By Max Gollin
U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer has been the congressman from Maryland’s Fifth District since before I was born. As a lifelong resident of this district, I am aware that he has wielded a great deal of influence in Washington for many years. I have not, however, seen him use that power to take on the corporations that are causing climate change, raising our rent, and inflating our healthcare costs. What I wish I had noticed sooner is who has been paying to keep him in office.
Rep. Hoyer has been taking campaign contributions from big corporate donors for decades. These donors represent industries that are corrupting our political system and hurting our country. Hoyer has accepted major donations from big pharmaceutical corporations like Pfizer, which has consistently hiked up the price of prescription drugs and caused one of the worst drug shortages in recent memory back in 2018. He has accepted big money from Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, which played a massive role in causing the 2007 financial crisis by selling subprime mortgage bonds and misleading investors. Over eight million Americans lost their jobs as a result.
If that weren’t bad enough, he has also taken contributions from weapons manufacturers and military contractors, like Raytheon, which recently faced a billion-dollar lawsuit for fraudulently overbilling the US government. Then, just a few months ago, Hoyer voted to pass Donald Trump’s $735 billion military budget without hesitation. Nearly half of that will go back into the pockets of the same military contractors that paid to reelect Steny Hoyer. This is not a secret by any stretch of the imagination. You can look at Rep. Hoyer’s public FEC filings for yourself.
When someone like Hoyer promises to take on big pharma, can we really trust him? He’s taken over $1,000,000 in campaign contributions from various pharmaceutical companies in the course of his career. This election cycle alone, he has received $65,000 from defense contractor PACS. It’s difficult to cut down on our out-of-control military spending when our representative is lining his campaign’s pockets with money from private contractors.
For that matter, Steny Hoyer has made numerous public statements calling for action on climate change. Yet, he has declined to support a Green New Deal that would move America toward running on clean energy. Why? He has accepted over $400,000 in donations from oil and gas interests during his time in office. Given those stakes, it makes sense he would be worried about confronting the fossil fuel industry.
That’s why I’m supporting Mckayla Wilkes in our Democratic Primary on June 2. She’s a working mother who’s been personally affected by the failures of our healthcare and criminal justice systems, and she has pledged to reject all corporate PAC money. That’s not the easy way to run for Congress, but it’s the right way. It’s clear that Ms. Wilkes has integrity. She’s willing to sacrifice all that corporate cash and run a campaign completely funded by ordinary people. In fact, she has outraised Rep. Hoyer in small-dollar donations by four to one. Thousands of voters in our district and around the country have dug into their own pockets to support Mckayla Wilkes because they know she will fight on their behalf.
The contrast couldn’t be clearer: we have one candidate who has taken millions of dollars throughout his career from big money interests, and another who is supported financially by a grassroots movement of working people who believe in her and the causes she is advocating. Ms. Wilkes’ average donation size? Just $20.
When you take money from lobbyists and corporations, you start to depend on it. Once you depend on it, you owe those donors some favors. It won’t be like that with Mckayla Wilkes. The only ones she’s relying on to back her are ordinary people from around our district and our nation. By relying on us to fund her campaign, she sends a clear signal: I am here to represent your interests, not the interests of corporate mega-donors.
This is why I believe Ms. Wilkes when she promises to reform our criminal justice system, take bold action on climate change, provide affordable housing, and fight for Medicare for All. She has supported the people facing homelessness in Waldorf. In fact, she took a woman who was sleeping out on the street into her own home. She understands more than anyone how badly we need homes people can afford. Personally, at one point, she couldn’t afford to pay her parking tickets, so her driver’s license was suspended. She had to travel to work to pay off that debt, so she was arrested for driving on a suspended license. This unbreakable circle is why she feels the human cost of a criminal justice system in essence makes poverty illegal.
Ms. Wilkes nearly died in the hospital while she was pregnant because her insurance company would not cover the life-saving medicine she desperately needed. Her cousin’s vision is impaired because she could not afford insulin. That is why fixing our broken healthcare system isn’t a political issue for her, it’s a personal one. I trust her to fight on my behalf in Congress because she’s lived through the same struggles so many of us are dealing with. Plus, I know that no matter what kind of pressure she’s under in Washington, she’ll always be accountable to the people, because she knows how people suffer when Congress fails them, and because we’re the ones backing her, not huge corporations.
Money matters, and where you get it matters too. Rep. Steny Hoyer has shown repeatedly that he’s willing to take money from Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, big pharma, and the fossil fuel industry without a second thought. If he wants to keep getting that money, he needs to keep those corporate donors happy.
That’s not the case with Mckayla Wilkes, and that’s why she is the only person running to represent us that actually represents us.
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Max Gollin is a graduate of Princeton’s public policy school, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, a former Fulbright grant recipient, and currently a communications coordinator at an international NGO. He is particularly interested in this race as a contrast between Rep. Hoyer’s fundraising through super PACs and corporate donors versus Mckayla Wilkes’ model of raising small dollar donations.