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Gillibrand remains idealistic on campaign finance reform, bipartisanship

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks about campaign finance reform, health care and other issues during a meeting in September 2018 with the Post-Star editorial board. (Photo — Michael Goot, The Post-Star)

GLENS FALLS — Nine years in the Senate have not dampened U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s idealism, as she believes it is possible to get money out of politics, guarantee health care coverage for every American and achieve bipartisan cooperation.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Washington is broken because of the money in politics. Washington is beholden to corporate interests, and as a result, citizen voices are not being heard. Politicians give massive tax cuts to Fortune 500 companies instead of breaks to the middle class.

“It’s about plain old greed. It’s a lack of empathy caused by spending too much time with the 1 percent,” she said Monday in a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.

Gillibrand said the federal government can implement a public campaign finance system modeled after one in New York City, where people can contribute up to $175 and the city government matches it 6 to 1. (The match for a $175 donation would be $1,050).

Gillibrand cited a 10-year-old study that said if every American contributed $7, enough money could be raised to pay for all federal elections.

Gillibrand, who is seeking another six-year term, supports term limits. In New York City, term limits have helped make the elected officials more representative of the people who they are serving. That won’t happen if only the wealthy elite run for office, she added.

“People generally think the people who are in control are the people with money,” she said.

Gillibrand criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. She does not believe that money equals speech and said Congress should pass a law to limit corporate donations.

She said this ambitious plan could start with passing tougher finance disclosure laws. Now, she said, voters do not know who is responsible for pouring millions of dollars into attack ads.

Gillibrand has been talked about as a 2020 presidential candidate, but when asked, she demurred.

“No. I am running for Senate. I do feel very blessed and I am very grateful that I get to serve,” she said.

Universal health care

Gillibrand has other priorities to focus on in the Senate, including the expansion of health care access. She supports giving people of all ages the option of buying into Medicare as an option.

“Everyone should have access to basic care at a price they can afford,” she said.

Gillibrand said she believes the private insurance companies need to be taken out of the health care business.

“Obamacare was never going to work as fully intended, because it was built on the for-profit insurance model,” she said.

Another of her priorities is expanding paid family leave nationwide. She said California has had it for 10 years and 90 percent of business owners who were surveyed said the benefit had no impact on their bottom line but improves employee morale and retention.

She said most people would be in favor of contributing $2 a week to support paid family leave.

Achieving bipartisanship

Gillibrand lamented the lack of bipartisanship and unity in the country, which she blamed on President Trump and Republican leaders.

“He is so focused on dividing people. A lot of his rhetoric is very hateful,” she said.

Gillibrand criticized Trump for saying Mexicans were rapists, proposing a ban on entry to the country for people from Muslim-majority countries and saying there were fine people on “both sides” of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last year that resulted in the death of a counter-protester.

Gillibrand said Trump is going against the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage of loving our neighbors.

“The reason why this country has always been great, despite our flaws, is every generation has tried to bring us together toward a more perfect union,” she said.

Gillibrand has tried to achieve bipartisanship, sponsoring bills with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and the late John McCain.

She has had Cruz, from Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky over to her house for dinner. She has baked banana bread with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.

But she has not been able to get bipartisan bills she has sponsored to the floor for a vote. The leadership in the House and Senate want bills that look good for their members’ re-election, she said.

Gillibrand said the only recourse is to flip control of the House and Senate to Democrats and bring in new blood.

Gillibrand said Trump was successful in 2016 because he was able to co-opt Democratic messages of a rigged economic system and unfair trade deals.

“They do know that the system is rigged and bad deals hurt a lot of people,” she said.

Gillibrand’s Republican opponent is Chele Farley, who has 25 years’ worth of experience in the financial services industry.

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