Change Congress Now

22 Jan

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission), the US Supreme Court eliminated restrictions on corporate spending that went into effect with the McCain-Feingold legislation passed in 2002.

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There is a lot of teeth gnashing and worry floating in the country about what this decision means not just for our elections, but for our republic. It is a sea change in the way we elect our leaders, but there is an effort underway to fundamentally change that process. It’s simply a new wrinkle to an old problem.

Corporate money and influence clouds our government at a very fundamental level. Politicians, regardless of party, are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the lobbying organizations organized to influence those politicians and in turn, the legislation they create. It is an economy of opportunity that lobbying groups have created which distracts from intelligent and reasoned discussion about policy which effects us all.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken. Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics. Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections. Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper. It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.

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Limiting campaign donations to an amount between $100-$250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain level of electable credibility is achieved through petition signatures and measured support is where we begin.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government. We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority. We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office. At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire city, county or state into gridlock. Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped. Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs. Considering yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the problem has never been so obvious.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress. It’s worth the time, please watch it.

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Finally, this is Lessig’s response to the Citizens United decision. He’ll have more detail to come, but this message does highlight the need to act now, while the momentum is behind the idea.

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Do you agree with this idea to change the system? If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

You should also call your Representative and Senator to let them know you support the Fair Elections Now Act which would establish citizen funded elections.

In WNY, Reps. Slaughter, Massa and Maffei are co-sponsors of H.R.1826 and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, S. 752. Rep. Higgins has voiced support for the bill in previous interviews and I will call his office tomorrow to confirm his support, the same goes for Sen. Schumer. Rep. Lee has not signed on nor has he voiced support for the bill.

11 Responses to “Change Congress Now”

  1. Alan Bedenko January 22, 2010 at 6:41 am #

    The problem is that in light of yesterday’s decision, all efforts to limit the amount of money a corporation or individual can spend in aid of a candidate or cause are unconstitutional.  This isn’t about direct donations to candidates, but about expenditures allegedly made independently by outside corporate, union, and individual entities.  

    In light of yesterday, legislation may be able to be crafted to do something about those outside expenditures, but what will really be needed is a constitutional amendment.  This in a country where we can’t set up some consumer protections against health insurance chicanery, or a public insurance option for the working poor and self-employed. 

    • Christopher Smith January 22, 2010 at 10:06 am #

      A constitutional amendment is not necessary to legislate that all federal elections be publicly funded. The ruling left in place a ban on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions as well as caps on corporate and union donations to political parties. They are however, allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money running their own advertisements from their treasuries on behalf of a candidate.

      So, the best thing to do would be to limit direct cash contributions to $250 (adjusted for inflation) and legislate increased transparency and filing rules for those corporations/unions who run ads on their own. The Court upheld 8-1 that corporations and unions still need to identify the sources of their money, so there is room for legislation on a lot of this. Skipping right to “we need a constitutional amendment” is a big leap. We can still make incremental reforms which fundamentally stabilize the situation and increase access to office for citizens.

      • Alan Bedenko January 22, 2010 at 10:15 am #

        Legislating public financing and a personal limit while maintaining no limit on corporate advocacy leaves the candidate against whom the corporate advocacy is directed somewhat undefended. Transparency is all well and good, but so what? If Nestle runs 100 ads per hour on the eve of election day calling Candidate Jones an al Qaeda-coddling whore, public financing of elections doesn’t touch that, no matter how transparent Nestle’s authorship of the ads is.

      • Mark Poloncarz January 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

        Identification of the publisher of a commercial means nothing. If Exxon/Mobil decides it wants to spend 1 billion out of 10 billion in profit on non-coordinated campaign commercials it does not matter what the contribution limits are for a candidate because publicly or privately funded campaigns will be left in the dust. As long as corporations/union can spend an unlimited amount there can be no fairness to the system. A constitutional amendment is the only way to eliminate this inequity.

  2. Mark January 22, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    I generally agree, but I think we need to ban all private donations, small or large. All candidates for an office who can demonstrate the level of support necessary to get on the ballot should get the same amount of federal money.

    Of course, this only begins to address the scale and number of changes we need in order to have an effective national government.

  3. Howard Goldman January 22, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Maybe as a compromise measure, they should have a separate constitution just for George Soros.

    • Christopher Smith January 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

      Howard, thank you for your strawman non-sequitur.

      • Howard Goldman January 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

        Your welcome, Chris. I’m even better at talking sports!

    • Gabe January 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

      Youtube called, they want one of their comments back.

  4. RvrSide January 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Stll though, this is very good news for ad agencies, pr firms, print, tv, and raido – all have taken a beating, especially newspapers.

  5. Chris Smith January 23, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Mark, we’re talking about two different problems with different remedies. Changing how candidates are directly funded addresses the problem of legislation influenced by contributors and their money.

    The decision by the court yesterday influences elections and how money influences that process.

    Are they intertwined? Somewhat, but the more distinct problem is the former and we have a readily available solution to that problem with some bipartisan support. We need to address the quality of our legislation if we are to address our larger problems.

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