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Published — August 23, 2013 Updated — May 12, 2014 at 2:50 pm ET

Five money-in-politics facts about John Lewis

Georgia Democrat, civil rights icon has said politicians ‘should not be up for sale’


Fifty years ago, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., was in Washington, D.C., to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech. As the 23-year-old, then-chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis himself spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which he had helped organize.

Now the most senior member of Georgia’s congressional delegation, Lewis has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987. He also currently serves as the House Democrat’s senior chief deputy whip.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, here are five money-and-politics tidbits about the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon:

1. Lewis vocally opposed Citizens United

An advocate for human rights and civil liberties, Lewis has also been outspoken on campaign finance issues. Along with Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., David Price, D-N.C., and Mike Castle, R-Del., Lewis filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2009 that argued that “limitations on corporate expenditures are essential to our democracy.” The high court ultimately thought otherwise and issued its landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in January 2010.

2. Lewis supported the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act

During the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives about stricter campaign finance rules in 2002, Lewis argued the legislation was necessary to “remove the corrupting influence of soft money from the political process.”

“Political candidates should not be up for sale to the highest bidder,” Lewis said at the time. “I did not march across the bridge at Selma on March 7, 1965, and almost lose my life to become part of a political system so corrupt that it pollutes the very idea of what we marched for.”

So-called “soft money” contributions — which were ultimately banned under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — previously flowed to national parties in unlimited amounts from individuals, unions and corporations. The funds were not allowed to be used to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates, but the money could be used to help get out the vote or other “party-building” activities.

3. PACs love Lewis

About 90 percent of the $107,000 that Lewis’ campaign raised during the first six months of 2013 came from political action committees, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of filings with the Federal Election Commission. Just 10 individual donors — most of them Georgians — have given more than $200 to Lewis’ campaign this year. That’s the threshold at which their names are publicly disclosed in campaign finance filings.

4. Lewis gets labor and business PAC support

Lewis has received $23,500 from union PACs so far this year — nearly a quarter of the $98,500 he has collected from all PACs. The political committees of the American Federation of Teachers, the Laborers International Union of North America and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union have each given Lewis $5,000.

Among business, insurers and other companies in the financial sector have been the most generous to Lewis this year.

Such groups account for about $16,800 — about 17 percent of Lewis’ total receipts from PACs this year, according to the Center’s research. Donors include the PACs of insurer Chubb Corp. ($3,000), AFLAC Inc. ($2,500), American Express Co. ($1,000) and Wells Fargo & Co. ($1,000).

Notably, the PAC of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. also gave $5,000 to Lewis in March.

5. Lewis danced ‘Gangnam style’ in the name of voting

Ahead of the 2012 election, Lewis appeared in a get-out-the-vote-themed video that spoofed the hit song “Gangnam Style” by South Korean rapper Psy.

The parody was produced by the Georgia’s Asian American Legal Advocacy Center and Kollaboration Atlanta, a nonprofit that promotes “empowerment through entertainment.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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