Taking back our democracy requires us to strategize and fight on several fronts with different timelines.
For example, important long-term work is being done on developing a new campaign finance jurisprudence. But in the short-term, we have the legislative tools to bring about important reforms, even under the recent Supreme Court rulings.
As outlined in this report, while the Supreme Court has limited the reach of some of the campaign finance laws, it continues to strongly support disclosure and insists that independent expenditures must be truly independent of candidates. It has also left intact the ability to enact and enforce core contribution limits and prohibitions, as well as the ability to enact voluntary public funding of elections. This gives us a number of excellent options for reforms to make the laws stronger and more effective in response to the new campaign finance abuses we are seeing. Also, we should always remind ourselves that the Supreme Court does not exist in a vacuum; many decisions have been overturned, like Plessy v. Ferguson, which codified racial segregation in our Constitution. This Court will change, and we are confident that Citizens United and its ilk will be reversed, like other misguided decisions of the past.
While work on campaign finance reforms at the federal level continues, the most fertile area for real reform in the immediate future may be at the state and local level, whether through legislatures or citizen driven ballot measures.
As before, reformers of all political stripes will have victories and defeats, but with each victory, our republic will be stronger.
Almost 250 years ago, this country fought a bloody revolution centered on the ideals that ultimate power rested with we, the people, and that citizens have certain unalienable rights to self-governance. Those ideals resonated around the world, serving as inspiration for the French Revolution to the Arab Spring. The world looks to America as an example of what can be accomplished when government is truly of, by and for the people. And so the problem of money usurping the political power of the many is not merely a process issue, or a “good government” issue, or a Beltway issue. As Stein Ringen, a professor emeritus at Oxford University, laid out in the Washington Post, it is a matter of protecting the right of self-governance everywhere: “If the lights go out in the model democracies, they will not stay on elsewhere.”
So if you are wondering when we will be able to turn our attention away from ensuring our politics are free from the corrupting influence of money, the answer is simple: never. Just as a garden always requires attention, so does our system of self-governance. We must never let the lights go out on democracy in America.
We, the people, have the tools at our disposal to reclaim our government. Now we must use them. We hope this report shines some light on the possibilities for the road forward.
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Looking for citations? Download the report (PDF).