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Walker Bragman

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A New Movement to Reform Campaign Finance

Posted: 05/10/2013 5:00 pm

Imagine for a moment that you are on trial. While you are waiting to begin proceedings, you notice the prosecution handing the judge and members of the jury briefcases full of money. Would you trust that you had a fair day in court, or would you feel like the odds were greatly stacked against you?

This is the comparison my friend Brandon posed to me during a discussion of the influence of money in politics. Following the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that essentially opened the doors for unlimited anonymous political spending, it has become clear that deep pockets are able to give the few a louder voice than the many, which is precisely what we saw with the failure to pass the background check legislation supported by 90 percent of the American people. It was less a defeat for gun control advocates than it was a defeat for our democratic process.

Since the 5-4 decision the amount of money spent on campaign ads has skyrocketed. Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, spent about $105 million during the 2012 election cycle. Crossroads in general, which includes American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, spent $175 million. In total, independent expenditures by super PACs totaled $631 million.

Such is the scenario the Occupy Movement originally rose up to protest. Unfortunately, due to several factors, that movement faded or became marginalized, leaving "we the people" disorganized, unlikely to affect change with campaign finance.

What we need is something to take the place of Occupy; a sort of honesty movement to bring about greater transparency and accountability in government. In order to reach its goals, it must avoid the problems that Occupy had, but maintain the initial appeal and energy. For one thing, it must be willing to work with political parties to elect candidates that push the agenda. Occupy was understandably reluctant to do so, but its desire to operate completely separately from the mainstream of the American political conversation prevented it from actually achieving any legislative success -- its strategy never evolved past disruption, which brings me to the next point. The new movement must be loud, but not criminal or violent. Oakland frightened people; At first the public was with the peaceful demonstrators, but when some began wearing black bandanas around their faces and carrying shields, that changed. It must have leaders. Social movements are only good so long as there are spokespeople to counterbalance the inevitable element of crazy. It will need funding and a central website -- there will be a very small, very powerful group of people who devote millions of dollars to paint us in a negative light, as they did with Occupy. This movement will need to win the war of public opinion. Most importantly its goals must be more specific. So here is what I suggest:

1) A constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United. It should ban independent expenditures to influence an upcoming or current election, or at the very least, limit them while requiring full public disclosure how money is spent, and who is donating. As it stands now 501(c)(4)'s can hide their donors' identities and spend unlimited sums of money on political elections. SuperPACs can also spend unlimited sums, but they do not grant anonymity to donors. The amendment should also limit the amount of money a candidate for public office or an elected public official can spend on an election. These spending caps should not be defined in the amendment but rather determined by Congress, as it will inevitably need to rise with inflation.

2) Reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that news is presented in a balanced way. The amendment alone will not solve the problem. Sure, if it were to be passed lobbyists would be dealt a blow, but they'd still wield huge influence because of our news media. Today's political machines now include a media arm, which is exactly the opposite of the watchdog role journalism is supposed to play in U.S. politics. Today channels like FOX News shill for one party, presenting only one side of issues.

A friend of mine once told me I should stop complaining about what is wrong with this country and propose the changes I'd like to see. That's what this post is. We all know deep down that corporate expenditures in politics have a distorting influence, or at the very least give the appearance of corruption. It has become very clear that we will not be able to progress if we do not fix this problem. I say it's high time we did something.

 

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