Campaign Finance Reform

Mass Arrests at Democracy Spring Protests in DC

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

In demonstrations aimed at getting money out of politics, 85 people — many elderly — were arrested April 12 outside the Capitol, reports DCistThe protests are part of a weeklong series of demonstrations that seek to “make history and save our democracy,” according to the Democracy Spring website, which castigates “billionaires and big money interests” and advocates campaign finance reform.

Supremely Wrong

While the influence of large corporations in our political process is already enormous, the Supreme Court’s Jan. 21 ruling to permit unlimited corporate financing in elections will open the floodgates of increased corporate influence over our democratic electoral process. Consider how powerful corporate lobbies have already blocked meaningful health-care and climate change policy from being enacted, or how Wall Street has thwarted even modest regulation of the financial sector after the economic meltdown.

It’s hard to imagine the balance of power being skewed any further than it already is. Of the world’s 200 largest economies, 133 are corporations and 67 are nation-states. The 500 largest U.S. corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce already spend hundreds of millions in lobbying, campaign-oriented advertising, and other contributions that shape the context of our civic dialogue.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March 2010
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Advocates of campaign finance reform approach the issue from two different strategic perspectives:

Advocates of campaign finance reform approach the issue from two different strategic perspectives: Abolitionism and incrementalism. Abolitionists espouse comprehensive reform - full public financing that removes all private money from the electoral process. They see money in politics as a raging river - dam it at one point and it will create a new riverbed elsewhere. Under the name of the Clean Money, Clean Elections (CMCE) reform, public financing is successful law to varying degrees in four states.

A federal "clean elections" bill has been introduced that, like the state bills, gives public financing to qualified candidates who agree not to take campaign contributions from private sources (except for a limited number of small "qualifying" contributions that serve to establish eligibility for the full public stipend). Right now, the federal bill lacks the grassroots support to make it a pressing issue.

The difficulty of passing a comprehensive public financing bill is why many reformers choose the incremental approach. On the assumption that it is better to pass a limited bill than no bill at all, they hope to reform the system in stages. The 2002 McCain-Feingold bill (officially known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or BCRA), is their primary accomplishment. It is meant to prohibit "soft money," the hundreds of millions of dollars that corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals launder through unregulated state parties for use in federal elections.

Many abolitionists predicted that McCain-Feingold would prove to be one big loophole that would spawn new conduits for soft money and dilute efforts to build popular support for comprehensive public financing.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July 2004
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A Moment of Triumph

The effort to end unlimited campaign contributions is a fundamental civil rights issue, a chance for people who elect our leaders to take back power from those who give them money. While it is clear what the campaign finance reform movement opposes, we need to make it just as clear what we stand for: reclaiming our democracy. And the House debate on reform made clear how much a government of the people depends on continuous acts of faith.

Working to reform our political system seems very much in keeping with my personal faith as a Christian. Our broad coalition for campaign finance reform includes many denominations—the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Methodists, Episcopal Church, the Catholic group Network, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. But the opposition to reform also includes faith-based groups. Even on slavery, President Lincoln noted, both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."

Early on Feb. 14, my thoughts returned to the role of faith in reforming our democracy. The House was debating amendments to the Shays-Meehan Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform bill before holding the final vote. By 2 a.m. our lobbying was long since done, and a dozen of us from Common Cause were sitting in the Capitol, watching the debate. In the course of opposing a mean-spirited amendment to restrict the rights of immigrants, Rep. Christopher Shays began by saying, "I had fainted unless I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A New Branch of Government?

Protesting campaign finance corruption and the "dumb or dumber" choices of many current elections, activist filmmaker Michael Moore is asking Americans to vote for potted plants, with a "Ficus for Congress" campaign active in more than 20 races across the country.

"The choice is simple—hot air or oxygen?" Moore said. "I’ve seen a lot of politicians lie, cheat, steal. I have never met one who can perform photosynthesis."

Though pundits like to point out that third-party candidates often help one party by stealing votes from the other, Moore wants to send a clear message to both Republicans and Democrats, between which he sees little difference.

