Fixed?

elections“Either the public buys the politicians or the special interests will.” — George Skelton, LA Times

Big Pharma makes sweetheart deals with the White House.

Big Oil sends employees to spoil congressional Town Halls with their assault rifles and their “grassroots” concerns about climate change.

Big Milk seizes the dairy industry (seriously). Last week NPR’s John Burnett reported on two huge corporations which, ala Walmart, cow — pun intended — small independent farmers into selling their milk so cheaply, many are forced out of business. Bush Administration investigations against the two colossi evaporated.

Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Milk. All special interest patrons of America’s Big Money bordello. What are good progressives to do? Either we get lobotomies (not that recession-lashed activists can afford them) or we fix the way the country finances politics.

It was thrilling last month when 65 Congressional Reps refused to crumple on the public health insurance option. But as I wrote in my last post, to salvage representative democracy, voters must reclaim our electoral power.

We deserve a country where politicians value all constituents as highly as their largest donors, where people without fortunes — or access to them — get an equal shot at running for office. And there is progress.

Voter Owned Elections and Open and Ethical Elections Codes are two Clean Money/Elections systems succeeding throughout US states and cities. Competitors get enough public – clean — money to challenge even lavishly-financed opponents, in exchange for strictly limiting the cash they accept from private sources.

No more having to spend 30 percent of their time begging corporations and wealthy donors for contributions and then voting the interests of these backers. Candidates are free to learn what’s important to voters, and once elected, to serve everyone they represent.

After years of disgust with electoral politics, I began working in 2000 to bring Clean and Fair Elections (California Clean Money Campaign here. How else can we end the ubiquity of the political quid pro quo?

The CA legislature stunned supporters last year by passing the California Fair Elections Act (CFEA). It designates one contest — the campaign for Secretary of State — as our clean money pilot project.

Why Secretary of State? Partly because this officeholder manages all federal and state elections within California. If any job needs to be free from even the palest trace of manipulation, this is it. Remember George W’s victory linchpins, Secretaries of State Kathryn Harris, Florida, 2000, and Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio, 2004?

Also, the Secretary of State regulates the activities of lobbyists. Conflict of interest over-easy, anyone?

While clean elections advocates were celebrating state lawmakers’ brilliant Fair Elections vote, we enjoyed a second blissful moment when the governor signed the bill into law. CA voters get the final say in June, when the CFEA appears on our state ballot. Visions of triple ecstasy…

Some argue against using the public’s (read: MY!) money for a candidate I oppose. But in California’s case, the people will not be required to pay a penny (though donations are always welcome!).

This Act’s tab will be picked up by lobbyists, whose state registration fees will rise from $12.50/year to $350/year. This is the fee many states charge.

CFEA is minuscule compared to laws elsewhere that offer full clean financing for campaigns statewide. But if the opposition models its tactics on the ever-mutating healthcare reform melee, Clean Elections supporters won’t be surprised if all sorts of ka-razy claims start hitting the fan (omg, a government takeover of elections!!!).

I’m doing everything I can to get this passed, including joining the Clean Election Speakers Bureau, to help reach the widest possible audience. A fellow devotee and I did our first presentation earlier this summer.

It went great; people were interested, skeptical, encouraging and challenging. We all learned something.

Once substantive national health reform passes (it’d better…), CCMC will expand its Speakers Bureau and its audience. Maybe we’ll persuade some fence-sitters and even an opponent or two to give this a chance.

Meanwhile in D.C., The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) was introduced in both the Senate and the House this past March. Last month, lawmakers urged the House Administration Committee to support the Act.

From GOP California Rep Dan Lungren — “I’m going to put it on the record, I hate raising money for campaigns,” he told the committee. “The only two people I know who enjoyed it, both went to prison.”

Act co-sponsor Walter Jones (R-N.C.) testified, “[L]et’s return Congress to where they vote based on their conscience, not on the influence or perceived influence of money that buys the conscience.”

After November’s victorious trifecta, progressive activists worried about getting lulled into fat, cheery complacency. Nine months later, it’s clear we didn’t even get a glimpse of complacency from our porch.

wendy-block.gifThat we’re still in this reform brawl shows we have fortitude. So do our valiant Congressional reps — and a growing number of heroic senators — still pushing for the health insurance public option.

Since lobotomies will only grow more prohibitively expensive, activists will either have to fix the nation’s political funding structure, or we’ll all stay stuck in our current fix.

Wendy Block

Republished from the Huffington Post with the author’s permission.

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Published by the LA Progressive on September 5, 2009
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About Wendy Block

Wendy Block is an elected rep of the 42nd AD on the DSCC and DPSFV. She’s Recording Secretary of Valley Democrats United, a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of Kitchen Table Democracy, and speaks and advocates to pass the California Fair Elections Act, on our ballots in June.