There's a new comedy playing in Washington. Perhaps you've heard of it? It's called "Congress Pretends to Clean Up Corruption."
As profiled yesterday in the LA Times, the comedians in the Senate have voted to ban accepting meals or gifts from lobbyists, but they will let politicians continue to accept trips paid for by donors. Who can blame them, really? Paris is nice this time of year. The jokers in the House voted to ban such trips, but--and here's the punch line--they're only banned until June 15. They know Paris is nice in July, as well.
It actually might be funny if it weren't so deadly serious. The farce our elected officials are engaging in is supposed to distract voters from the problem. Our democracy isn't being corrupted by knick-knacks, snacks, or junkets. It's being corrupted by the record contributions that lobbyists and their corporate employers are pumping into the bank accounts of politicians from both parties--and the favors that politicians give in return.
Almost no one from either party in Washington is talking about this problem, not even in jest.
The California Nurse Association, however, is tired of seeing our patients used as political bargaining chips by big corporations. We have a solution. We have just turned in 600,000 signatures to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that will let candidates run "Clean Money Elections," or publicly-financed elections. Under this system, qualified candidates agree to give up private fundraising, turning off the spigot of lobbyist and corporate money. In return they get enough money from public funds to get their message out to voters.
It's a simple cure: if you're not begging lobbyists and corporations for money, you can't be bought.
Democracies across the world have versions of public financing, as do Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut. In those states, normal, everyday people--nurses, teachers, firefighters, women, ethnic minorities, the real face of America--are running for office and winning. We've seen genuine progress made in healthcare and other areas that voters care about.
Take a look and let us know what you think.