By: David Levinsky
EVESHAM — Democratic congressional candidate Andy Kim added some new promises to his campaign to reduce “big money” corporate influence in Washington on Monday, as he brought his battle for New Jersey’s 3rd District seat to his Republican opponent’s doorstep.
Kim, who’s believed to be running neck and neck against Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur, held an hour-long town hall devoted to the issue of campaign finance reform at the Gibson House in Evesham, which also doubles as MacArthur’s Burlington County constituent services office.
With MacArthur’s staff upstairs, Kim railed against so-called “dark money” and outside spending and the influence corporate money has over members of Congress, arguing that it stands in the way of meaningful policy goals like health care reforms, environmental legislation and gun safety.
“This is a time when we can make our mark and we can say enough. That the time of big money in politics, the time of corporate special interests cutting in line ahead of the American people is over,” Kim said drawing cheers from the several dozen supporters in attendance.
He spent much of the event touting his own pledge to refuse corporate PAC contributions, noting that it would apply both to his current campaign as well as all future campaigns if he is elected. But he also added a few more promises to that pledge, saying Monday he would refuse to accept his congressional salary during any future government shutdowns and that he would never become a lobbyist after serving in Congress.
“For too long we see members of Congress taking actions that you know is focused on what their next job is, you know it’s focused on that big payout they think they’re going to get afterwards,” Kim said. “How many times do we see members of Congress go straight back in as lobbyist … utilizing their influence and connections, not for the American people but for whoever will pay them the most.”
“That’s disgusting,” he added.
Later when asked if he was referring to the 3rd District’s former longtime representative, Republican Jim Saxton, who became a lobbyist, Kim clarified that he was speaking about members of Congress who were thinking about how to make money off their service in the House and not necessarily all former members who became lobbyists.
“I have tremendous amount of respect for Congressman Jim Saxton. He’s been my congressman for most of my life. Everyone is able to make their decisions. That’s why for me, I’m focused on what’s best for this district. I want them to know 100 percent I’m going to be focused on them and not thinking about being a lobbyist afterwards,” he said.
Kim was joined at the town hall by Tiffany Muller, the president and executive director of End Citizen United, a nonprofit that advocates for campaign finance reform and overturning the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that is credited to giving rise to super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited sums on political campaigns.
The group endorsed Kim last December and has also named MacArthur to a list of incumbents it will work to unseat this November.
“This is the kind of leader I am so excited to have in Washington, starting in January, to actually start to change our rigged system and bring real reform to us,” Muller said during the town hall, telling the supporters in attendance that Republican-control of Congress needs to end in order to have a realistic chance at meaningful campaign finance reform.
“Andy Kim is a champion on this issue. He’s fighting on your behalf, not their behalf,” Muller said.
Before the event even started, MacArthur issued a statement challenging Kim to disavow U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a fellow Democrat who was indicated on federal bribery charges related to political contributions, private flights and Caribbean vacations he accepted from Florida opthamologist Solomon Melgan. Menendez’s trial ended in a hung jury last year and federal prosecutors opted not to retry him, but the Senate Ethics Committee ended up admonishing him for his conduct and gifts from Melgen, whom Menendez described as a longtime friend.
“If Andy Kim wants to talk about corruption, he needs to start by disavowing Bob Menendez and calling on him to repay his convicted felon ‘best friend’ for the improper gifts he accepted,” MacArthur said in a statement. “Anything short of that is just more hot air from a candidate who repeatedly says one thing and does another.”
Kim said he wouldn’t disavow Menendez but that he was focused on his own race and the needs of the district. He said the people would decide if New Jersey’s senior senator should return.
“That’s what this election is about, making sure we have elections that can have voters decide what they want to do with their representatives and hold them accountable,” he said.
The House Majority PAC, the primary super PAC of House Democrats, has spent $1.2 million, in opposition to MacArthur’s re-election, according to the website.
Kim said he would make campaign finance reform a top priority if elected, saying the issue touches every other in Washington. Among the measures he plans to support would be bills to restrict members of Congress from making investments other than those held in mutual funds or blind trusts, and another to end gerrymandering of congressional districts by mandating that states use independent commissions to draw their boundaries.
“When you ask me: What can we do to improve our health care? What can we do to build a fair economy that works for everybody? … What I’ll say, every single element of those comes down to corporate money, comes down to money in politics,” Kim said.