As candidates begin to campaign for the 2012 Republican primary for president, media attention has centered on establishment favorites like former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MN), as well as conspiracy-minded Obama-bashers like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Donald Trump. However, there is a candidate who has distinguished himself not by promoting vicious smears, but by actually proposing fundamental reforms. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer (R-LA) is running in the Republican primary with a promise to clean the influence of big money out of government.
Roemer, who is leading by example by accepting a maximum of $100 dollars in disclosed contributions, was at a Tea Party rally in New Hampshire earlier this month. We spoke to Roemer about his platform. He had tough words for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate lobbyists responsible for killing The DISCLOSE Act, a legislative fix to allow transparency in federal elections. “It’s disastrous, its dysfunctional, to their shame,” Roemer said. The phenomenon of big corporations using their influence to skirt paying any taxes at all, like GE, is “what’s wrong with America,” Roemer explained:
ROEMER: Right now, too often the political debate has become about the money and not about the issues. And those who have the money have a vested interest in the results and you never know who they are. […] I have full disclosure and I challenge my opponents to do the same. […]
FANG: You’re running in the Republican primary. And some of the biggest players in the Republican Party are groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NFIB, these big money, big corporate groups that are the reason the DISCLOSE Act died. They lobbied both Democrats and Republicans to kill the bill in the Senate.
ROEMER: It’s disastrous, its dysfunctional, to their shame. You might look at the big unions on the Democratic side. The guys with the bucks want unfettered regulation. They want to run America. […] The reason the tax code is four thousand pages long and paid no taxes last year and made five billion dollars? It’s [campaign] checks. That’s whats wrong with the American system. It’s not free anymore. It’s bought. […]
FANG: How are you going to directly challenge them? I mean, you’ve placed limits on yourself, but what are you going to do about Karl Rove’s groups?
ROEMER: Well, Karl Rove can contribute to me. One hundred dollars!
FANG: But he’s got these front groups with undisclosed money.
ROEMER: I understand. You know I’ve got to run against the system. It’s corrupt. And the only way I know how to do it — and if you have a better idea, give it to me Lee — is by example. I’m going to show that a grassroots campaign can capture New Hampshire, South Carolina. I’m going to whip ’em, on my own terms.
Roemer’s sharp criticism against corporate front groups, particularly the U.S. Chamber and Karl Rove’s network, is startling. Most Republican candidates, even some Democrats, cower before powerful big business lobbyists. For instance, I spoke to Pawlenty in March of last year about a story I wrote around that time concerning the fact that bailed out banks were funneling money to the Chamber to kill regulations on Wall Street. Pawlenty had no problem with taxpayer being money used to lobby the government. In fact, he later told me he had no problem with big banks paying nothing in taxes either.
Roemer has been disqualified from participating in tomorrow night’s GOP presidential debate in South Carolina.