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Nick Penniman
Nick Penniman is the President of Issue One, a national nonpartisan organization working to reduce the undue influence of money in politics. He is the former executive director of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, founder of the American News Project, publisher of the Washington Monthly, DC director of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, executive editor of, associate editor of American Prospect magazine and director of the Alliance for Democracy.

Entries by Nick Penniman

Liberals and Conservatives United for Money-in-Politics Reform

(21) Comments | Posted February 2, 2016 | 12:10 PM

On at least one issue, it's becoming hard to tell Republicans and Democrats apart. Try for yourself.

"Iowa has sent notice that the ... next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media. Will not be chosen by the Washington establishment. Will not be chosen by...

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Former Electeds to 2016 Candidates: Where's Your Plan to Fix Money in Politics?

(0) Comments | Posted December 15, 2015 | 9:55 AM

Former Senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is a very busy man with a portfolio of weighty foreign policy issues for which he advocates. You might think, in fact, that his focus on international affairs would preclude him from weighing in on just about everything else.

But his...

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Blueprints for Renovating Democracy

(32) Comments | Posted November 13, 2015 | 12:34 PM

This week, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity released findings from their State Integrity Investigation, a comprehensive analysis of government accountability and ethics across the U.S. The results of their study are disturbing: a mere three states earned grades higher than a D+.

Why? According...

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Politicians Spend Half Their Time Fundraising -- And A Growing Group of Former Politicians Has Had Enough

(0) Comments | Posted July 22, 2015 | 12:00 PM

Are you a boss, or do you want to be one? In America, we often forget that we, the people, are the bosses. As is asserted in the Declaration of Independence, our style of government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." We hire politicians: Elections. We pay politicians: Tax dollars. We then expect them to spend the vast majority of their time not just representing us, but studying problems and reaching across the aisle to pass legislation to fix the problems.

Unfortunately, this all sounds quaint to too many Washington insiders today. They know better. They know that politicians spend half their time raising money. Most of that money is raised from either wealthy people who don't live in the districts the members of Congress represent, or from lobbyists and donors who represent the industries members of Congress are supposed to be regulating, based on their committee assignments. On the Finance Committee? Raise money from the bank lobbyists.

Even my 11 year old son, who just completed a semester on the founding of the republic, gets that this is wrong. So do people inside the system, like Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) who, when asked about political fundraising, told the New York Times: "It's appalling, it's disgusting, it's wasteful, and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption. It's unfortunately the world we live in."

What would happen if you transferred this world our public servants unfortunately live in to other industries? We at Issue One (the bipartisan reform group I head) made this video to play out the implications.

And what happens when the people who used to live in that world start standing up and speaking out about the need to change that world? I'm proud to announce that we're partnering with Ambassador Tim Roemer to create a strike force of former elected officials, from both parties, to do just that.

Tim -- who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was an instrumental member of the 9/11 Commission, and then was the U.S. ambassador to India -- has joined us as as senior strategic adviser to, among other things, head what we're calling the ReFormers Caucus. The ReFormers includes more than 60 Republican and Democratic former members of Congress and governors who are mobilizing to explain the governing crisis we are in and to advocate for solutions, like stronger disclosure and transparency so everyone knows where all this cash is coming from, and citizen-funding programs that ensures politicians' fealty is to their constituents.

As Tim recently told me: "Believe me, from my experience on the 9/11 Commission, I know there are a lot of threats in the world today, but one of the biggest concerns at home is this threat to our democracy, which prevents us from fixing the big problems our country faces."

The next election is expected to cost $10 billion, which is more than the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections-combined. It's more than the individual state budgets of Vermont, South Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Maine, Iowa, Rhode Island, Nevada, Wyoming, Alaska, and Nebraska. Imagine how much time our members of Congress, plus the presidential candidates, will spend trying to assemble that amount of money.

No matter what side of the aisle you stand on, we can all agree that we need to overhaul this incredibly dysfunctional system. We hope you'll help spread the word, and join us -- including Tim and the ReFormers -- in intensifying the fight for reform. As we do, let's remember: We are the bosses. And we expect nothing less than 100% of our employees' time and...

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A Second Front for Democracy Reform

(135) Comments | Posted September 9, 2013 | 3:10 PM

Peter Buffett recently called for a "new operating system" for philanthropy. Which got us thinking about operating systems, philanthropy and democracy.

That's why we're calling for a "second front" in the battle for money-in-politics reform. It's time for a truly board conversation about how we can fix a system that...

