Dan Freilich is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House to be a "tireless advocate" for campaign finance reform. He calls the current election financing system corrupt, with a corrosive impact on almost every important issue facing Congress.
It's a campaign of big ideas that has its genesis, Freilich says, with his parents' lifetime of public service.
Frelich says his mother was a lawyer involved in many of the social issues of the 1960s. His father was a physician who worked with survivors of the Holocaust. His campaign website notes his parents "instilled in him a deep commitment to the idea that together a group of committed citizens can stand up and fight for real and lasting progress."
"Do we fight for the people aggressively with an effort for transformational change, in our lifetime, or are we willing to accept the old boys club, the corruption that goes with it and the consequences of it?" he asks.
The 54-year-old candidate lives in Brownsville with his wife and five children. A captain in the U.S. Navy, he currently serves as a staff physician at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in White River Junction.
As he did in his 2010 primary run against Sen. Patrick Leahy, Freilich has again raised the issue of campaign finance reform in his race with incumbent Congressman Peter Welch.
"It's not a solo topic for the campaign," Freilich says. "But there's no question that it is sort of the top of the pyramid and everything else falls as a consequence."
He sees contributions from political action committees and related PACs as a form of bribery that corrupts the entire political system.
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He doesn't accuse Welch of being in the pocket of special interests, but Freilich has made questions about political contributions central to his campaign and the race. He questions how Welch can support a single-payer "Medicare-for-all" health care plan while also accepting money from groups that strongly oppose the legislation.
"There is no way that you can be a true advocate if you are taking money in substantial amounts from health insurance companies, from pharmaceutical companies, from pharmaceutical distribution companies, from doctors groups such as the [American Medical Association] and other similar groups," Freilich says.
Welch maintains he's not influenced by these groups and that every campaign contribution is a matter of public record.
Freilich has spent a lot of time meeting with local Democrats during his campaign. Julian Fenn, the chair of the Rutland County Democratic Committee, doesn't endorse candidates in a Party primary. But he says he found Freilich to be a person of principle.
"He came off to me as somebody who's absolutely authentic and really believes in what he's trying to accomplish," Fenn said. "That level of integrity struck me as a great thing, a breath of fresh air, so to speak."
Freilich's support for campaign finance reform, "Medicare-for-all," strong gun control laws and higher taxes on the wealthy have been supported by some members of Vermont's Progressive Party.
Nick Clark is an at-large member of the Progressive Party's Coordinating Committee. He says he's speaking for himself, and not the party, when he calls Freilich the future of politics in Vermont.
"I think it's definitely time to shake things up in relation to the issues that Dan is bringing up, and I think it's definitely time to consider candidates that aren't career politicians and have always been in office," he says. "I think that's happening outside of Vermont, and I think there's absolutely no reason that can't happen inside Vermont as well."
But Norwich University political science professor Ted Kohn says he's not sure putting so much focus on campaign finance reform is a winning strategy.
"There are so many other issues now in 2018 that are far overshadowing and mobilizing the exact people that [Freilich] wants to mobilize," he said. "Citizens United was eight years ago, and I think we've moved on since then."
Freilich had offered to drop out of the race if Welch agreed to return all of the PAC money he's collected since the 2016 election. Welch said he couldn't do that because he's concerned Republican special interest groups could flood the campaign with huge amounts of advertising, and he says he needs a way to respond if that were to happen.
Vermont’s 2018 primary election will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The Vermont Secretary of State’s website has election-related information regarding voter registration, where your polling place is and more. Find VPR’s candidate interviews and profiles here.
Correction 8/13/2018 1:52 p.m. A previous version of this story misspelled Julian Fenn's last name. The post has been corrected.