Whenever I'm discussing with friends the frustrations of the legislative process, the influence of corporate lobbyists invariably comes up. And that usually leads my friends to declare we won't accomplish anything without public financing of political campaigns.
I've never disagreed, but I usually sigh.
It never made much sense to me to put all our chips on something that had no chance of getting two-thirds support in the House and the Senate, especially when there was so much urgency to make progress on bread-and-butter issues like health care and clean energy. And making that progress appears far more attainable, even with the current influence of corporate lobbyists, than a complete overhaul of our campaign finance system.
But today's Supreme Court ruling, declaring corporate cash is protected free speech, opens up the floodgates of corporate influence. And as horrifying as that prospect is, it does create new political possibilities.
Disgust with corporate influence is raging. The appearance of Wall Street influence in the Obama administration contributed to an unthinkable result in the Massachusetts Senate race. And the White House dealings with the insurance and drug lobbies during the health care debate have been pilloried on the left and the right.
Now the conservative Supreme Court showed its hand, and shredded our campaign finance laws, leaving our democracy even more vulnerable to special interests.
What better time to raise the stakes.
Put a constitutional amendment on the floor of the House and Senate creating a public campaign finance system banning all private money.
Dare conservatives to side with more corporate influence in our campaigns and our policymaking.
Either conservatives buckle and the amendment is passed.
Or they block it, show their sympathies, and expose their attempts at co-opting the populist fervor to be phony.
There is no better time than now.
UPDATE: Ralph Nader agrees ... but it's still a good idea!
UPDATE 2: My colleague Eric Lotke offers an interesting alternative to a constitutional amendment: "I think we can find easier solutions. We can start by publicly financing campaigns, and add public matches to any private funding raised. Adding speech rather than subtracting it avoids constitutional hurdles."
Originally posted at OurFuture.org