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Disclose Act Isn't Nearly Enough, With or Without the "NRA Exemption"

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The "NRA exemption" to the Disclose Act is undoubtedly a travesty, but in harping on it, we're missing the forest for the trees.

The much grander debacle is Democrats' failure to push for publicly funded elections, and their failure to put forth a Constitutional Amendment to stymie the flood of corporate spending on elections that the Citizens United decision permits. I'm running for Congress in Rhode Island, and if I win, I'll vigorously support both efforts -- just as I have as a state representative.

The Disclose Act -- which forces more intensive disclosure of which corporations are funding particular campaign ads -- allows Democrats to have it both ways: They can appease their progressive base by purporting to take action against corporate control of governance -- while still permitting most corporations more influence over our elections than they'd had for decades prior to the January Supreme Court ruling. (Corporations won't hesitate to support Democrats who are likely to do their bidding, and many are more than willing.)

We need Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, now -- and to offer to the states a Constitutional Amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling.

The Fair Elections Now Act would provide public funds to contenders for House and Senate seats who opt into the system and collect a large number of small donations -- allowing them to run viable campaigns for office, even while remaining accountable to rank-and-file human beings, rather than to wealthy donors.

Experience from Maine and other states demonstrates that most candidates would take Fair Elections funds -- and those who didn't would be stigmatized and lose support for running on private dollars. (In Rhode Island, I've been a co-sponsor of our state Fair Elections law, and have been organizing with the coalition that supports since its inception.)

Congresswoman Donna Edwards and others have proposed offering to the states for ratification an amendment to the Constitution to reverse the Citizens United ruling, but it appears to stand little chance of passage.

If we're going to change these financing structures we need to do so now -- power structures seek to perpetuate and strengthen themselves, and so as people gain election under the new rules, it'll only become harder to reform them.

If Congress fails to act on the constitutional amendment -- and we can't expect Congress, as a structure, to take action that disadvantages itself -- there's another option, devised precisely for this predicament:

The Constitution dictates that a federal Constitutional Convention would be held pursuant to the request of 2/3 of the states. Conventioneers would propose amendments to the constitution for ratification by the several states -- via the same ratification process that follows from a Congress-proposed amendment.

Working with Change Congress, I've introduced a resolution in Rhode Island calling for a convention to address the Citizens United decision -- Larry Lessig discusses it in detail here. Such a convention has never happened, but the mere act of agitating for one can have profound effects: Congress offered the 17th amendment -- requiring that U.S. Senators be elected rather than appointed -- only after two-thirds of the states, minus one, had called for a convention to demand the reform.

It's very difficult to ratify a Constitutional amendment -- but with large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents opposing the court's ruling, corporate spending on elections is precisely the sort of amendment that would gain support across party and geographic lines. No matter how it happens, the time for such action is now.

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