For this week's Cola Q&A we talked with progressive all-star Darcy Burner. (Last week we interviewed US Sen. Patty Murray).
After leading the pack of Democrats that's trying to make it through the primary in the 1st Congressional District for months, Burner now finds herself slightly behind the establishment favorite, former State Dept. of Revenue Director Suzan DelBene. (DelBene, a former Microsoft exec and dot-com entrepreneur who has a net worth of $53 million, contributed $2 million of her own money to her campaign and did a big TV blitz in July.)[pullquote]"I tend to speak truth to power."[/pullquote]
The group of Democrats are competing to take on arch-conservative Snohomish County Council member John Koster, the only Republican in the primary.
Burner has run unsuccessfully for Congress twice before—in 2006 and 2008, both times in the old 8th Congressional District against US Rep. Dave Reichert. She came closer the first time (51.4 to 48.5). Oddly, in the '08 Obama wave, she did worse (52.7 to 47.2).
Burner is an unapologetic lefty who has a national following; she moved to DC for a couple of years after her loss to Reichert to head up ProgressiveCongress.org, a group that tried to give the progressive agenda some backup in the Democratic caucus.
Burner's campaign has emphasized congressional reform (to rid DC of corporate influence) and ending the war in Afghanistan. She's a bit of a know-it-all; I'm reminded of the freshman college student who comes home after her first semester and informs her parents that she's now vegan. But as we've noted, she actually does know her stuff.
The local Democratic establishment has certainly rallied around DelBene (Gov. Chris Gregoire along with US Reps. Rick Larsen and Adam Smith have endorsed her). But Burner remains in a neck-and-neck race with DelBene as we head into Tuesday's primary.—Eds.
PubliCola: "President Obama is Republican?" "The NRA can go to hell?" You tend to lose your temper in the heat of the moment.
Darcy Burner: I tend to speak truth to power, which is different. If somebody is going to go after social security and Medicare in order to give tax cuts to multimillionaires, I'm going to call them on it. And I'm going to call them on it whether they are Republican, which happens on a routine basis, or happens when they are Democrat, which happens, thankfully, less frequently.
PubliCola: Although, in that instance, the president.[pullquote]"With comparable amounts of money, Delbene wouldn't even be competitive in the election, which you know, and I know, and everybody else knows."[/pullquote]
Darcy Burner: You know, he has said in the past that he wants the left to apply pressure to him. There was a great moment at Netroots Nation a couple of years ago. It was in 2009, and Bill Clinton was one of the keynote speakers. And he was up in front of this group of bloggers and activists talking about healthcare and why we all needed to support the president's health care bill. And in the middle of it, he got interrupted by somebody standing up and yelling about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And he went off-script. He stopped what he was saying, and he said, "Look, it is your fault that Don't Ask, Don't Tell because I was getting all this pressure from the right, and no one from the left was there. No one from the left was applying pressure in the other direction. I didn't have any choice. If you want a different outcome, you need to apply pressure."
When social security and Medicare were put on the table, a bunch of us applied pressure and said that's unacceptable. And working together, we won. It was back off the table. That's how this is supposed to work.
PubliCola: At a recent candidate forum in Redmond, asked by the moderator [The Everett Herald's Jerry Cornfield] to point out faults with your Democratic opponents, you refused to answer and said you had "no intention of giving the Republicans ammo." But in the run-up to the primary, you have gone negative. What's changed? Is it a reaction to the latest KING-5 polling? [Burner is behind DelBene by four points.—Eds.]
Darcy Burner: Voters deserve to know if a candidate for office is breaking the law. A recent Rasmussen survey ranked government ethics and corruption behind only the economy and healthcare as issues voters consider important.[pullquote]"We have way more local contributors than any other candidate, hands down."[/pullquote]
Since 1978, the Ethics in Government Act has required that candidates for Congress disclose their personal finances to the House Ethics Committee. This personal financial disclosure requirement is separate from the requirement to file with the Federal Election Commission, and the personal disclosures are filled out by candidates themselves rather than campaign treasurers. Refusal to file one is punishable by up to $50,000 in fines and up to 5 years in federal prison.
In this race, we have exactly one candidate, Suzan DelBene, who has refused to comply with federal law requiring that she disclose her personal finances to the House Ethics Committee. All six of the other candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, are in full compliance.
I’m confident the Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives and direct the activities of the House Ethics Committee, are already well aware that Suzan DelBene has broken federal law in her refusal to file her 2011 personal disclosure. I don’t know what she’s so intent on hiding, but I suspect if she wins the primary, the National Republican Campaign Committee will make sure we find out.
My interest in accountability, transparency, and ethics in Congress is longstanding. I’ve been talking on the stump for months about the need to increase transparency in Congress, open up committee hearings to the public, pass the DISCLOSE Act, and ensure that members of Congress don’t benefit from insider trading. The requirement to file the personal disclosure isn’t optional, and it would do a great disservice to voters in this district to keep them in the dark about the fact that one of the candidates has broken the law.
