BY LYNN EDMONDS
If you shook him awake in the middle of the night and demanded an answer, congressional candidate Jonathan Clarke said he would tell you that campaign finance is his highest priority issue.
The attorney and outsider candidate – he’s raised less than $5,000 in donations, while all his rivals have raised over $200,000 – bills himself as the only progressive candidate. He’s also one of about 100 “Berniecrats” across the nation running for a congressional seat.
The self-identified group of politicians is inspired by Bernie Sanders to run for state and national legislative bodies in the hopes of pushing a progressive agenda.
Clarke’s resume in politics is short, though the race is not his first. In 2013, he lost to Dennis Dunne Sr., in a general election to represent Levittown, a Republican-leaning district, in the Nassau County legislature.
He’s a practicing lawyer, with his own law firm, Clarke and Fellows. He mostly represents families and small business owners, his website says. Clarke also said he works pro bono to advocate for animals. He owns a Maltipoo.
Clarke’s personal story of overcoming poverty so severe that he was forced to drop out of high school in order to work full-time, is one that informs his politics and sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I also firmly believe that most politicians are totally out of touch,” he writes on his website. “They have never wondered how they were going to put a roof over their family’s head; or how they were going to pay their student loan and still eat; or whether they would be able to afford to pay for a parent or child’s medical bills and still have gas for their car to get to work. I, like many of you, understand these dilemmas because I have lived them.”
This sensitivity to class, and the influence of money, is one that is part and parcel of his campaign.
While Clarke trails the other candidates in fundraising, he will point out that the number of donations that he has received, about 435, is more or less equal to the number that his rival Jon Kaiman has – with the key difference being that each of Kaiman’s donors gave a couple orders of magnitude more than Clarke’s, on average.
Perhaps forced to get creative – or appealing to another audience – Clarke has embraced alternate campaigning methods. About a month ago, he hosted an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.
Many of the individuals who logged on to his Reddit thread asked Clarke about a lawsuit he is currently spearheading in relation to possible election fraud in the presidential primary in New York City. Clarke focused on the voter purge in Brooklyn that made news, while he additionally told followers 200 newly registered Democrats testified that they had wrongly received notices from the Board of Elections that the presidential primary was in September.
“I will tell you the truth. When I first started this lawsuit, I was skeptical about election fraud too. I always thought that there is no way that there can be fraud on such a massive scale. Now that I have seen first hand what has happened, I am convinced that there was deliberate fraud,” Clarke wrote in the thread.
Clarke believes campaign finance is the ‘be all and end all’ political cause. Not because it is an end in and of itself, but because it is the means to achieving every other goal out there.
“You don’t like gun violence, well thank the NRA, they’re the ones that flood the money. You don’t like global warming, well, the oil industry, the Koch brothers, they make sure Republicans get elected at all levels. You don’t like the [Affordable Care] Act, well, big pharma, hospitals and insurance companies had undue sway on the writing of legislation because they can donate,” Clarke said.
Clarke said that taking away industry giants’ ability to get the candidate of their choice elected was the key to getting the progressive causes that he supports passed in the national legislature.
“It’s kind of absurd to say that we are going to make great changes when there’s big money that’s fighting these changes,” he said.
Like many of the candidates, Clarke focused on Long Island’s high taxes, and specifically on the fact that New York State gives more dollars in taxes to the federal government than it gets back. New York State can’t make the case that they should get more money, Clark argued, when we’re battling corruption.
“If we have pay-to-play contracts going on in the county and New York state, it’s very hard to tell people, ‘hey, give us the money, and we’re going to build,’” Clarke said.
Clarke is running against democratic primary contenders Steve Stern, Tom Suozzi, Anna Kaplan and Jon Kaiman. The winner of the Jun. 28 primary will face off against Republican Jack Martin.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana