In the first part of our Money in Politics blog series, we discussed the scope of the problem. In part two, we’ll highlight action happening today to reform the role of money in politics. We’ll also delve into whether these reforms mean we are at a tipping point or if they are just a pipe dream.
Is the Anti-Corruption Legislation in Chicago a Sign of Things to Come?
Nearly 100 Anti-Corruption Acts have passed since 2014. The Anti-Corruption Act is a piece of model legislation designed to limit the influence of money in American politics by overhauling lobbying, transparency and campaign finance laws. It was drafted in 2011 by former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman Trevor Potter.
In 2014, the reform organization Represent.Us took up the cause and has been instrumental in achieving 98 wins at local and state levels across the country, including 22 in 2018 alone.
Chicago/Cook County, Illinois passed the Anti-Corruption Act in February 2018. For a city historically viewed as the poster child of political corruption, this may be a significant bellwether of things to come.
The current formulation of the Anti-Corruption Act encompasses provisions extending beyond campaign financing.
The Role of Social Movements
Chicago/Cook County aside, does it really make any difference that Roanoke, Virginia; Princeton, New Jersey; and Ferndale, Michigan have passed these initiatives? There has been no legislation passed at a state-wide level, much less nationally.
Part of the answer may lie in the history of social movement in the United States. We can look at examples of grassroots social movements experiencing a slow, seemingly inconsequential buildup, hitting some tipping point and, then, snowballing into federal law.
For a detailed analysis of the accelerating pace of social movements, please refer to the analysis by Bloomberg Analytics.
One Represent.Us goal is to begin passing Anti-Corruption Acts at the state level, perhaps succeeding in 14 states by 2024. Will this set the stage for a national tipping point?
Promising Movement Toward Financial Transparency
Republican, Democratic and Independent voters overwhelmingly disapprove of dark money in elections. In the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court felt that the natural check on unlimited money would be full disclosure of all sources.
Grassroots organizations are leveraging this to pass state constitutional amendments that establish the right of citizens to know the true source of all election spending – by campaigns and outside groups. And to have that information in a sufficiently timely manner to help them make voting decisions.
Voters Right to Know had its first big win in November 2018, when North Dakota passed Measure 1, a constitutional amendment against dark money spending. City-level initiatives against dark money were also approved in Denver and Phoenix during the midterm elections.
Does HR 1 Mean Political Reform May be a Viable Issue for 2020?
House Democrats introduced HR 1 symbolically as their first piece of legislation in 2019. It’s a 571-page compendium of existing problems and proposed solutions in four politically hot zones: voting, political money, redistricting and ethics.
HR 1 is intended to be a large package, but Congressman John Sarbanes said in addition to passing it as the first bill, members will likely break out pieces of it into smaller bills that individually could get bipartisan support from Republicans in the Senate. For example: the Honest Ads Act and boosting election security.
The bill is unlikely to become law with Republican control of the Senate and President Trump in the White House. However, as the New Yorker magazine notes, for Democrats the bill is partially “an exercise in identity formation, a way to preview a corruption message that goes beyond superficial anti-Trumpism by incorporating a real critique of power in Washington.”
Is genuine financial political reform more empty rhetoric? There is some basis for optimism. Over two dozen states already have pilot public financing programs in place. In addition, 49 Democratic members of the incoming congress signed a pledge against taking corporate public action committee (PAC) money, and 47 signed a letter promising to make campaign finance a priority.
Constitutional Repeal of Citizens United is Further Along Than Many Realize
The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, and subsequent related decisions, legalize corporate spending in elections. The decisions also allow wealthy individuals and special interests to have a disproportionate influence over the political process.
The goal of the 28th Amendment, spearheaded by the reform organization American Promise, is to re-balance U.S. politics and government by putting the rights of individual citizens before the privileges of concentrated money, corporations, unions, political parties and super PACs.
A constitutional amendment is a long and arduous, two-step process. An amendment may be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both the house and senate, then sent to the states for ratification, requiring three-quarters approval (38 states). Alternatively, an amendment may be proposed through an Article 5 National Convention. This method has never been used. Most scholars view the risks of a “runaway” convention – controlled by radical fringe elements – to pose an unacceptable risk.
Some prominent amendments are never ratified. The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972 and ratified by 34 of the necessary 38 states. However, advocates could not get the last four necessary states, and the Congressionally-approved deadline for ratification passed.
Where does the 28th Amendment stand today?
- We know public opinion favors reversing Citizen United (83 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Independents)
- 19 states are formally calling for the 28th amendment
- 800+ cities and towns have done the same
- 42 Senators and 125 Representatives have co-sponsored 28th Amendment bills. (That’s 63 percent of the total needed in the senate, 43 percent of the requirement in the house.)
Is the glass half full, or empty? Proponents believe they are on track to pass the amendment by 2026, citing the momentum from more than 200,000 supporters in 50 states.
Is Changing the Role of Money Enough?
We believe our political system can’t be fully reformed without changing the role of money. According to these initiatives to remove the influence of money in politics, it would appear that there is momentum to change the system. However, money is but one of three interconnected – and necessary – shifts to reform our political system as it exists today.
If you’d like to learn more about these three shifts, and how they can drive change, visit www.changetherules.org