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"They Know We Know It." Get Politicians On The Record About Corruption

(71) Comments | Posted February 14, 2013 | 12:46 PM

"There's another challenge that we must address and it is the corrupting force of the vast sums of money necessary to run for office. The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself."

No, that's not a quote from the President Obama's State...

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Fox News' Curious Black Out

(764) Comments | Posted November 2, 2012 | 12:36 PM

We have an enormous area of this country, including the most densely populated region of the United States, in the grips of an enormous and ongoing crisis tonight. This is another dark, cold night for millions of people, and just today for a lot of people, things started feeling a...
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Money in Politics: From Bad to Worse

(152) Comments | Posted September 6, 2012 | 9:00 AM

I really wish I wasn't writing this. Especially in the wake of Bill Clinton's formidable speech last night. But it needs to be said.

Back in 2000, I worked with Arianna at the Shadow Conventions. She and I had met the previous year because of our shared passion for...

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America's Gulag: The Money (in Politics) Behind Prison Privatization

(391) Comments | Posted February 15, 2012 | 12:18 PM

The Huffington Post published an excellent piece yesterday by reporter Chris Kirkham describing how the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) wants to buy up state prisons, all under the guise of helping state governments deal with their budget shortfalls.

Called the Corrections Investment Initiative (sounds so positive, right?), it's...

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Stupid Debate Questions

(184) Comments | Posted January 20, 2012 | 2:03 PM

Freud considered denial to be one of the most powerful psychological disorders.

The GOP primary debates feature politicians and the debate moderators in a deep state of denial about the most burning issue facing the country -- one that a vast majority of Americans care intensely about: the fact that our elections have become auctions.

How intensely? A recent Rasmussen poll shows that a record 48% of Americans agree that Congress is "corrupt." A CNN poll shows that 86% believe that Congress' priorities are set by donors. Congressional approval ratings are at 9%. And, in polling released yesterday, voters, by a two to one margin say that reducing the influence of money in politics would be an important factor in their votes. This issue cuts easily across party lines, by the way.

Super PACs are outspending the candidates 2 to 1, and manipulating voter views dramatically and often anonymously. Yet of the 17 Republican primary debates, the topic of money in politics has come up a mere couple of times -- and only in relation to the nasty tone of some political ads.

If we had a truly representative democracy and an accountable media, this would not be the case. A topic this big, that burns this hot -- from the Tea Party to Occupy to everyone in between -- must be at the center of the conversation. Money's control over politics is at the root of the rip-off Wall Street bailouts, the never-ending jobs crisis, the yawning wealth gap, our ancient energy policy, inflated health-care costs, and the list goes on and on.

This year's political campaigns are expected to spend a total of $6 billion dollars, and it's going to be a mess that often times will have little or no connection to the huge, structural problems our country faces. People are going to continue to be cynical and nauseated by the attack ads and the robo calls and the utterly disingenuous poll-tested messages that are going to be sprayed around.

This weekend marks the second anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that flung open the floodgates of corporate and billionaire political spending. And on Monday the first televised Florida primary debate will be held.

So what better time than now to spark a great conversation about the routine buying and selling of our government?

We just produced a funny video that illustrates the problem with the debates so far. Take a look.

Alcoholics and addicts are masters of denial. There is no better metaphor for our money-flooded politicians than that - utterly dependent on a substance (big money) that is ultimately destroying them and everything around them. But incapable of admitting there's a problem. It's time to yank our elected officials out of their collective state of denial.

Starting today, and throughout this year's elections, we'll be helping end the denial and force the real debate that we all - left, right and center - are hoping to have. Let's do it together....

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Wall Street Protests: A Democracy Reform Agenda Is Born

(746) Comments | Posted October 6, 2011 | 2:35 PM

We've been at the protests in the last few days in both Washington and New York, and while reliable crowd size estimates are scarce, they are clearly growing from the thousands to the tens of thousands, and quickly replicating across the country.

Amidst this remarkable uprising we...

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A Day for Democracy's Faithful

(27) Comments | Posted January 20, 2009 | 8:09 PM

I don't believe in a god, but I believe in something equally as improbable and audacious. No, not Obama. American democracy.

There is no higher power, but we have our common power. No heaven, but the rich Earth. And the promise of America.

This is my faith. It saves me,...

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Deer Hunting With Democrats

(6) Comments | Posted October 30, 2008 | 5:24 PM

Much has been surmised about white working-class voters in this election. After the Democratic primaries, in which lower-income whites broke heavily for Hillary, the conventional wisdom in DC was that many of those folks would migrate to McCain. And, surely, some did. But Obama never gave up on them, campaigning...

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