July 21, 2016
Raise Your Hand If You Understand DC Politics!
You can read all the insider blogs, scan every newspaper, watch C-SPAN all day and cable news all night, but you’ll never know what’s really going on in Washington, DC. It’s sort of like thinking you can figure out how the ice cream gets made simply by opening up a pint and looking inside: not going to happen.
Of course, the gigantic difference is that it’s easy to tell exactly what’s in every pint of Ben & Jerry’s—just look on the pack and you’ll know just where that gob of delicious dough comes from.
The dough in our politics, though? Totally different story. We know there's a whole lot of big money at work behind the scenes, often obscuring the voices of regular people, but how much? And from where?
Here’s How You Can Find Out
Knowledge is power. And thankfully there are organizations who are working to put knowledge in the hands of the people. We’d like to tell you about two completely non-partisan groups that are working to demystify the trails of money flowing in and out and all around DC, and shine a light into the dark corners to help us understand the impact of those donations.
Meet These Transparency Superheroes
The Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for Responsive Politics are the people who are working so hard to uncover all of DC’s secrets, dirty and otherwise, and tell the American people things that many among DC’s power elite would rather we not know.
Who are these two crusading organizations? And why do they do what they do?
Can You Be Friends With “The Other Side?”
The Brennan Center was founded in 1995 by the family and former clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan in order to honor and extend his legacy or taking a nonpartisan approach to issues that threaten our democracy and justice system.
Justice Brennan was a hugely influential justice who managed the singular feat of forging friendships with opponents while working tirelessly to convince them of their wrongheadedness. He served on the Court for 34 years and penned opinions in the areas of free speech, criminal justice, and elsewhere that continue to resonate today.
Research Is Just the Start of Making Positive Change
Based at the NYU School of Law, the Brennan Center employs an impressive lineup of policy experts to dig deep into a range of issues—everything from voting rights to big money in politics, from criminal justice reform to the trampling of civil liberties in the fight against terrorism.
But research is just a start. Brennan says that it wants to “win meaningful, measurable change,” so it crafts policies as well, and then fights for them “in Congress and the states, the courts, and in the court of public opinion.”
Groundbreaking Work on Voting Rights
For example, a recent publication, Secret Spending in the States, measures for the first time the huge increase in donations flooding state and local elections and offers policy suggestions for how to reform the system. It also regularly rails against voter ID laws, working to debunk the myth of voter fraud trotted out by so many politicians seeking to defend those laws. Brennan’s research is regularly cited in all across the news media, informing the public, shining a light into dark corners, and helping make the case for change.
Dolla Dolla Bills
The Center for Responsive Politics, perhaps better known through the name of its website, OpenSecrets.org, wants to help Americans understand money’s role in politics. The CRP was founded in 1983, and OpenSecrets.org was launched in 1996.
The CRP, early on, was focused on publishing huge, expensive books filled with data—they did not reach a wide audience. OpenSecrets.org engaged the public in a new and dynamically effective way. Like the Brennan Center, the CRP is nonpartisan, but its sole focus is on tracking the massive amounts of cash flowing through our political system: exactly the kind of thing that donors, and those who receive giant donations, would rather we not know much about.
Follow the Money
The CRP follows the money wherever it leads, because it’s one thing to report, as it also does, on the mega-sums arriving every day from special interest groups, PACs, super PACs, and the rest, but it’s quite another to try to figure out the effect of all that dough. In other words, once a politician accepts a donation from a particular group, is that politician more or less likely to introduce or vote on measure that would benefit that group? The CRP tracks who’s giving the money and who’s receiving it, and then publishes it for the world to see.
Taking Names, Winning Awards
Many news organizations dip into the data the CRP generates for their own reporting, but the OpenSecrets blog also generates its own original reporting on the subject of money in politics. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, CNN, NPR and many others cite OpenSecrets’ reporting. Its investigative work won the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2013 award for Public Service in Online Journalism.
Hats Off to These Folks
Without the Brennan Center and OpenSecrets, we would know very little about where all the unregulated money in our political system comes from and where it goes. Knowledge is power, and Americans will need all the power we can get to pry our democracy from the hands of the ultra-wealthy corporate interests.
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