"Both parties are beholden to those who pay for their campaigns," said Moore. "Why should the wealthy have two parties doing their bidding, and the other 90 percent of Americans have no real representation? In a country where the majority no longer vote, writing in ‘Ficus’ will give the disenfranchised voter a chance to cast a vote for ‘None of the Above!’" See www.ficus2000.com.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Clean Money

For activists dedicated to transforming the role that money plays in our politics, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Worst—as everyone knows, at an estimated $3 billion-plus the 2000 election is already shaping up as the most expensive in history, and Congress has shown no signs of passing any serious re-

forms. Best—the rising clamor for change is finally being reflected by some of our leading political figures, and more important because of signal victories in several states. Without wearing rose-colored glasses, it’s safe to say that the movement for comprehensive campaign finance reform is making real headway.

The biggest change, of course, is how the issue has risen in the public eye—starting with the protests in Seattle and on through Sen. John McCain’s surprising surge in the early Republican primaries. Despite the economic boom times, a great deal of dissent is bubbling just beneath the surface at how corporate fat-cats have hijacked our democratic institutions. A 90-year-old great-grandmother, Doris Haddock (aka "Granny D"), became a folk hero for walking across the country for reform; later, after she was arrested (with 30 others) inside the Capitol Rotunda for trying to protest "crimes against democracy," a D.C. judge embraced her and praised her efforts.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Hostile Takeover

Politics today has become an arms race, with money instead of missiles. The 1996 federal elections were the most expensive in history—costing approximately $2.2 billion—and that could be doubled by the year 2000. In an arms race the side with the most missiles wins. In politics the more money you have, the better your chance of election. One side escalates, and the other follows suit. Faster and faster, the spiral has been growing. Today this arms race is undermining our system of self-government.

When asked who really controls Washington, voters overwhelmingly answer special interests, as opposed to either Congress or the president. Nearly everyone thinks contributions affect the voting behavior of members of Congress. In another poll, only 14 percent of the people give members of Congress a high rating for honesty and ethical standards.

Is this what politics has become on the eve of the 21st century—a bunch of self-interested, lying windbags on the take from moneyed, special interests? On the one hand, these polls tell us that Americans are pretty smart and see through the pomp and circumstance that passes for news coverage by most of the media.

On the other hand, there is a terribly important warning here: Americans are disillusioned about politics. They are both alienated and apathetic. Fewer than half of us bother to vote in our presidential elections—compared to 80 percent a century ago—and only about a third in our congressional elections. People will tell you they feel betrayed, sold out by a political class of professional electioneers, big donors, lobbyists, and the media. What happens when so many people drop out of a system they no longer respect and they think no longer represents them?

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Smoke, Mirrors, and Campaign Reform

Far from the Beltway, in the red clay country of rural Georgia, James Gibson embraces a more ambitious notion of reform. "We need campaign spending rules that make it equal for all people running for office to have the same amount of money," he says. Gibson believes the entire system can be changed, and he’s part of a growing movement that views campaign finance reform as a civil rights issue. He’s on the front lines of an effort seeking change through the courts. Along with a coalition of civil rights groups and low-income voters, Gibson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit contending that wealth plays such a great role in deciding who gets elected that it violates the Equal Protection and First Amendment rights of lower-income voters and candidates.

This latter-day voting rights struggle came into focus during the 1996 Georgia elections. James Gibson rolled his wheelchair many miles, canvassing voters on behalf of John White, a 17-year veteran state representative and a candidate for the state senate from Albany, Georgia. Outspent by his opponent 17 times over, White lost, and Gibson believes lack of money was the reason. That’s why he joined the lawsuit seeking a federal judge’s order mandating the creation of publicly financed campaigns for state office.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit is the director of the Southern regional office of the NAACP, Nelson Rivers. He calls publicly financed campaigns "a new weapon in our arsenal to fight for justice. Just as we fought to end the white primary, we will fight for the end of the wealth primary."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Wealth Primary

In 1964, Annie Harper and other Virginia residents went to court to challenge the poll tax in their state elections because it discriminated against them on the basis of their poverty. By then, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been ratified, prohibiting the further use of the poll tax as a requirement for voting in federal
elections. By 1964, the poll tax remained as a barrier to the right to vote for poor African Americans and poor whites only in four Southern states. Virginia was one of those four.

Two years later, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Harper vs. Virginia Board of Elections,
and struck down the $1.50 poll tax in Virginia state elections. In a reversal of a 1937 Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that the poll tax violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all. Annie Harper could no longer be barred from voting simply because she was poor.

With the Harper case, the Supreme Court for the first time articulated the constitutional principle that wealth must not serve as a barrier to equal participation in the democratic process. The court wrote: "We conclude that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard." The court further held: "Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe