A staggering 87 percent of voters across the political spectrum believe moneyed donors have significantly more influence than constituents over members of Congress, according to a new poll.

The random, automated telephone survey of nearly 10,000 registered voters in 19 competitive U.S. congressional districts — including California's 11th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Rep. Jerry McNerney — was commissioned by Common Cause, MoveOn.org and Public Campaign Action.

"I've seen high numbers on questions similar to this one over the years, meaning in the 70s (range)," said Derek Cressman, western regional vice president for Common Cause. "But 90 percent? I've never seen it that high ... Voters have a strong sense that lawmakers are listening to the people with money and not listening to them."

Common Cause and Public Campaign Action are nonpartisan watchdog groups that favor public financing of campaigns. MoveOn.org. is a liberal activist organization.

The coalition commissioned the poll following a recent Supreme Court decision that enabled unlimited corporate and union spending in federal campaigns.

Campaign finance watchdogs want Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. McNerney is a co-sponsor.

The act calls for public campaign financing for candidates who voluntarily agree to limit donations to $100 or less.

But Democratic leaders appear more interested in stringent disclosure rules for businesses and unions and avoiding forcing vulnerable members such as McNerney into a hazardous political vote.


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Democrats fear a floor vote to use of taxpayer dollars on electioneering — at a time when governments all over the nation are slashing public services — could further stir an already high anti-incumbent sentiment.

The poll results overall and in the 11th Congressional District should allay that fear, Cressman said.

Forty-two percent of voters who responded in the 11th District said the were more likely to re-elect McNerney if he voted in favor of the Fair Elections Now Act. That group included 43 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents.

Of the 522 respondents, 21 percent said they were less likely to re-elect McNerney, while 34 percent said his vote would make no difference for them. McNerney has no challenger in the June 2 primary election.

Four Republicans will vie for their party's nomination: Dougherty Valley attorney David Harmer, Lodi grapegrower Brad Goehring, former U.S. Marshal Tony Amador of Lodi and businesswoman and autism research activist Elizabeth Emken of Danville.

In other 11th District poll results:

  • Suspicion of Congress is high across the electorate: Of those who say members of Congress are overly influenced by the people who give them money, 93 percent are Republicans, 86 percent are Democrats and 91 percent are independents.

  • Even Democratic voters are mad at Democrats over campaign finance: Half the Democrats said the majority party has not done enough to reduce the influence of special interest money. By comparison, 92 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of independents agree.

  • Two-thirds of respondents disagree with the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission to lift campaign spending restrictions on businesses and unions.

    Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Contact her at 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.

    Influence poll
    A coalition of campaign finance watchdogs commissioned a survey of voter opinions on who or what influences legislators. The poll of nearly 10,000 voters in competitive districts included people in California's 11th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.
    Here are some results from the 11th District survey:
  • Question: Which of the two statements do you agree with more? Members of Congress are overly influenced by the people who give them money. Members of Congress listen to constituents more than they listen to the people who give them money.
  • Results: Influenced by donors, 90 percent; listen to constituents, 9 percent.
  • Question: Which of these two statements do you agree with more? Democrats have made a serious attempt to reduce the influence of special interest money in politics. Democrats have not done enough to reduce the influence of special-interest money in politics.
  • Results: Serious attempt, 24 percent; have not done enough, 75 percent.
  • Question: If your member votes for a new law (that would allow federal candidates to receive public money if they limit contributions to $100 or less), would you be more likely to vote to re-elect this member of Congress? Less likely? Or would it make no difference?
  • Results: More likely, 42 percent; less likely, 21 percent; no difference, 34 percent; not sure, 4 percent.
    Methodology: SurveyUSA conducted the automated, telephone survey between March 3-14. The margin of error ranges from 2.6 to 4.4 percentage point, depending on the question.
    More information: Read the full poll at www.fairelectionsnow.org/2010march-polling.