[Editor's Note: DelBene's spokesman Viet Shelton says: "Suzan DelBene has filed all the necessary and required federal disclosures on time. End of story."
I investigated Burner's claims earlier this year and again earlier this week in Fizz when Burner's camp reiterated them. I have talked to both the FEC and House Ethics about this issue. They said DelBene is in compliance.][pullquote]Can you point to something you've won on?[/pullquote]
PubliCola: You've lost two races for congress, and then you lost your main fight for ProgressiveCongress.org to get the public option in the Affordable Health Care Act. Can you point to something you've won on?
Darcy Burner: Several primary races. The biggest thing we were trying to do at progressive congress was change how progressives were organized and how they worked together to move legislation in congress. The congressional progressive caucus wasn't at all a factor in congressional politics prior to 2009. When I went to do briefings with D.C. press on background on what we were doing with ProgressiveCongress, they laughed at me because the caucus hadn't attempted to exercise power in any meaningful way and certainly hadn't done so in a coordinated effort with progressives outside of congress.
The public option fight was about providing a different way for progressives to approach trying to get things done in D.C. And we got a much more progressive affordable progressive care act than we would have without progressives standing up and fighting. We got better subsidies. We got more funding for clinics. We got better provisions, in terms of coverage for prenatal care and in terms of better coverage for preventative care. There were a whole set of things we won because progressives were actually willing to develop some leverage and employ it to make the bill better for the American people. That matters.
I also was involved in the fight pushing back against putting social security and Medicare on the chopping block while I was in progressive caucus, and we won that fight. They were pulled back off.
PubliCola: The new 1st District is supposed to be more conservative than the old 8th where you lost to [US Rep. Dave] Reichert. So how can you win in a more conservative district now?
Darcy Burner: It's not more conservative than the old eighth. And the idea that people are claiming it is is wrong. I mean the old eighth in all of its history never elected a Democrat. And I was running against a guy who was nationally famous as a hero for his role in the Green River Killer case. I mean the entire time I was running, they were running television movies on Lifetime network about what an amazing guy Dave Reichert is. That's not the case here.
I mean this is a district, which Barack Obama got 56 percent of the votes and Patty Murray got 53 percent of the votes. When you punch together the precincts. When you look at the precincts that make up the new districts. When you add up the numbers across the 800 something precincts, the Democratic members of congress won. It's not a Republican district.[pullquote]"When you add up the numbers across the 800 something precincts, the Democratic members of congress won. It's not a Republican district."[/pullquote]
PubliCola: The public policy poll that your campaign was hyping that had you at 17 percent, a real big thing in that was you had a commanding portion of the Democratic voters. But the thing I think you had working against you in that poll, the very poll your campaign was hyping, was that Suzan Delbene was beating you with Independents. This seems like a district where Independents are really important. So how do you say, "I'm the better candidate than Suzan Delbene is," or any other candidates for that matter, in this swing turf district?
Darcy Burner: She's only doing as well as she is after outspending us by $1.5 million. I mean she's outspending us four to one. And is still showing up in the polls as [tied with us.] My guess is that the race has continued to tighten because she has continued to outspend us.
PubliCola: But I'm talking about specifically the independent voters.
Darcy Burner: But Independents, by and large, are lower information voters and what they're seeing are her television ads. I don't have television ads up. I mean funding a campaign $50 at a time is frankly more work than simply writing really large checks. But in the polling that we've done, what we've consistently seen is I've done better than Suzan does in the harder parts of the district. When you look at Whatcom County, when we look at Skagit County, when you look at Snohomish County, I outperform Suzan in all those counties. The places that traditionally considered the toughest turf for Democrats are the places where they strongly prefer me. They want somebody who is actually going to get out and fight for them. And, by and large, they don't seem to believe that a multimillionaire former Microsoft VP is that person.[pullquote]"It's not that uncommon for a married couple in their '40s and '50s to have a few hundred thousand in home equity and retirement savings."[/pullquote].
PubliCola: Now come on, come on, you're former Microsoft. And on your financial disclosure, $500,000 net worth, that's pretty good.
Darcy Burner: It's not that uncommon for a married couple in their '40s and '50s to have a few hundred thousand in home equity and retirement savings, which is what we’ve got.
PubliCola: Well, it's uncommon...
Darcy Burner: We would be incredibly irresponsible if we didn't. [Burner's home equity is actually not included in the estimated $700,000 net worth number on her financial disclosure; you do not include home equity in your primary home when calculating net worth—Eds.]
I'm not a millionaire, much less a multi-millionaire. I couldn't write a million dollar check to my campaign, even if I wanted to. It would bounce. [Burner has contributed $26,000 to her own campaign.—Eds.]
