Fixing Washington’s Biggest Problem

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Moyers & Company’s Michael Winship speaks with Josh Silver, CEO of the nonpartisan advocacy group United Republic and director of its Represent.Us campaign finance reform campaign, about what he considers to be the main issue confronting all activists and reformers: the corrosive effect of money in politics. Silver, in a conversation taped at the National Conference for Media Reform, tells us, “You’ve got a political system that has become basically coin operated — where those with the money set the parameters of the debate in Washington; they are the most influential in who gets elected and who doesn’t and they are ensuring that the public interest is marginalized so that they can increase their profits, increase their own interests. And that’s happening on every issue virtually, from environment to healthcare to poverty, you name it.” Silver hopes that those who want change on both the right and the left decide that the only way to make progress on any issue is to first get money out of politics.


On Represent.Us’s “K Street 5K”

Represent.Us's dollar bill costumes will be used during the K Street 5K this Saturday. (credit: Represent.Us)

Represent.Us's dollar bill costumes will be used during the K Street 5K this Saturday. (credit: Represent.Us)

“We are getting about 700 people to dress up as $100 bills running down K Street in Washington D.C. to the US Capitol. We will arrive there, the Capitol police will prevent us from going into the Capitol, and the money will be blocked and we will then provide the Capitol police with an award, a golden plaque congratulating them for doing what Congress has been afraid to do or unwilling to do for decades, which is keep money out of Congress. And what’s really exciting is our two featured speakers are a leader of the Tea Party Patriots and a leader of the Bold Progressives, and we’re showing that we can do single issue organizing, we can put aside the many differences that we have on so many issues, but focus on the issue we all agree on: that money should not determine political outcomes.”

On why all activists and reformers should address money in politics and media reform

“You need to think of your top issue as one of your children and you need to think of media and money in politics as your other two children, let’s say. But the idea being you don’t love one child more than the other, or, as the professor Lawrence Lessig said at his TED talk last week — that was released last week — he said, ‘This doesn’t need to be your top issue, but it needs to be your first issue,’ money in politics, because if you don’t win it, you don’t fix it, you will never pass, you’ll never advance your most prized issue, be it environment, women, whatever.”

On pressuring politicians to be “anti-corrupt”

“Rather than Democrats versus Republicans, let’s create a seal of approval, which is you’re either corrupt or you’re anti-corrupt. And the way you get to be anti-corrupt is you sign on a set of basic provisions that say, ‘In office, I pledge to enact citizen funding of elections, enact sweeping lobbying reform measures and make all political money transparent, to give Congress the ability to limit political spending through a constitutional amendment if necessary, and determine that indeed corporations are not people and do not enjoy the same free speech rights’ — a litmus that can be embraced by the entirety of the democracy reform movement. And then market this new brand, this new seal of approval in the same way you would market a new car or a new online application, with the same kind of Madison Avenue marketing savvy that we see in the for-profit sector.”

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  • Katharine Bressler

    I think someone forgot that we live in a capitalist economy. Money runs everything. It also corrupts everything. We need a completely new system.

  • LeAnn Larson Frobom

    Once upon a time (in my lifetime) our capitalist economy was able to coexist with a representative democracy where people believed their votes counted. I may be naive, but I believe it could happen again.

  • Anonymous

    Why not have a balanced mix? No country is purely capitalistic, including the US.

  • Anonymous

    tightly regulated, strictly enforced, and we’re golden. what we haves is a rigged market plagued by criminal insider trading, captured regulatory agencies, monopolies of key industries, and out-of-control speculative bubbles.

  • Steve Whetstone

    I like the “Seal of Approval” idea.

    Here’s another thought. What if we make the legal system do it’s job and create a profit making business incentive for filing class action civil lawsuits on behalf of the people. I believe politicians take an oath to represent the people so by favoring corporate and money interest they are in violation of the law. Criminal penalties for violating their oath are probably too much to ask for but how about civil lawsuits based on harm done to the people due to gross negligence in performing their job. If we can create a legal and social structure that makes it profitable for a law office to gather evidence and convince a jury of the harm and damages it could be self supporting. I think this is done sometimes somewhat now in cases like gulf oil spill, but it looks like the courts are assigning damages too low and too infrequently and excluding cases to provide justice for the people. Moneys regained in court for damages to the public good by excess junk mail or deceptive advertising should be earmarked distributed not to the general fund, but instead specifically used to address the damages to the public equally per capita for example.

  • Dale Undercover

    If corporations are not people then Then you have to take those same rights away from all groups, the Boy Scouts, Unions, Politico, the NRA, and the New York Times.

  • Sylvia Scarletti

    I’m fine with that.

  • steven sanders

    Isn’t asking congress to end corruption in congress like asking the foxes to police the hen house. I think it’s time for a grass roots Constitutional Amendment to fix our election process.