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Think About the Existing Flood of Angry Voters, Not Just the Threat of Corporate Money

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From Massachusetts to West Virginia to Utah, voters have already sent a message to Congress this year that they are tired of the way Washington works for the special interests and not for them. They're angry about what they view as an out-of-touch Congress.

Tuesday's primary elections in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas could make that case even clearer.

These voters are angry at our broken political system--one that requires members of Congress to spend their days criticizing the same industries they take checks from at night.

On Wednesday, a congressional committee is likely to "mark up" the DISCLOSE Act -- legislation aimed at limiting and making transparent the flood of corporate money into elections. This spending is now legal under the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

What Congress should also be worried about is a flood of angry voters. If congressional leaders don't advance a bold reform agenda - one that goes beyond narrow fixes like the DISCLOSE Act - they're risking a high tide of voter anger that will wash away more of their colleagues than will any corporate money this year. What Congress must do is deal with the voter anger through comprehensive reform of the way that Washington works, and there's nothing that accomplishes more on that score than the Fair Elections Now Act.

Anti-incumbent and anti-Washington fervor, fed by Americans who feel ignored and unheard by their government, is on the rise. We see it in basement level support for Congress as an institution, and a lack of faith in our elected officials. We see establishment candidates in trouble from the right with Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) candidate, Trey Grayson (R), in trouble, and from the left with President Barack Obama's (D) candidate, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), on the ropes.

Clearly, with many more vulnerable members and a hold on the majority in both chambers, the Democrats are in a much more precarious position. But they aren't alone. The Republicans in Washington are seeing their party's candidates lurch to the right and do back flips to disavow any past positions that provide for common ground with Democrats.

In short, Senators and Representatives of both parties have a huge dose of job insecurity. (Welcome to America, Congress.)

Everyday Americans believe Washington is out of touch and too cozy with big money. Voters don't believe their voices are heard by member of Congress, who by day, sound all the right notes excoriating the latest bank bonuses and criticizing BP, while at night, take political contributions from Wall Street and Big Oil executives.

Americans are tired of this process. They're angry at the undue-influence of special interests they see every day in Washington and want their country back. Voters are ready to send an unmistakable, transpartisan, anti-Washington message that this formula won't work anymore.

It's the new members of the House - those elected in 2006 and 2008 - who are, by and large, the most at risk of getting thrown out by angry voters, and therefore have the most to gain and the least to lose by plotting a new course. Most of these new members of Congress - 110 elected in the past two election cycles - can still plausibly run against Washington. Indeed, since many are without longstanding political operations in their districts, it may be the only thing that saves them.

With 152 House co-sponsors, the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752, H.R. 1826) is popular and populist, and ready-made to be the answer to the problem facing both Washington and the country. It is both good policy and good politics.

With Fair Elections, candidates for Congress can run for office without relying on Wall Street executives or Washington lobbyists. Candidates can run competitive campaigns on a blend of Fair Elections funds and a four-to-one match on donations of $100 or less.

Some congressional leaders are rightly concerned about the possible corporate spending after the Citizens United decision. But they ought to be just as concerned - or more so - about the angry voters who don't think Congress has done enough to "drain the swamp." Many voters aren't sure how to hold corporations accountable. But they know exactly how to hold Congress accountable - with their votes.

To show voters they are serious about fixing our broken political system, Congress must pass the Fair Elections Now Act. We need to end the money chase and restore American's faith in our political process.

The voters will deliver their verdict in the form of electoral pink slips to incumbents and establishment candidates of both parties soon enough. The only question is, how many?

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