February 17th, 2012
The latest Rasmussen report finds that only five percent of “Likely U.S. Voters” rate the job Congress is doing as good or excellent. When Mike Huckabee went on Fox and Friends last month he noted that this number puts Congress, “just barely above a pedophile.” My initial reaction to this remark was, “Aw, snap!” However, it soon hit home that this statement described the branch of government that writes the laws determining the future of our country. “Aw, snap,” doesn’t quite articulate the weight of this situation.
A quick recap on the state of the union: the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission that the the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. In other words, money is a form of speech, and therefore cannot be limited. This decision has led to unprecedented amounts of money flowing into political campaigns. In order for a candidate to stay competitive, they must raise enormous amounts of money. For instance, according to Planet Money, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went to almost 400 fundraisers in just one year. Candidates need lots of money and lobbyists can help them get it — all the lobbyists ask of the politicians is that they consider the interests of their clients. Perfectly harmless, right?
Well, many Americans feel there’s too much money in politics. Many feel our elected representatives work for special interests, like corporations and unions, rather than for their constituents. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, there’s a collective feeling that our democracy is broken and the people who can fix it simply won’t.
I feel like we’ve wandered into a bad movie. There’s a meteor hurling towards Earth and we, the people, are just watching helplessly as it plummets toward us. It’s an Armageddon scenario. What we need is a motley crew of misfits and rebels, a group of citizens just crazy enough to go to the heart of the meteor that is political corruption and destroy it before impact.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, meet our team:
Jimmy Williams – The former lobbyist for National Association of Relators, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, is publicly criticizing the congressional lobbying process. He thinks the problem is the amount of money politicians have to raise in order to run a campaign, and he wants to see a Constitutional amendment to make it legal to ban money from politics. On NPR’s Planet Money podcast, Williams expressed that while knowing that this all seems crazy, “there’s never been a better time in memory to try something this big.”
Russell Simmons – The co-founder of Def Jam and founder of Phat Farm, the hip-hop mogul has been extremely vocal about overhauling the campaign finance system. He has introduced a Constitutional amendment that all elections for President and members of the Congress be publicly financed.
Lawrence Lessig – The director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor at Harvard Law School wants to limit independent expenditures, which he says, “dominat[e] the political process.” He has publicly criticized the revolving door phenomenon in which legislators and staffers leave office, become lobbyists, and work the legislative process.
Stephen Colbert – The real-life satirist and in-character right-wing political pundit has raised over $1 million with his Super PAC and drawn attention to the loopholes and inherent conflicts of interest in campaign finance. The fundraising amount was announced on his website with a press release saying, “We raised [the money] on my show and used it to materially influence the elections – in full accordance with the law. It’s the way our founding fathers would have wanted it, if they had founded corporations instead of just a country”
So there you have it: a former lobbyist, a hip hop entrepreneur, a law professor, and a fake news pundit. Clearly, the issue of campaign finance and lobbying reform are not marginal issues – citizens from all areas of society are concerned and engaged. These are just a few of the many who, realizing the stakes, have said, “I’ve got a plan. And it just may be crazy enough to work!”
images courtesy of Francisco Diez and veo_