The Next Netroots Campaign: Public Financing

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

In a new article for, I take a look at whether the new Congress will deal substantively with the corruption issue, or whether we'll just get new window dressing. Specifically, will Congress attack the intersection of money and politics through public financing of elections, or will we only get more aesthetic reforms like gift and travel bans? Usually, I would say we have little shot at the former, but recently a number of high-profile lawmakers including Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) have voiced their interest in public financing.

I analyze the proponents and opponents of this concept, the arguments that will be used against it, and what will ultimately make the difference: Grassroots/netroots pressure. While the blogosphere is ideologically diverse, it does emanate a unifying desire to challenge and diffuse Beltway power. There is no better way to do this than a public financing system for elections. Because such a system allows candidates to run without being professional corporate shakedown artists, it elminiates the grip Big Money interests have on the political process. That means new lawmakers don't have to go to Washington already beholden to the Establishment.

Can it happen? Can the netroots organize around this push? It's hard to say, but I hope so, especially because campaign financing touches all the different issues in the progressive "silos." If you are an environmentalist, the current campaign finance system hurts you because it encourages a system where oil companies can buy energy legislation. If you are an advocate for media reform, the current campaign finance system hurts you because it creates a political situation in Washington where telecom companies can manipulate regulatory agencies. If you want to see universal health care, the current campaign finance system is an obstacle because it allows the health industry to buy off enough lawmakers to prevent reform. The list is endless.

With states like Maine and Arizona already having public financing systems, we have models to build from. And with an incoming freshman class of lawmakers who ran on anti-corruption platforms, there could very well be rank-and-file support for the proposal in Congress. It is up to us to push it.