8 Initiatives to Fight Big Money in Politics – Part 2

This is a continuation of a prior post concerning initiatives to fight big money in politics.  In that post, 4 initiatives were discussed in which action can be taken to reduce the influence of big money in politics and in our government or, at least, bring attention to that need. This post discusses 4 more initiatives.

5. SEC Regulation

This initiative involves soliciting the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a rules change in order to provide more transparency in corporate political spending. One of the arguments used by the Supreme Court in substantiating its Citizens United decision was that there would be full disclosure and transparency in corporate political spending, so there was no need to worry. However, this has turned out not to be the case. Because of the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC), disclosure rules are becoming more and more ineffective because of all the loopholes. Even Congress tried to pass a law requiring all publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending, but has twice failed. Many are now looking to the SEC to act. Since the SEC has rulemaking authority in this area, it has the power to require disclosure. Continue reading

8 Initiatives to Fight Big Money in Politics – Part 1

According to Lawrence Lessig of Rootstrikers, the biggest obstacle that we face in fighting big money’s influence in our political system and government is not organized opposition from the other side. It is the pervasive feeling that we are powerless to change this. People think that there isn’t anything they can do to make a difference. If we think like this, nothing will ever change. There were many in the beginning who thought that the civil rights and gay rights movements in the U.S. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa would fail. Every successful movement that has ever taken place in the world started out with many people feeling powerless to change things.

Sometimes it is a matter of not knowing what to do to effect change. In this post and the next, there will be 8 initiatives discussed in which action can be taken to reduce the influence of big money on our political system and government. National groups are leading some of these efforts. These initiatives include amending the U.S. Constitution, reforming campaign finance, placing limits on lobbying, disclosing corporate political spending, and enforcing existing campaign finance laws.

1. The American Anti-Corruption Act

One initiative is being led by Represent.us to place limits on lobbying, political donations, and PACs. The details of this initiative are encompassed in the American Anti-Corruption Act. The Act is a citizen-sponsored bill that will be introduced in Congress once one million Americans have signed up to co-sponsor the bill. Click here to read and co-sponsor the Act. Continue reading

The New Hampshire Rebellion

Last month, in January, Rootstrikers’ founder Lawrence Lessig led 200 followers from 20 states on a 185-mile march from one end of New Hampshire to the other. The march was the first of others that are planned in the state over the next 2 years by the group New Hampshire Rebellion. The objective of the group is to bring attention to the issue of money in politics and to inspire New Hampshire voters to ask all presidential candidates the question, “How will you end the system of corruption in Washington?”

There are several reasons for Lessig’s decision to target New Hampshire. New Hampshire is one of the first states to hold a primary each presidential cycle. It is important to get all presidential candidates thinking about the issue of money in politics and to get their views on the record early in the election cycle. Also, New Hampshire voters have acquired a reputation for being a well informed electorate that requires candidates to have more exposure with them, with a lot of that exposure coming from one-on-one encounters or in small group settings. Candidates wanting to win in that state have to spend a lot of time meeting with voters and discussing issues important to those voters. Continue reading

Is There Systemic Corruption in Our Government?

by Kellye

Lawrence Lessig, founder of Rootstrikers, recently posted some videos (see links below) of U.S. senators debating whether our government has been corrupted by the influence of big money. The debate centered around whether the whole system is corrupt or just the individuals themselves.

Individual cases of corruption are easy for everyone to identify and understand. The laws that are broken are spelled out. However, what about systemic corruption? Most of the time no laws have been broken. That makes it harder for everyone to see and understand the corruption that is taking place. Many politicians don’t want to admit that it exists because it implies that they too must be corrupt since they are part of the system. That is not necessarily the case. Continue reading

Utah and Arkansas Scandals Involving Money in Politics

Over the last several weeks we’ve seen two more state government high ranking officials resign over alleged campaign finance abuse and other ethics violations. Near the end of November, Utah’s then attorney general, John Swallow, announced his resignation from office effective December 3. Mark Darr, Arkansas’s current lieutenant governor, recently announced his resignation effective February 1.

Former Attorney General John Swallow was accused of failing to disclose business conflicts of interest, giving preferential treatment to donors, and violating attorney-client privilege while serving in the attorney general’s office. On January 11, 2013, businessman Jeremy Johnson accused Swallow of being part of a plan to bribe a U.S. senator to derail a Federal Trade Commission probe into an internet marketing company owned by Johnson. Continue reading

House Republicans Support Campaign Finance Reform

Recent movement on campaign finance reform by Republicans began with state legislatures in 2013. Republican state lawmakers from Texas to Oregon have seen a need for change. Although not as much as many would hope, some change is now making its way to the U.S. House of Representatives. There have been 3 bills introduced by Republicans in the House in recent months that would reform campaign finance.

In October, three Republican legislators (Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama) introduced a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from using political contributions received from certain types of PACs (leadership PACs) to pay for personal expenses. Another Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, went even further by introducing another piece of legislation to close the personal use loophole for political contributions from any PAC.

In November, Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wisconsin) introduced the Citizens Involvement in Campaigns (CIVIC) Act. Continue reading

Will Proposed IRS Rules for 501(c)4 Groups Really Make a Difference?

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a joint press release from the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service revealed that they are proposing new standards for 501(c)4 organizations. This move comes after accusations in the spring of 2013 that the IRS was unfairly targeting Tea Party nonprofits for audits of their political activity.

The rules for 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations have long been nebulous. It is clear that they can only retain their tax-exempt status under certain conditions, and that they are intended to work for the “common good,” not for specific political parties or candidates. The current Tax Code states, “To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).”

But the language of the rules — working primarily for social welfare — has never been adequately defined.   Continue reading