Every time progressives have needed something to happen in the Senate over the past 18 months, Jeff Merkley was trying to do it. Back during the last days of the health care fight, he was trying to push the public option through the Senate using budget reconciliation. He's been working to get rid of the filibuster, perhaps on a 6-year delay so that a Senate minority has no short-term reason to oppose it. Most recently, he responded to bad news for cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate by coming up with a bunch of utilities-only proposals to give you most of the anti-CO2 benefits of the larger bill. And it's not just issues that our political culture is thinking about -- thanks to him, health care reform included provisions to help nursing mothers at work.
Financial reform provided a nice display of Merkley's progressivism and his tactical skill. He and Carl Levin came up with a proposal to ban banks from high-risk trading. When it got filibustered, he turned it into a second-degree amendment to a Republican proposal to exempt car dealers from financial regulations. With his proposal attached to theirs, Republicans gave up on their proposal.
Being a just-elected freshman Senator, Merkley isn't up for re-election until 2014. So I didn't give money to his ordinary campaign account. Instead, I donated to his leadership PAC. This is money he gives to other Democrats for their campaigns. Most of the money he's given out recently has gone to people running for the Senate this cycle. So basically I'm donating through him to Democratic efforts to retain the Senate. Some people's leadership PACs are just slush funds that they use for golf, but Merkley's been throwing nearly all the money to candidates.
The point of doing it through Merkley is that he can show up in the offices of people who took his money and persuade them to help out with the awesome stuff he's trying to do. As a random out-of-state contributor, I'm not really equipped to tell Senators to go support Jeff's stuff. Giving to a progressive legislator's leadership PAC seems to be the best way to both help Democrats retain the Senate and ensure that they vote for the right things. I lose some efficiency in terms of being able to pick the races where extra money will make the biggest impact, but I'm thinking that donating through somebody who can actually get in people's faces and call in favors more than makes up for that.
The last time I wrote a big post about Merkley, he was running for for Senate. He was right on all the major progressive issues -- supporting universal health care, gay marriage, public transit, and fair trade, while opposing the Iraq War from the beginning. The thing that really won me over, from a phone interview I did with him back in 2007, was his clear and eloquent explanation of the need for third world debt relief.
Not only was he right on the issues, but he was an excellent electoral and legislative tactician. He won Democrats a 31-29 majority in the Oregon House and became Speaker by recruiting a serious challenger to run against the previous Republican Speaker, tying her down so that she couldn't just go out and fundraise for everyone else. Then on the strength of that slender majority, he passed all sorts of awesome stuff -- same-sex domestic partnership benefits, requirements that insurance companies cover birth control, and all sorts of minor nifty good-government things I would've never thought of, like a law allowing people in trailer parks to join together and form co-ops to prevent the land they live on from being sold out from under them. Take a look -- it's pretty amazing.
So far, he's lived up to the amazing promise he showed as a candidate. And I'm optimistic that he has a long career as a great progressive Senator ahead of him. I'm hoping that we can increase his influence by giving him money to give away. If this sounds good to you, please think about donating to Democratic efforts to retain the Senate through his Leadership PAC!