THE BLOG
01/16/2013 04:06 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2013

A Key Issue President Obama Should Include in the S.O.T.U.

It is a new year, a new Congress and the beginning of the second and final term for President Obama, commencing with his inauguration on January 21st, which also happens to be Martin Luther King Day this year. MLK is an American icon whose stature and significance in the shaping of our country grows with the passing of time. Dr. King exemplifies an integrity, passion and dedication to serve all Americans that we rarely see any more. Were he still alive, there is no doubt he would be taking his message once again to The Mall in DC as a follow-up to his "I Have a Dream" speech, eloquently and passionately speaking of our so-called leaders' continuing failure to work for the betterment of all of the American people. He would also speak of a corrupt government that has sold out to corporate and special interest money -- a corrosive condition that is dismantling our democracy dollar by dollar. Can our nation long endure if we continue down this path? If only we could hear once more Martin's resonant and poetic voice, booming about injustice, inequality and greed, stirring a critical mass to take action. May our president find inspiration in Dr. King's legacy.

President Obama's inauguration also happens to fall on the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's final decision on Citizens United, which unleashed untold amounts of shady money into our political process in an attempt to influence the outcomes of federal, state and local campaigns nationwide. There will be massive actions this week with "Money Out, Voters In" events across America to mark this occasion and disenfranchisement in America. You can find out more about this campaign at Public Citizen's website, democracyisforpepeople.org.

Last week, Speaker Boehner sent a letter to the president, inviting him to address both houses of Congress on February 12th in the House Chamber, which, coincidentally, also happens to be Abraham Lincoln's birthday. When Mr. Obama speaks to our nation that night, he must lay out a true and clear vision for our country and where we go from here. Without any future campaigning or the stress of raising money, he can now finally lay out a heretofore-absent bold agenda that can clearly define his legacy. He must use that bully pulpit to rally his base and the American people. Mr. Obama has already publicly declared his support for a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizen's United decision. Now, he must make this a cornerstone of his last term in office, as the rancor and obstructionism in Congress will only continue if nothing changes. We cannot afford more caves and concessions on critical issues for which there really can be no compromise, Mr. President. You must recognize this moment as an opportunity to show the nation and the world true leadership. There could be no better time.

In his recent "State of the State" address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped up once again on the issue of campaign finance reform. Indeed, if he uses the campaign finance laws currently on the books in New York City -- among the most Progressive in the country -- as a guide, the country would have a strong template for massive, positive change to our elective process. Public matching funds for campaigns will open the doors to diversity and opportunity for a new kind of politics and candidates. Governor Cuomo made excellent points about disclosure laws and accountability in his address. Congress has three bills relating to strengthening disclosure laws circulating right now, which include provisions such as corporations being required to come clean about their activities in donating to campaigns to their shareholders, who could, of course, vote to cease any political involvement if they choose. These laws would also disallow government contractors from donating to campaigns -- another positive step. Certainly, a strong position on this issue will be important if Governor Cuomo decides to seek the presidency in 2016. In New York State, 70 percent of both Republicans and Democrats support campaign finance reform. This should move to the national stage, along with overturning Citizens United.

The movement to overturn Citizens United had a banner year in 2012, with 350 towns and municipalities adopting resolutions to amend, coalition-building across the country that now approaches 400 organizations, and support from 100-plus members of Congress for an amendment. Eleven states have adopted resolutions as well, with that number expected to double this year. A clear statement from the president on these issues in his State of the Union address would go a long way to rallying the American people to support him, and will help him to deliver on an early promise made to "... change how Washington does business." More can be learned about this issue at www.movetoamend.org.

This issue was best summed up by now Senator Elizabeth Warren during her campaign for office, when she sent an email message to supporters about money in our politics and its corrupting influence: "... corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they love and they die. And that matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people."

Meanwhile, the SEC is responding to 320,000 petitions calling for transparency and corporate accountability on donations made to political campaigns. The SEC is also considering rules requiring publicly traded companies to report their political contributions, as noted in an article entitled "Political Disclosure Rule Seekers See Hopeful Signs in SEC Agenda" in Bloomberg News. Another story in The Los Angeles Times entitled "Advocates Cheer SEC Consideration of Corporate Disclosure Rules." These stories and activists moved the moribund SEC into action and helped set its agenda to address these issues.

All of this progress aids the president, and on the night of February 12th, he should step up and make the issues of overturning Citizens United and going to public funding of campaigns cornerstones of his speech. 2012's estimated $6 billion election cycle for House, Senate and State offices, as well as the $1 billion presidential campaign, are unprecedented in our history and must be the last time we endure such an outrageous onslaught. With the overturning of Citizen's United and public financing of campaigns leading the way, we would once again have a true democracy, run by -- and for -- the American People.

-- with Jonathan Stone

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