There are few things more fundamental to the health of our democracy than the right of all Americans to fully participate in their government by electing and interacting with their leaders.
Protecting that right involves ensuring the First Amendment’s guarantees of the right to petition the government, right to free speech and right to freedom of association are truly available to all and are not undermined by the real and apparent corruption that arises when those rights are made available only to a small class of wealthy political donors. This is no easy task as it involves the complex interaction of rights, interests, money and power.
Unfortunately, as is documented every day, a relatively small number of people and organizations—often while remaining in the shadows—have gained overwhelming power over our political system through their ability and willingness to spend large amounts of money to influence who runs for office, who is elected and the issues that will be discussed. As candidates and elected leaders become increasingly more reliant on the financial support of a small number of individuals and interests, the public is losing faith that our elected leaders represent the interests of all Americans. The public fears that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution as fundamental to our democracy are becoming available only to the wealthiest and most fortunate among us. And that fear is not unfounded.
% OF AMERICANS WHO BELIEVE CANDIDATES "SOMETIMES" OR "MOST OF THE TIME" PROMOTE POLICIES THAT DIRECTLY HELP DONORS
In recent years, the Supreme Court has put the chase for political money on steroids. That is why efforts to amend the Constitution and develop a new jurisprudence for the time when we have a different Court are underway and have widespread support.
But the conventional wisdom that nothing else can be done about the growing power of money in our elections is not just pessimistic, it is untrue. Americans are not ready to let democracy fail. All across the nation, in cities, states and at the federal level, average citizens, together with civic, business and elected leaders, are working to find realistic bipartisan solutions to create a new civic and political reality that returns power to all Americans. The efforts vary widely, with some cities and states already proudly utilizing existing strong campaign finance laws, including forms of small donor empowerment programs, while citizens in other localities are fighting for everything from greater transparency in elections to cracking down on special interests that try to skirt the rules. And while some of these reforms have been championed by elected officials, many other efforts are organized by citizens themselves—grassroots Americans from both sides of the political spectrum who are taking their ideas directly to the voters through ballot initiatives and local campaigns.
% OF AMERICANS WHO AGREE MONEY IN POLITICS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM
Of course, enacting laws is just part of the challenge. Care must be taken to ensure these laws are written in a way that provides the best chances for surviving inevitable legal challenges. And once a law is passed, it cannot be allowed to become the victim of a weak or even hostile enforcement authority or the inevitable campaign to roll back reforms. That’s why, from Florida to Maine, South Carolina to California, the American people are actively pushing to expand existing laws, fighting for new reforms and protecting the rules already on the books from the opponents of free and open democracy. If there is one thing to be taken from this report, it is that solutions to this problem exist, and they are working all across the country.
In fact, the biggest roadblock to a renewed reform movement is not a lack of solutions, it is the cynicism that so many Americans feel. According to one poll, 91 percent of Americans agree that money in politics is a major problem, but just nine percent feel it will ever be solved. Reformers must combat this cynicism by demonstrating just how feasible solutions are.
This report is intended to provide an overview of those opportunities and possibilities to restore the power of “we, the people.” Think of it as a “Zagat guide” for money-in-politics reform: not a comprehensive review or analysis of all of the current laws or possible options, but rather, an overview of some of the best examples of the types of reforms currently in place or being refined. It is intended to inspire action, more critical thinking and ideas.