But across the country, Americans are standing up for and winning reforms.
THE Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has just turned six years old, marking another year of mega-donor politics and secret political spending.
It’s the same court decision that determined money is speech and corporations are people, both concepts fundamentally at odds with a democratic system of government and basic common sense.
But in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, there’s another misguided theory that’s holding back democracy in the U.S.
The concept that’s taken hold over the past six years, the one that Citizens United drove into the American psyche, is that our elections are irreparable, that reform is out of reach for the American people. Our democracy is hurting, but a close look at victories won against big-money politics and growing bipartisan support for reform show that this myth just doesn’t stand up to the facts.
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At first glance, big money-politics can look like an unstoppable juggernaut. In each election since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, super PACs and outside special-interest groups have broken fundraising records. In today’s presidential race, they’re likely to do the same. According to a recent report by The New York Times, just 158 families funded half of all early campaign money in campaigns for the 2016 presidential nominations. Under Citizens United, courting wealthy mega-donors — who often have different priorities and policy preferences than most voters — has taken precedence over appealing to everyday Americans.
Big-money politics has damaged our democracy. But across the country, Americans are standing up for and winning reforms. In state after state, voters and legislators have passed legislation supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn Citizens United and allow for reasonable limits on big-money politics. Sixteen states and nearly 700 communities nationwide have called for an amendment to overturn the decision.
Here in Washington, the movement for reform is alive and well. Over the past eight months, hundreds of people took to streets across the state to gather more than 337,000 signatures for Initiative 735, which would make Washington the 17th state to call for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. In November, Seattle voters overwhelmingly supported Honest Elections Seattle, a first-in-the-nation program that will provide all registered voters in the city with democracy vouchers, incentivizing candidates to speak to constituents rather than special interests to fund their campaigns.
And the movement is growing across the country. In Maine on Election Day 2015, voters passed a ballot initiative strengthening their state’s clean-elections law, allowing citizens of all walks of life to run for office without needing to depend on wealthy donors.
Only one month after Seattle and Maine voters won major reforms, council members in Washington, D.C., introduced legislation to create their own small-donor-empowerment program. It is a system to amplify the voice of ordinary voters by matching small donations with limited public funds for candidates that agree to a lower contribution limit. Small-donor empowerment has a track record of success in areas like New York City, where candidates for City Council have used the program to raise the bulk of their funds from small donors.
In addition to standing up against super PAC and mega-donor influence in our elections, voters are working to stem the tide of secret, undisclosed campaign spending unleashed by Citizens United. Voters need to know who’s backing the candidates on their ballot. Last month, a coalition of organizations delivered 1 million petitions to the president urging him to take action to strengthen disclosure. With one stroke of the pen, President Obama could sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.
Following last month’s sixth anniversary of Citizens United, opportunities for real reform are everywhere, from cities and states to the halls of Congress. Americans want solutions. They’re proposing solutions, voting for solutions, putting solutions into practice. And here in Washington, we’re playing an important role in leading that movement for reform — no million-dollar super PAC can stop that.
Across the country, Americans are proving that democracy isn’t dead — no more than corporations are people or money is speech. When you look at the facts, it’s just common sense.