What’s the best metaphor for our nauseatingly corrupt political system? Here are three I just made up, but if there are any good suggestions in the comments I’m happy to add more:
• It’s an open sewer filled with an extremely unpleasant slurry that causes cholera
• It’s a whirligig much like this one except the riders all have violent food poisoning and are spraying vomit over everyone in a 300-yard radius
• It’s a sebaceous cyst the size of a baby’s head (DO NOT CLICK)
The good news is that we may not be doomed to spend the rest of our lives thinking of disgusting things to which to compare the American political process. This week for the first time, 12 major U.S. public interest organizations jointly released a campaign finance reform agenda, which they are asking every presidential candidate to endorse.
The unprecedented coordination by the groups — including People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Democracy 21, Mayday and the Brennan Center for Justice — grew out of and builds upon a set of “Unity Principles” endorsed by 152 organizations including the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Greenpeace and the NAACP.
And while simply creating a list of common demands is the baby step part of politics, there’s a reason parents get excited when their children first stand up and walk.
The document, called “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: An 21st Century Democracy Agenda,” asks candidates to commit to five principles: (1) everyone participates; (2) everyone’s voice is heard; (3) everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and our representatives; (4) everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules; and (5) everyone is held accountable, with enforceable penalties to deter bad behavior.
The agenda then asks presidential candidates to “advocate for a specific and comprehensive plan” based on those principles, including:
• Actions solely within the president’s power
The next president will probably appoint several Supreme Court Justices and, the groups say, should take the opportunity to “transform the current [Supreme] Court’s misguided approach to money in politics” beginning with Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and running through Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC.
The president should issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclosure political spending (something Obama could do if he wanted but hasn’t), and push regulatory agencies like the FEC, FCC, IRS and SEC to promulgate pro-transparency rules.
• Actions that require both Congress and the president
The agenda calls for matching funds and tax credits for small donors to campaigns, such as those provided by a current bill written by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md.
Congress should pass and the president should sign a restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
• Actions that require Congress and the states
The agenda notes that the most permanent solution for dealing with the Supreme Court’s “fundamentally flawed decisions” on money in politics would be passage of the Democracy For All constitutional amendment.
The reform organizations have written to all the major declared presidential candidates to ask to meet to discuss their agenda — and, if they endorse it, say exactly what they would do about it. “That’s what we missed in 2008 and 2012 with Obama,” says David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, another signatory to the agenda. “He had all the right positions, none of the right actions. They need to hold up their plan of action. Every single candidate should have an answer to, ‘what are you going to do to fix it?'”
Groups like New Hampshire Rebellion, Iowa Pays the Price, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement will be chasing candidates around the two earliest primary states to try to force them to respond to the agenda on the record. Dan Weeks, executive director of New Hampshire Rebellion, says that “I knew that it would be a slog and it is a slog,” but even Republican candidates “have so far exceeded my expectations” thanks to “the level of public outrage.”
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have previously endorsed much though not all of the agenda, but haven’t done much to explain how they’re going to accomplish their stated goals. Hillary Clinton so far has given vague lip service to doing something about money in politics, with promises to provide more specifics eventually.
Disclosure: Common Cause, Issue One, Public Citizen and Demos, signatories to the campaign finance reform agenda, receive financial support from the Democracy Fund, which is funded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is founder of The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media.
Correction: The number of signatories to the “Unity Principles” on in the influence of money in politics has been updated from 131 to 152.