Q&A: Rep. Ro Khanna on His No PAC Act, Democracy Dollars and SJ’s Fair Elections Initiative

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) proved that candidates can win races without help from corporate political action committees. Now, he wants to enshrine that practice in federal law. To that end, he reintroduced the No PAC Act last month in hopes of curbing the sway of special interests over the political process.

The bill, which the Silicon Valley lawmaker co-sponsored with fellow Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips, would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by prohibiting members of Congress and those running for a House seat from accepting contributions from a political action committee. San Jose Inside sat down with the local congressman to find out more about the proposed legislation, his pledge to refuse corporate PAC donations and his thoughts on special interest money in local elections.

What message are you trying to send through the No PAC Act? 

No member of Congress or US Senator could take political action committee money and that you should only be relying on money from individuals. I introduced this before with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and then he ran on it in Texas. Beto and I did this during the last Congress and then Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota) and I are doing it this Congress.

What happened to the bill last time? 

We got a few backers, but it’s a heavy lift because so many people take PAC money in Congress. More and more people now are realizing you don’t have to do it and you can still raise a lot of resources because of grassroots contributions.

What are your hopes for this proposed law? 

That we get more co-sponsors. That it becomes more acceptable for members of Congress to take a pledge to get off PAC money. Getting special interest money out of politics is critical if you ever want to see Medicare for all, if you ever want to see laws to tackle gun violence like universal background checks, if you want to see legislation to tackle climate change. I’'s critical to advancing progressive goals.

Why haven’t you accepted PAC donations? 

I’m one of about seven members of Congress who take no PAC money. I’m one of the very few who don’t take any lobbyist money. I was surprised that more members don’t take this pledge because Barack Obama ran on this in 2008. There’s no reason that individual members of Congress need to accept PAC money. I’ve never taken a dollar of that money my entire career. Even when I lost, I ran again and said I’m still not going to accept it. It cost me about a million dollars a year.

Now, in today’s world, with people having the ability to contribute online, we’ve seen Bernie Sanders and we’ve seen Elizabeth Warren show how you can really grow a grassroots base that can fund your campaign. I think the model of fundraising has changed. I recognize that I have an advantage in that Silicon Valley is an affluent area. So it’s easier to get individuals to contribute in an affluent area. That’s why I have proposed Democracy Dollars.

What are Democracy Dollars? 

My bill is called Democracy Dollars and I worked with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) on it. Actually, Andrew Yang supported it at the presidential debate and it would basically give $50 to every citizen to contribute to politics. I introduced it about a year ago. That’s the long term solution to campaign finance reform: give every American citizen $50 to contribute to federal campaigns. If you do that you would dwarf the private spending and you would eliminate the need for anyone to be reliant on PACs.

Where would the money come from? 

Federal money. It would cost about $6 billion a year. Think about that, that’s not insignificant to the federal budget to preserve our democracy.

Some residents in San Jose are proposing a “Fair Elections Initiative” that would bar certain developers and lobbyists from donating to city council races. What do you think of that approach? 

I would support that. I don’t think developers should be contributing to city council campaigns if they have business before the city council. PAC money on a local level is not good. Cities should look at what Seattle did they had this Democracy Dollar idea where they gave each city resident money to contribute to a local election. I believe we need to get rid of these special interest funding at the federal level or at the local level and replace it with empowerment so that people aren't revolted by special interest influence.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length. Want to nominate a subject for a Q&A? Email the author or leave a suggestion in the comments below. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

9 Comments

  1. Does Rep Khanna think that labor, who often negotiates with Council on their agreements, should also be banned from contributing money? His answer would indicate just how independent he claims to be

  2. > No member of Congress or US Senator could take political action committee money and that you should only be relying on money from individuals.

    Most people don’t understand money. The permanent underclass Democrat base voter in particular doesn’t understand money. Which is a main explanation for why they don’t have much of it.

    To the primitive tribalist permanent underclass base of the Democrat Party, MONEY equals CONSUMPTION. More money, more food. More drink. More partying. More spend, spend, spend.

    To the modern big-brained future-oriented producer class, MONEY equals future SECURITY. Accumulation of MONEY equals WEALTH. WEALTH equals food in the pantry, hay in the barn, corn in the silo, and beef on the menu for a future barbecue.

    Ro (“the man who put the “con” in) Khanna wants to tilt the rules of politics in the direction of those who CONSUME and away from those who provide for the future economic security of civilization.

    The secret to the success of the modern free market capitalist economy is that MONEY (in the form of rich people and their “special interests”) has voting power. Our political system is a delicate balance between the interests of individual CONSUMERS and the interests of people who fill the pantries, hay barns, and corn silos for future consumption.

    Upsetting that balance and handing the control of our economic future over to those whose only interest is current consumption is a formula for famine and mass starvation. It’s happened many, many times.