With comparable amounts of money, Delbene wouldn't even be competitive in the election, which you know, and I know, and everybody else knows.
PubliCola: I like the idea of you serving with US Rep. Reichert. What’s a bill that you would try and co-sponsor with him? So you get elected, you come into office, you go across the hall and say, "Representative Reichert, here is a bill we can work on together, and I want you to co-sign it."
Darcy Burner: There are certainly a few things that he and I have agreed on. He and I are in agreement about the need to preserve a lot of the wilderness area along the Cascades, which are partly in the new first and partly in the eighth, and I would be delighted to work with him on that. He’s always been good on animal issues. He has consistently gotten the Humane Society’s endorsement, and frankly, it’s been deserved. He’s actually good on those issues, and I’d be happy to work on him with that.
I think I’d love to have a real conversation with him on climate change and some of the impacts of climate change on the climate, on this region, on our respective districts and see if we can’t come up with some way to actually get movement in the congress on it because he's one of very few Republicans who’s been willing to come to the table in a serious way on that, and it’s an incredibly important issue.
PubliCola: At a forum a couple months ago, you were asked who your current sitting hero rep was and you named Nancy Pelosi. Why?[pullquote]A friend of mine told me that she has two friends who are in a band, and the band is called Darcy Burner. [/pullquote]
Darcy Burner: She has been arguably the most effective speaker of the house in history. There were many articles written while she was in the House, talking about how incredibly effective she was. Organizing Democrats is a hard thing. It's an exercise in herding cats. She has provided real leadership to the Democratic caucus and the House around a shared vision for where we want to take the country and concrete steps that the House could take to get us there.
If many of the bills that the House of Representatives had passed in 2009 and 2010 had been able to get past the Senate filibusters and signed into law by the president, we would have an economy with dramatically lower unemployment. We would be taking aggressive steps to curb a catastrophic climate change. We would have revoked the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies because insurance companies and baseball, major league baseball, are the only industries that are allowed to collude to rip off the American public.
There was a bill that was sponsored by Betsy Markey. It's very short. It's like a one page bill. It was great. It simply revoked the antitrust exemption for insurance companies. It said they were not allowed to collude in setting prices and rates.
And there were a bunch of jobs bills. There were a whole series of jobs bills. And they went to the senate to die as a result of the filibuster.
PubliCola: You have hyped the fact that you are relying on small grassroots donations. The majority of your money is from out of state, 57 percent. Your two main opponents, Suzane DelBene and Laura Ruderman are getting just 11 and eight percent of their money from out of state respectively. How can you claim grassroots support when the reports show such a reliance on out-of-state money?
[To be fair to Burner: the in-state/out-of-state number measures money not donors, so a smaller number of rich out-of-state donors could tip the balance to out-of-state money even if the candidate has a greater number of smaller in-state donors. And to be fair to DelBene, her big number for in-state money does not include her own $2 million loan, so DelBene's high in-state percentage is a reflection of her actual in-state support base—eds.]
Darcy Burner: We have literally thousands of small donors in the district, which is substantially more than anyone else.
PubliCola: So you're saying these are people who are not showing up in the numbers because they're contributing less than $200? [Donors under $200 are not itemized by the FEC.—Eds.]
Burner: That's right. It's $200 dollars [and up] that gets reported by the FEC. I have spent all morning, we've been having fun, I have spent all morning on the phone with people who have contributed $50 to $90, and who the vast majority are in the district. We touch them, they vote, and by the way, they contribute money. Thousands of people.
PubliCola: Okay. So the bottom line then is that "Hey, above $200 is out of state." But when you look at under $200, you have thousands. And you're confident that that number makes your donations dominated by local contributors?
[There is no way for us to verify where the small donors live because the FEC does not provide that information.—Eds.]
Darcy Burner: We have way more local contributors than any other candidate, hands down.
PubliCola: Although how can you tell? You can't know where the other candidates' under-$200 contributions came from, can you?
Darcy Burner: Well, except that you can look at the amount of money raised in under $200’s and do some math to figure out what the total number is. I don't have the latest report in front of me, but it's a lot. This campaign has been funded to a shocking amount by people who have contributed relatively small amounts of money.
[Editor's note: Burner's FEC reports do show that she's dwarfed the other candidates when it comes to small contributions. She's raised $209,000 from small donors, while DelBene has raised $56,000 and Laura Ruderman has raised $67,000. But again, there's no way to know where these donors live.]
PubliCola: A friend of mine told me that she has two friends who are in a band, and the band is called Darcy Burner. They’ve only played two house parties. And I don’t mean political house parties. I mean house parties—beer keggers. I asked them what the significance of the name was. Here’s what the drummer emailed me: "It’s just bad ass, really that was the inspiration. It has nothing to do with the politician." And then there's a smiley face. So there you have it. I’ll have to go see them.
Darcy Burner: You’ll have to tell me if they’re any good.