Political Corruption: Roadblocks to Congressional Convictions

by Anita

Political corruption has been around for a long time in our country. When it comes to political corruption, Republicans and Democrats are both guilty.  The recent conviction of former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia on charges of corruption was no surprise to those who had been following the complicated story. The governor and his family traded government “favors” for gifts and money they received from Johnnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific. Although the governor tried to stop information gathering by investigators — for instance, he attempted to hold back emails that had been subpoenaed — in the end, he was convicted.

This was just another example of state and local officials who have been charged with and convicted of political corruption during the last four years. Continue reading

SJR 19 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Summary

On June 3, 2014, the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held its first hearing on SJR 19 (the proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would allow Congress the ability to regulate all money in elections). With a packed hearing room, several senators made their cases both for and against SJR 19 (also referred to as SJRes 19). There were 3 knowledgeable and accomplished panelists invited to answer questions and give input at the hearing. Key portions of that 3-hour hearing are summarized below, along with some additional background information (indicated in blue).

One of the senators speaking at the hearing was Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He began by quoting statistics on the growth in spending by outside groups since the Citizens United decision. He stated that spending by outside groups in mid-term elections has tripled from $27.6 million in 2010 to $97.7 million so far in 2014. In the 2006 midterm elections, prior to Citizens United, outside groups spent a mere $3.5 million in comparison. Super PACs spent more than $130 million on federal elections in 2012, with 60% of all Super PAC donations coming from just 159 Americans. Continue reading

Republicans Who’ve Spoken Out Against Money in Politics

Last month, Texans United to Amend set up an exhibition table at the Texas State Republican Convention in Ft. Worth (thanks to Mike Badzioch). On one of the days, I helped out. We were all glad to hear that Republican delegates shared the same concerns we had about the influence of too much money in politics. It’s hard to say what percentage of all the delegates agreed with us, but of the delegates who stopped at our table to talk, 95% of them agreed with us on the 2 issues that we discussed with them.

Besides the issue of too much money influencing our political process, the other issue we discussed with them was our belief that corporations are not people and should not have the same constitutional rights as individuals. From what I could tell, none of them had heard of a constitutional amendment to solve these 2 issues. However, those in agreement with us, did not seem adverse to a constitutional amendment.

None of this should be too surprising. Republicans and Republican leaders, past and present, have spoken out against money in politics, the Citizens United decision, and corporate personhood. Here is a sampling: Continue reading

Proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution SJR 19

On June 3, 2014, a hearing was held by the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to discuss SJR 19. SJR 19 is a joint resolution, introduced by Senator Tom Udall (New Mexico), proposing a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections.

At that hearing, petitions with more than 2 million signers in support of an amendment were delivered to the subcommittee. When discussing SJR 19, Senator Udall stated that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts. Continue reading

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