Putting Voters First

10/20/2006 01:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With corruption rampant in the 109th Congress and lawmakers' failure to pass any meaningful money-in-politics reforms, four national organizations, Public Campaign Action Fund, Common Cause, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG have been asking every congressional candidate to show that they care about cleaning up Washington by signing the Voters First Pledge.

It's one thing for candidates to bemoan the squalid goings on inside the Beltway--that kind of talk is getting cheaper by the minute, even as campaign spending soars. But it is entirely another for our lawmakers and their opponents to get serious and tell their voters just what they'd do to make systemic change in Washington.

The Voters First Pledge puts candidates for federal office on the record in support of sweeping campaign and ethics reforms. Voters can use the Voters First Pledge Web site to learn which candidates for Congress took the three-part pledge to support Clean Elections-style public financing of elections, enhanced ethics and lobbying restrictions, and greater transparency of the fundraising done by lobbyists for candidates. To date, 351 candidates, including 72 incumbents from across the spectrum of political parties and 48 states, have signed the pledge.

On the interactive Web site, voters can file "field reports" about candidates they have contacted. They can log how many phone calls they've made, what emails they've sent, and talk about questions they've asked at town hall meetings or other campaign stops.

In one of the field reports filed on Congressman Danny K. Davis, a voter from that district reported on October 5, "I called Chicago office; Mary said she would pass my message on. I called the D.C. office and the young man said he would check on it; he asked for and I gave him this web page so he can see who has signed and what the pledge is about." Rep. Davis' pledge arrived the next day. When voters demand comprehensive reform, candidates pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I visited three campaign offices outside of Chicago (see video at right) in an effort to get more candidates to sign the pledge. A local resident and a representative from Public Citizen joined me as we stumped for the Pledge in Illinois' Sixth Congressional District. At Tammy Duckworth's office, we were greeted with a signed pledge. Though our luck didn't carry over when we visited the headquarters of Duckworth's opponent, Peter Roskum, or Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's headquarters (R-IL), we spread the word about the pledge and its importance.

We have heard enough sordid stories of Tom DeLay's favoritism, Ralph Reed's lobbying, William Jefferson's freezer full of cash, and Bob Ney's golfing junkets. We'd rather report that legislators are listening to their constituents and talking with them about the issues instead of holding major fundraisers for those who can afford to drop $2,000 on a rubber chicken dinner.

But that won't happen unless we put candidates on record now and hold them accountable to their pledges later. So, check out now, and buttonhole a candidate about the pledge over the next 18 days. Beyond November, we will hold those who signed the pledge accountable to supporting legislation that meets the pledge's platform, and we will work with other members of Congress to ensure that a comprehensive money-and-politics reform platform is on the agenda come this January.