Tired of Money Buying Politicians? So Are We. Here’s How to End It.

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BillMoyers.com is proud to collaborate with EveryVoice on a series of op-eds featuring ideas from a variety of viewpoints for making our democracy one that is truly of, by and for the people. Discover more ways to fight back against our broken campaign finance system. It’s a fight we can win.

(Photo: 401(K) 2012/flickr CC 2.0)

(Photo: 401(K) 2012/flickr CC 2.0)

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said, “a better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

Floods and tsunamis and natural disasters are unavoidable and devastating, but the influence of big money in politics is created by people — which means it can be fixed by people, too.
In January, The Washington Post editorial page wrote about “a rising tide” of political cash.

Earlier this year, a member of Congress introduced legislation called the “Close the Floodgates Act” to address a recent increase in contribution limits for party committees.

Drowning, rising tides, floodgates. Why do we talk about out-of-control political spending like it’s a natural disaster? It’s a problem entirely created by humans. Out-of-touch judges, lawmakers unwilling to change the way they were elected in the first place, and regulators stymied by partisanship and gridlock have put our democracy up for sale.

It’s people who have created a system that forces candidates to travel around the country like it’s a giant Monopoly game, scooping up checks as they circle the board. It’s a man-made problem that members of Congress spend a majority of their time raising money from the wealthiest among us, skewing the public policy debate in Washington, DC, and statehouses around the country.

Floods and tsunamis and natural disasters are unavoidable and devastating, but the influence of big money in politics is created by people — which means it can be fixed by people, too. Over the next few days, here at BillMoyers.com, advocates for a fairer, more just political system will explain exactly how.

The head of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections will write about 1,000 volunteers securing 85,000 signatures to update the state’s landmark public financing system. The man who orchestrated Rep. Dave Brat’s (R-VA) upset over former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) will explain why he’s organizing conservatives to support campaign reform policies. A city council member from Richmond, California, will talk about how she’s working with organizations like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network to fight back against Chevron’s corporate cash.

These pieces will cover five main principles that we believe are critical to creating a democracy that’s truly of, by, and for the people:

  • First, everyone should know who’s spending what in our politics. We need more transparency and better disclosure mechanisms.
  • Second, everyone should play by common sense rules. Regulators like the FEC, the SEC, the IRS and state agencies all have a role to play in enforcement.
  • Third, everyone must be held accountable. If politicians break the rules, they need to face the consequences.
  • Fourth, everyone should be heard. That’s not possible as long as decisions like Citizens United allow the wealthy to speak louder than everyone else.
  • Finally, we should encourage everyone to participate in the political process through matching funds and rebates on small donations.

Some policies based on these principles are in place or are being strengthened and some will take more time, but they’re fights we can win.

When a handful of the wealthiest Americans get to pick and choose who runs for office, and those same people get an unequal say in the policy process after Election Day, our democracy is cheapened. Fortunately, people across the country are coming together to fight back. Just like it took people, not an act of God, to put us into this mess, it’ll take people — millions of them — to get us out.

Read all the articles in this series »

Adam Smith is the communications director at Every Voice. He has worked in money-in-politics advocacy since 2006, managing or advising communications efforts for policy and field campaigns in Congress and states across the country. As communications director, he manages media relations and oversees the research and digital teams. Follow him on Twitter: @asmith83.

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