Archive for August, 2011

Election and Campaign Reform

August 16th, 2011

Voting turnout in the U.S. remains among the lowest of all Western democracies. The U.S. ranks #139 in voter turnout of countries that have held elections since 1945. We have some important elections coming up in 2012. It is important that democracy prevails in these elections. Congress needs to reform our election laws to allow as many voters to participate as possible.

Michael Moore published a book called “Michael Moore’s Election Guide 2008.” He discusses some great ideas for improving our election process:

  • Hold all elections on the weekend
  • Make every citizen an automatic registered voter
  • Use paper ballots and a number two pencil (to avoid having votes not counted)
  • Have regional primaries so no one state has too much influence over the process
  • Limit the election season to 4 months for the primaries and 2 months for the general election;
  • Public financing, free air time, and spending limits for all politicians

Others have suggested compulsory voting as a way of increasing voter participation (source).

Another critical component to election reform is the issue of campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned long-standing election laws that placed limits on corporate funding of election campaigns. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision opened the flood gates for corporations to fund political campaigns. (See how this decision has impacted elections here.) The problem with this decision was articulated well in a dissenting oppinion given by Justice Stevens:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

President Obama also threw in on this decision:

President Barack Obama stated that the decision “gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates”. Obama later elaborated in his weekly radio address saying, “this ruling strikes at our democracy itself” and “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest”. On January 27, 2010, Obama further condemned the decision during the 2010 State of the Union Address, stating that, “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” (source)

 Other Reactions:

The New York Times stated in an editorial, “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.”[64] Jonathan Alter called it the “most serious threat to American democracy in a generation”.[65] The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the Court had declared “outright that corporate expenditures cannot corrupt elected officials, that influence over lawmakers is not corruption, and that appearance of influence will not undermine public faith in our democracy.”[66](source)

An ABC-Washington Post poll conducted February 4 to 8, 2010, showed that 80% of those surveyed opposed (and 65% strongly opposed) the Citizens United ruling which the poll described as saying “corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections”. Additionally, 72% supported “an effort by Congress to reinstate limits on corporate and union spending on election campaigns”. (source)

In terms of solutions, at the very least we need to return to policies that existed prior to the Citizens United decision of 2010, which limited private campaign donations (hard and soft money). But going beyond this legislation, some have suggested a campaign finance amendment to the constitution. Some legislators have pushed an updated election repform bill called the “Fair Elections Now Act.” Another idea is the “Voting with Dollars” concept: “Yale Law School professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres in their 2004 book Voting with Dollars: A new paradigm for campaign finance.[7] All voters would be given a $50 publicly funded voucher (Patriot dollars) to donate to federal political campaigns. All donations including both the $50 voucher and additional private contributions, must be made anonymously through the FEC.” (source)

Regardless of how the campaign finance is reformed, most would agree that we don’t want corporations and the wealthy determining elections, and we want greater participation, and therfore, we urgently need serious reform. Contact your representative in congress today.

 

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