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Guest MINDSETTER™ David Cicilline: Washington is Rigged Against the Middle Class

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Two years ago, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of overturning decades of campaign finance laws and opening the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending to influence the outcome of our elections.

As a result of this decision, Citizens United, Wall Street banks, Big Oil companies, and powerful special interests now have a tighter grip than ever on what happens—or doesn’t happen—in Washington. These powerful forces, with their armies of lobbyists and the ability to spend millions of dollars on elections are fundamentally undermining our democracy at a time when the middle class can least afford it.

Later this month, the nine justices on the Court will revisit their decision in Citizens United when they decide whether to review a 100-year old Montana state law that bans any and all corporate spending on state elections.

The Citizens United decision is a direct threat to the functioning of our democracy. The precedent set in Citizens United to grant powerful special interests the right to spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns in the name of free speech is allowing them to drown out the voices or ordinary Americans. If the Court ultimately fails to scale back the terrible consequences of Citizens United, Congress must urgently act to reform our broken electoral system.

Without real reform, Washington will continue to protect the interests of the most powerful at the expense of everybody else and we will not meet the gravely serious challenges of our time. This will require the highest level of commitment to resisting the influence of money and getting down to fixing this really broken system.

Think of it this way. If a manufacturer has a faulty machine that is producing a defective product, they have to repair that equipment. It’s the same in Washington. Our campaign finance laws are faulty and, if not repaired, our system of government will remain broken. And while there are many reasons the machinery of government has broken down, unlimited corporate spending on elections has allowed the ultra wealthy to effectively drown out the voices of the middle class in Washington.

How is it possible that at a time when the financial services industry continues to exploit customers, Republicans in Congress would be actively seeking to undermine the new consumer protection agency? Or that House Republicans have proposed drastic budget reductions for the agencies that serve as Wall Street watchdogs, only a few years after the recklessness of financial institutions helped bring our economy to the brink of collapse? Or that the House Republican leadership refuses to put an end to billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil companies that are enjoying record profits, even as families are left feeling the pain at the pump?

The answer, in large part, is money.

Powerful special interests and big corporations wield enormous influence over our political system because of their ability to spend unlimited amounts supporting, or opposing, candidates and incumbent elected officials.

It’s time for Congress to act in the interests of the men and women we serve and to finally impose limits on the influence of money in our political process.

First, we need to shine a light on the problem and require full and immediate disclosure of all sources of election spending so that powerful special interests can no longer try to influence our elections in secret. We can accomplish this by passing the DISCLOSE Act, H.R. 4010, which I have co-sponsored in the House.

Second, if the Supreme Court fails again to acknowledge that corporations are not people and keeps open the floodgates of unlimited campaign spending then Congress should immediately take up H.J. Res. 78 and H.J. Res. 88, Constitutional amendments that I have co-sponsored to reverse Citizens United. Corporate money cannot be permitted to drown out the voices of our hardworking middle class.

In addition, the Fair Elections Now Act, H.R. 1404, which I have co-sponsored would reform the way Congressional campaigns are funded – dramatically reducing the ability of corporations and special interests to unfairly influence campaigns and our system of government. This legislation is supported by Common Cause, Public Citizen, and many other reform advocates and it would fundamentally change, in a positive way, our campaign finance laws.

Finally, it’s time to prohibit members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after they leave Congress. Passing my bill, H.R. 3491 will put a permanent ban in place and end the revolving door that elected officials use to move between Capitol Hill and K Street.

If we do these things, we will begin to break the connection between money and politics, make our elections fairer, reduce the power of special interests, and prohibit corporate spending in our elections. We can then expect better results from Washington and more work being done to advance the public interest.

The broken system that exists in Washington today still stands in the way of creating jobs and promoting long-term economic growth. If we want our government to work for the middle class again, we need to have the courage to do what it takes to fix it.


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