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Campaign Finance Reformers Launch Progressive Effort To Remove Money From Politics

First Posted: 10/26/2011 6:50 pm Updated: 12/26/2011 4:12 am

WASHINGTON -- The backlash against the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission continues to grow as a trio of progressive media icons have launched a new effort to remove corporate money from elections.

The We the People Campaign began on Tuesday, with The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and former Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris in charge of the effort to bring progressive media and advocacy groups together.

"It really came out of conversations just over a year ago," Hightower said. "Katrina, Jay and I had long been talking to progressive groups, particularly progressive media, about the need to consider a little bit of coordination and cooperation on big topics. ... So we decided to do it by focusing on Citizens United, a constitutional amendment and various ways to get around the corporate power dominating our politics."

Both Hightower and Harris pointed to the 2010 decision in Citizens United as the trigger that set off growing grassroots interest in the influence of corporate money over politics. Citizens United opened the door to independent spending by corporations and unions in elections.

"I've never seen this level of activism," Harris said. "Citizens United touched a nerve. Somehow, that kind of wonky, process-oriented, get-money-out-of-politics, McCain-Feingold type of thing never was a top five issue for most people. It was a relatively small core. People are seeing the connections now. It is, in fact, worse than ever. [The decision] was a wake-up call."

We the People is working with media outlets through the Media Consortium to bring attention to journalism that exposes corporate spending in politics. Their first piece in a series focuses on independent spending on an Ohio ballot initiative that would curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees in the state.

The group also seeks to match potential supporters with a number of advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, PRWatch, Free Speech for People and Move to Amend. It will be involved in planning house parties for the second anniversary of Citizens United and working with local organizers with the same goals.

Hightower explained that We the People is looking to "link up the message, the information, to action by tying in with some progressive organizations who are working on the issues of money in politics. We want to inform and activate."

The launch of We the People comes as other media figures have started similar efforts. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan is running a campaign to amend the Constitution to, as he puts it, "get money out." The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur recently created a super PAC to organize citizens at the state level to push for a constitutional convention that would adopt an amendment removing private money from politics.

The policy solutions offered by We the People will be varied and mainly driven by the interests of its partner organizations, which, for the most part, also favor such a constitutional amendment.

"We offer a lot of different levers for people to pull in this corporate money issue," Hightower said. "A constitutional amendment is a great organizing tool. This is an issue that puts all of the corporate politicians on the defensive. It backs them up and gives a very sharp focus as the Occupy movement is doing to the whole movement [against] corporate power."

Disappointment in President Barack Obama and other Democratic politicians is another driving force behind the group's creation.

"We are straight up that we cannot count on Barack Obama and we cannot count on the Democratic members of Congress to do anything about this," Hightower said.

"This has happened to progressives before, where you get the great hope and then you get disappointed," Harris explained. "The broader point is that Democrats are up to their necks in corporate money, too."

See the We the People Campaign launch video:

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