootsdonor.com and we hope you’ll join our future podcasts.
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Click the link below to listen to my first episode of Commuting to Congress.

Transcript:
This is John Sarbanes with the view from inside and outside the nation’s capital. I say inside the nation’s capital because I’m a member of Congress, having served there for six years, and so I get an insider’s perspective on what is happening. But I also get the view from outside the capital because I’m one of the few members of Congress who’s able to get out of Washington everyday and get back home to my district and talk to real people and look back on Washington and think about how we can try to fix the place. So, today I wanted to talk about money in politics, in particular, I wanted to focus on the effect that big money is having on the way members of Congress are living their lives, and particularly how they operate in Washington. And the occasion for this focus today is a couple articles of stories that ran recently that I think really give some good insight into what’s happening, what it means, to have so much money involved in the culture of Washington. And, of course, that’s driven by the fact that it costs so much money to run campaigns these days that members of Congress find themselves spending an inordinate amount of time at fundraising events, on the phone making cold calls to people they’ll never meet, trying to raise the dollars that they’re going to need to wage their campaign. There was a story on MSNBC recently; I think it ran on the 18th of January. Chuck Todd, as part of his daily rundown, is talking to new members of Congress, but he managed to find a new member of congress who’s actually an old member of Congress. Rick Nolan served in the House of Representatives back in the ‘70s. He was elected from 1976 through 1981. He then left the Congress, and as he likes to say, his friends call him “Rick van Winkle” because he then took a thirty year nap and woke up again and ran for Congress in this past election cycle and was elected. So, he arrives in Washington after a thirty year, thirty-two year hiatus. And in his discussion with Chuck Todd, the thing that he mentioned as the biggest difference between when he served in Congress before and served now, is the incredible emphasis that is placed on raising money, and how that has really changed the whole way that members of Congress relate to their jobs in Washington. We don’t spend as much time on committee work, reading the material. There’s less time to build relationships with colleagues, because so much emphasis is placed on making fundraising calls. In fact, there is a memo from one of the campaign committees that instructs new members on how much time they’re going to have to spend fundraising. Now, Rick Nolan says he’s not going to capitulate to that. He believes he can do his job the way he used to do it in the old days, and I wish him god-speed in that endeavor, but my experience, having been there for six years, is it’s very hard to resist this pressure to spend a lot of your time fundraising. Nolan points out that when he first ran, or I guess the last time he ran for office back in 1981, he raised $250,000 dollars for his campaign. This time around, if you count all of the outside money that was spent in his election, the price tag was almost $20 million dollars, which is really unfathomable when you think about it, but it gives you an idea of the incredible pressure that members of Congress are under to raise campaign money. So that’s the interesting perspective from somebody that’s been out of it for thirty years, coming back to it, and it’s interesting because most of the new members of Congress, of course, are coming to the system and finding it as it is. They’re told from the first time they have any interest in becoming a member of Congress that this is just the way the game is played, and you got to spend all this time raising money, so when they show up in Washington on the first day, they have some expectation that this is what it’s going to be like. That doesn’t make it right, however. And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t undermining the basic process of governing in Washington, when so much time is getting diverted to fundraising, and away from making good public policy. But I also want to point you to another perspective, and this is from Tom Harkin, who’s a long-time Senator from Iowa; served in Congress for forty years, and has made the decision to leave Congress. And I’m sure there’s a variety of reasons of why he’s concluded that now is the moment for retirement, but in an interview that he did with The Washington Post on January 26th, among the reasons he cited as it not being so much fun anymore or productive to serve in the Senate, to serve in Congress, is the amount of time that’s spent on fundraising. So here you have the perspective of somebody who never left for the last forty years, has really been around during this change in the culture in Washington, has seen how this emphasis on raising money has really changed things. And one of the reasons he’s deciding to hang it up, and move on, and retire, is because he’s fed up with it. There’s a quote in The Washington Post interview where he says, “The time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns that you don’t have time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time.” And when you think about it, the most important factor in a legislative arena, in terms of getting this done, are the relationships that are built between the members, between individuals, the friendships that form over time. Because that’s really what allows you to overcome the political differences that you have to build trust, and to reach compromise on good, sound public policy. So, here we have one legislator who went away for thirty years and came back and his first impression is that money is corroding the system and is toxic to the functioning of the democracy, and the functioning of Congress. And you have another member who stayed for forty years and is citing this incredible emphasis on raising money as the reason why the Congress doesn’t function as well anymore, and that’s the reason he’s deciding to leave. So whatever perspective you have, I think there’s a consensus that’s emerging among members of Congress that we’ve got to do something to address this situation, that it’s unsustainable. And many of you have focused on this yourself. And I’ve talked to people outside of Washington, so let me take off my Congressman’s hat now and put on the hat of a citizen who goes back to Baltimore everyday and then looks at Washington and wonders what we can do to fix the system. But when I talk to my constituents, when I talk to my fellow citizens out there, they’re pretty cynical about whether Washington can get anything done. And it’s because they perceive that there’s this very heavy dependency on raising money from special interests and big money. And they feel like, maybe the Congress is leaning in the direction of the special interests and away from ordinary people and what they care about. And I think there’s a lot to that. So whichever lens you bring to this problem, whether you’re a member inside of the Congress who’s struggling to do the right thing in the face of these demands of raising a tremendous amount of money, or whether you’re an ordinary citizen out there who wants your government to work for you, and you see that the influence of big money makes it very difficult for that to happen. We’ve got to come up with some kind of solution. So, I encourage you all to stay tuned on this topic. I’m particularly interested in how we can think out of the box in pursuing a different path. I’d like to see campaigns funded more at the grassroots. I think that we can set up a system of public funds to sort of match the grassroots investment in candidates that are trying to do the right thing and I’ve introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act to pursue that. But I also think that we maybe ought to consider how can you run a campaign and not spend as much money. So there’s two paths we can take. One is: What’s the grassroots solution for raising the same kind of money that you need these days to run a campaign. But, in the alternative, is it possible to run a winning campaign without spending as much money? Maybe using other means of communication to reach the voters. So if you have any thoughts about either of those approaches, or if you have questions you’d like to ask us about this topic, or any other as we continue forward with this series of podcasts, My View from Inside and Outside of The Nation’s Capital, you can e-mail me at info@johnsarbanes.com, you can follow us on Facebook, and you can follow us on Twitter at GrassrootsDonor. And we look forward to the discussion we have on this issue of money in politics as we move forward. This is John Sarbanes signing off from the View from Inside and Outside The Nation’s Capital.
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