By LAURA E. LEE, Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (August 18, 2010)—If she had her way, Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, would eliminate private campaign funding and turn to public financing of elections.
"The system that we have is not the system that I want. It's not the system we deserve," said Edwards, who believes the mere appearance of influence from campaign donations is enough to merit a shift to public financing.
"On the spending side, on the raising side, whether it is corporations, or PACs or large donor individuals, I'd like to see it all out of the system," she said.
But that's the ideal. Edwards, who is seeking re-election in Maryland's 4th District, lives in the real world for now.
Her campaign had raised more $523,465 as of June 30, according to her most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, 44 percent of which came from political action committees. That puts her well ahead of the four challengers in the race, only one of whom reported raising any money since January 2009.
Edwards the member of Congress acknowledges that Edwards the candidate raises money in what she believes is a flawed system.
"Nobody can really say Donna Edwards takes corporate PAC contributions and does the bidding of these corporate interests," she said. "What you know is that I am a fighter for our communities. I am a fighter for consumers and I still have to raise money."
Her challengers say she can't have it both ways.
"People don't donate for the sake of donating," Kwame Gyamfi, a Democratic challenger who is funding his own campaign. "People donate because they may need a favor down the road. By me winning the office, if I were to win the office, I don't owe anybody any promises."
Gyamfi said he would take money if offered, but he's not seeking it, and he has not yet filed any campaign finance reports with the FEC. Neither has Democrat George E. McDermott or Robert Broadus, the only Republican challenger. Candidates must file within 15 days of getting or spending more than $5,000.
Democratic challenger Herman Taylor Jr. reported raising $23,738 and having $13,353 on hand as of June 30. Edwards, by comparison, had $203,425 on hand.
In 2008, Edwards criticized then-Rep. Al Wynn for accepting corporate PAC money and she refused to take corporate PAC donations in that race. In the current cycle, Edwards has accepted contributions from corporate PACs. She maintains that it does not influence her policies or votes.
"What I did (during her first year in office) was gather a legislative record that said I am probably one of the strongest consumer advocates and people advocates in the Congress, in that I am willing to take on these corporations," she said.
Mike Lux, CEO of Progressive Strategies, does not think Edwards' acceptance of corporate PAC money will taint her.
"People know that Donna is an absolutely solid progressive. Her voting record is incredibly progressive and she has taken on big business on every single issue so I don't think there are any doubts about her in terms of those kinds of issues," Lux said.
There are doubts among Republicans, however.
"Donna Edwards has very strong pro-status tendencies. If it's a choice between individuals, corporations and organizations, she will come down on the side of the political class over the rights of the individuals," said Mark Uncapher, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
Despite her significant financial lead, Edwards does not assume an easy victory.
"I know when I was a challenger running against an incumbent who had a significant financial advantage, I still ran and ran anyway and won, so I don't take anything for granted," she said.
Money doesn't hurt, however.
"When you accumulate a giant war chest, you scare off competitors even before races begin," said Ryan O'Donnell, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. The nonpartisan group advocates for less corporate involvement in campaigns.
Ryan Mahoney, spokesman for the Maryland Republican Party, said that while money is a factor in every race, it is less of a factor in the 2010 cycle than in prior years. Mahoney said that Broadus can influence voters without funding.
"Despite the fact that he may not have money coming in the door yet, if he is out there bringing a positive message about how he plans on fixing Washington, I think that will resonate with voters," Mahoney said.
There's still time to raise money before the Sept. 14 primary. The latest FEC filing covers fundraising and expenditures through June 30.
"We know that are going to have pre-primary reports that are going to be due, and so I expect some of these challengers will show additional money at that time," Edwards said.
In February, Edwards proposed a constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations and unions to directly fund "electioneering communications."
Edwards said the full impact of the decision on the current election is not clear, but that it could have a chilling effect on politicians who speak out against corporate interests.
Uncapher disagrees, saying "the decision in 'Citizens' was entirely appropriate."