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.
2. Amend the U.S. Constitution
Amending the U.S. Constitution is the most well-known initiative and began shortly after the Citizens United decision in January 2010. There have been 16 states that have passed resolutions or ballot measures calling on Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn the effects of the Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings. Hawaii was the first state to pass a resolution in April 2010 and Oregon the latest state in July 2013. There are several national organizations involved in the effort, including Move to Amend, Public Citizen, Common Cause, and others. Individual states may also have other groups working on this too, like Texans United to Amend. Click here to check out or join Move to Amend and here for Texans United to Amend.
3. Grassroots Contributions and Public Financing of Elections
Another initiative involves grassroots contributions and public financing of elections. This initiative seems to be gaining some momentum. There have been several bills introduced in Congress regarding this. In January 2013, Rep. John Yarmuth (KY) re-introduced the Fair Elections Now Act in the House which would provide a 5 to 1 matching payment to candidates for small dollar contributions of $100 or less from individuals who are residents of the state in which the congressional candidate is seeking federal office.
Last month Senator Dick Durban (IL) re-introduced the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate. Senator Durban describes the Act as a way to “replace campaign fundraising that largely relies on large donors and special interests.” He goes on to say that “this voluntary alternative will free participating candidates from the incessant, time-consuming money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and that has fostered abuses that can undermine our democracy.”
In January 2013, Rep. John Sarbanes (MD) introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act of 2013. This bill provides a 50% tax credit on contributions up to $50 ($100 for joint filers) for grassroots contributors, along with a 5 to 1 matching payment to candidates in congressional races. In February of this year, Rep. Sarbanes introduced a similar bill called the Government for the People Act (H.R. 20), which would provide small donors the same tax credit but would have a higher 6 to 1 matching payment to the candidates (or 9 to 1 for those candidates agreeing to take only small-dollar donations) . In addition, a pilot program would be launched in 3 states to implement a voucher system. The voucher would be worth $50 and could be allocated in $5 increments. Click here to see what you can do to support the Government for the People Act.
4. The New Hampshire Rebellion
The New Hampshire Rebellion is a relatively new initiative. As discussed in a prior blog post, the New Hampshire Rebellion was organized by Lawrence Lessig and members of his Rootstrikers group. Their objective is to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform by conducting a series of marches in New Hampshire between now and the 2016 primary. Since New Hampshire is one of the few states whose primary voters wield the kind of influence that can rival big money donors, the group wants to bring the issue of money in politics to the forefront there. So, when presidential candidates come to the state to campaign, they will be asked by New Hampshire’s primary voters what they (as President) will do to end the system of corruption in Washington caused by the influence of big money. Click here to watch a video about this and see how you can get involved in the cause.
The remaining four initiatives to fight big money in politics will be discussed in the next post.