    Ukraine, China. Argentina, North Korea, Venezuela. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    “People’s democracy’ sounds like a good idea to people who’s only interest is their next meal, but sooner or later, their next meal is their belt, their shoes, and the bark on the nearest tree.

  3. Mr. sjoutsidethebubble provides some silly distractions from the fact that since the Reagan Revolution, wealth and income in this country has been re-distributed to the rich. Since Mr. sjoutsidethebubble provides no references for any of his assertions, I won’t bother either.
    .
    We have an oligarchy running this country. One way to restore our democracy and move power from the rich to all of us, is to overturn the Supreme Court-created doctrines of money as speech and corporations entitled to rights rather than privileges. As when the Court said women cannot vote, it will take a Constitutional Amendment. If you want to help, sign this Move To Amend petition for a We the People Amendment: https://movetoamend.org/motion

    • > One way to restore our democracy . . . .

      Who wants to “restore … democracy”?

      “Democracy” is government by the stupidest and most easily manipulated fifty-one percent. The other forty-nine percent get NOTHING and have NO rights.

      We want what our founders conceived: a constitutional republic which establishes rights for EVERYONE, and allows government to be placed in the hands of the most competent and the most productive.

  4. “No member of Congress or US Senator could take political action committee money and that you should only be relying on money from individuals.”

    What about those magical book deals, or the mystical speaking engagements? Let’s be honest, those are just million dollar bribes. It has to go much further.

    All of the very wealthy politicians tell us that they are just regular people. Even Bernie is work more than $3M. He is not like us! If they claim to be us, then make the work like us, the regular people of the world.

    If you want to take the money out of politics. Make the law include
    1. No media engagements (books, TV, Movies, speaking, expert consultant, etc) for 5 years before and after any term of public office. Punishable by 100% tax on ALL money earned that year.
    2. No more than $500 from any single entity (business, corporate, LLC, non-profit, or individual)
    3. They cannot take any work outside of a full time position. If they work for us I want 40 hours a week.
    – Cannot serve on a board of directors
    – Cannot be an author, publisher, advisor
    – No fund raising for any organization
    4. All Government paid air travel will be done in coach at the lowest cost possible on a generally available commercial airline, unless paid for with their own funds.
    – Charter airlines are prohibited
    – All ground travel will be done via generally available commercial services – Some examples are Uber, Lyft, Taxis, Greyhound, etc… Limo and town cars are expressly prohibited.
    – The exception is for national security reasons.
    5. No direct investments in companies for them or their immediate family members. i.e. they can’t by company stock. Mutual funds and bonds would be OK.
    6. Cannot work for, endorse, or hold office of as a lobbyist or special interest 5 years before or after their term.
    7. No public official in any capacity shall have a personal total income in excess of 3 times the median income or a household income in excess of 6 times of the households they represent. Anything over that gets 120% tax rate.
    8. They must join a Union and get paid on the Union scale under a collective bargain agreement. This means all sick time and PTO is tracked.
    – Campaign on their own time. I don’t get paid to look for a new job, neither should they.
    – No show = No pay
    – No vote = No pay
    – More than 3 days absence requires a doctor’s note.
    – Sick day with out a call in is a write up and three write ups = fired.

  5. Can I get into that Amazon guy’s silo please? He has all the corn, I have none, and am starving because he took all of the corn and is hogging it. Will you let me have some if I promise not to eat it all right away?

    • > He has all the corn, I have none, and am starving because he took all of the corn and is hogging it.

      Exactly. That’s the way capitalism works, and that’s why capitalists eat regularly, NOW and in the FUTURE.

      You have articulated the mentality of the primitive foragers PERFECTLY. You’re starving because you have NO CLUE about how to produce food.

      If you don’t produce food, and you eat all the roots and berries and rabbits in your foraging territory, well, what do you expect is going to happen?

      Starvation is nature’s way of informing hunter-gatherers to either go extinct or learn how to produce food.

  6. Jerold your a control freak, Socialist love control freaks because the law never applies to them, only the people they control. “See antics of the current Congress”.

    Second point what is the value provided by the likes of the news media? What is the value of biased social media, Face Book, Google, etc. and the other Silicon Valley giants putting their political thumb on information feed to the low information masses. That interference dwarfs any misinformation that comes from Vlad, the Koch brother or mischief paid for by George Soros.

    • LOL I will give you control freak, but far… very far from socialist. These guys and gals need very specific rules. If there are loopholes they will exploit them. I take responsibility for myself and the elected officials should do the same.

      I’m not sure what second point you mean? My #2 is No more than $500 from any single entity (business, corporate, LLC, non-profit, or individual). Should it be $0?

      There is 0 (zero, nada, nil, zilch) value provided by “social media” it’s a bunch of hipster tweeting what they had for lunch. #Don’t care.

      Actual news media – there are very few reporters these days. The TV news channels are “editorials”, local new is mostly a joke. Most of the newpapers get the same junk from Reuters or AP.

      I applaud SJ Inside for having actual reporters that write something.

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