Former Virginia lieutenant governor Don Beyer (D) called Saturday for a ban on super PACs to reduce the influence of money in politics, speaking in a congressional candidate forum which was heavy on liberal rhetoric.
"Number one, we need to ban super PACs. Number two, we need make clear that corporations are not people. Number three, we to limit the amount of money an individual can give to a candidate or to a party," Beyer said. He acknowledged that it may take a constitutional amendment to accomplish such things.
Beyer, a candidate for the seat of retiring Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), made his remarks at an afternoon candidate forum in Alexandria sponsored by the Mount Vernon District Democratic Committee. Beyer and nine other candidates touted staunchly liberal positions, mostly appearing in lockstep on guns, abortion, climate change, gay rights, raising the minimum wage and drug laws. It was the first time the 10 Democrats appeared on the same stage ahead of the June 10 primary.
The contenders largely agreed that substantial campaign finance reforms are needed and voiced opposition to the recent so-called "Citizens United" and "McCutcheon" Supreme Court decisions that cleared the way for wealthy donors to play a bigger role in elections, though Beyer took on super PACs in a more direct way. "Citizens United" helped clear the way for super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums.
One candidate said he didn't endorse Beyer's take. "I don't agree with Don that we should eliminate super PACs, but we need to put a limit on the super PACs," said Virginia Tech Prof. Derek Hyra.
Beyer was lieutenant governor in the 1990s. He was a bundler for President Obama and served as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. His name recognition and deep connections to the Democratic establishment make him an early frontrunner.
Direct disagreements were rare occurrences in the 120-minute session Saturday. Without naming him directly, radio talk-show host Mark Levine slammed Beyer from the left, saying he once supported Republican "Tom DeLay's plan to get rid of the estate tax, get rid of the income tax and make everything national sales tax," a reference to a 2005 quote attributed to Beyer. A Beyer spokesperson recently told Slate that Beyer "never supported replacing the progressive income tax with a national sales tax, and he never will."
Nine of the 10 candidates said they opposed construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. But Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said he was open to the idea, provided that health and environmental issues are adequately addressed.
Aside from those moments, the candidates mostly echoed one another. They each sought to explain why their backgrounds would serve them well in Congress.
"If we can put a community organizer in the White House, we can put a community leader in the U.S. House," said former Northern Virginia Urban League president Lavern Chatman.
The winner of the Democratic nomination will be heavily favored in the general election given the strong Democratic tilt of the district, which includes Arlington County, Alexandria, Falls Church and part of of Fairfax County. President Obama won more than two out of three votes there in 2012.
The seat opened up when Moran anounced his plans to retire in January. The long-serving Democrat was praised by the candidates, but a several took issue with his recent suggestion that members Congress are underpaid.
Beyer, Chatman, state Sen. Adam Ebbin, director of the Democratic Business Council of Northern Virginia Satish Korpe, Euille, state Dels. Charniele Herring and Patrick Hope, Levine, Hyra and former Navy pilot Bruce Shuttleworth participated in the forum.
When asked about Moran, Korpe took a dig at the congressman's pugnacity.
"I think we need to be a little bit more tactful," he said.