As we look forward to the 2016 election cycle, it’s clearer than ever that our political system is clogged up with the influence of big money. Spending by national candidates in this cycle will probably hit $5 billion, an obscene amount. Ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision cleared the way for unlimited campaign spending, the idea of government "by the people, for the people" has been slipping away. Today, government "by the wealthy for the wealthy few" seems like a more accurate description. Meanwhile, we have huge issues that need attention now – like climate change, immigration reform and higher minimum wages – from a Congress that represents ordinary people.
With so much at stake, and so many reforms needed, it’s an issue we’re pretty concerned about. Thankfully, there are a lot of folks and organizations out there pushing to curb the spending and reinstate the voice of the people. Here’s the latest from the Getting the Dough Out of Politics front.
The Democracy For All Amendment
How are we going to fix this? First and foremost, we need to reverse the Supreme Court decisions that led to politicians swimming in money like a kid at a water park on a hot summer day, by amending the U.S. Constitution. The Democracy For All Amendment would overturn the Citizens United decision, and empower Congress and the States once again to limit overall campaign spending. Free Speech for People, a great resource for all things related to Getting the Dough Out of Politics, also supports a second resolution— the People’s Rights Amendment— which calls for constitutional rights to be revoked from corporations. They aren’t people, after all!
The movement for change is growing. Sixteen states as diverse as West Virginia and Hawaii have passed resolutions supporting the Democracy for All Amendment, while 22 others have pending resolutions. More than 550 cities and towns, plus over 160 former and current members of Congress have voiced their support, too. You can help! Click over to Free Speech for the People to sign a petition supporting the amendment, and get involved as an organizer in your own state.
An Executive Order for Federal Contractors to Disclose Campaign Spending
Since Congress hasn’t yet acted to pass the Democracy For All Amendment, activists are pushing President Obama to rescind at least one element of what has been called "pay-to-play" politics. Since Citizens United, companies with federal contracts are allowed to give indirectly to Super-PACs and so called "dark money" organizations, which are not required to disclose their donors. A 2014 report by the Sunlight Foundation tracked over $5.8 billion in federal lobbying and campaign spending by America’s most politically active corporations between 2007 and 2012. During that time, the same companies received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support— or, for each dollar spent on political influence, they reaped $760!
The latest request is for President Obama to sign an executive order mandating campaign spending transparency for companies that have federal government contracts. More than 50 organizations (including Ben & Jerry’s), 500,000 individuals, 24 Senators, and 100 House members have signed onto the call. Doing away with a setup that trades campaign spending for federal contracts is at least a start to cutting the dough out of the system.
Taking the Fight State by State
While individual states can maintain their own laws prohibiting or restricting corporate spending on campaigns, the legal atmosphere set by Citizens United has set many states on a track to amend or abandon their own finance regulation measures. And that’s not accounting for the Super-PAC money that’s used to flood relatively low budget state races where there’s a political advantage. Here’s a neat tool you can use to track the more than $600 million in non-individual contributions to 2014 state elections.
But not all the states are giving in to an era defined by a few individuals and companies wielding mega influence. With a Clean Election Act, legislative candidates in Maine were given an avenue for publicly funded campaign contributions, allowing them to run in competitive races without hustling money from lobbyists or donors. The act was an initial success, with 85% of legislature being elected via Clean Elections. Then Citizens United opened up the way for outside groups to sully the race, and by 2014 just over half the candidates won via Clean Elections funding.
Now, Maine is fighting back with a new ballot measure mandating more disclosure and transparency, while raising fines on groups and candidates that break the local laws. Getting behind these sorts of initiatives in your own state can help propel these issues toward progress.
Put Your Stamp on the Future
Here’s a simple way you can take action now. Ben Cohen, one half of our namesake dynamic duo, has started an innovative, and legal, movement that turns your bucks into billboards for campaign finance reform. Click over to StampStampede.org to get the resources you need to put messages like “Not To Be Used For Buying Elections” into wide circulation. While you’re at it, check out his 6 Ways To Get Big Money Out of Politics post, and join us in Getting the Dough Out of Politics!