Opinion: Restoring a ‘government by the people’

MAY 28, 2014, 4:32 PM    LAST UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014, 4:32 PM

David Goodman is a member of Restore Democracy Work Group of the North Jersey Public Policy Network.

THE SUPREME Court in two landmark decisions – Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 and McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014 – changed the political landscape of the United States and, in the eyes of many, threatened our representative democracy. By 5-4 majorities, the court gutted the regulation of federal campaign spending laws.

Both decisions equated political money with free speech. The core of the Citizens United decision rested on removing spending limits from corporations and labor unions, now ruled as expressions of free speech, to influence political campaigns. In the wake of this decision, cash-rich special interest groups such as Super PACs and 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations mushroomed. Donors of political money often chose to avoid the spotlight of Super-PACs for the cover and anonymity of the 501(c)(4) social welfare groups. They could spend bottomless amounts of dark money to buy political influence – all in secret. Under current IRS rules, they can get away with it.

Then came McCutcheon. The Supreme Court again changed the rules. This time the justices removed most of the limitations on individual contributions. The same 5-4 majority decided that aggregate limits to federal campaigns by individuals are unconstitutional. The prior “aggregate contribution limit” was $123,200 over a two-year election cycle – more than twice the average income for an American household.

Under the new rules, the wealthy can contribute more than $3.6 million to party candidates and party committees, as well as virtually unlimited amounts to supportive PACs.

We face a prospect of government becoming a vehicle only of the wealthy donor class. Rather than one person, one vote, has our democracy become “How many votes can Big Money buy?”

Some throw up their hands in despair asking, what’s the use in fighting Big Money? Others demonstrate renewed courage and rally their fellow citizens to reclaim our democracy. One congressman who decided to embrace this fight is Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland.

Dependency on big donors

Sarbanes woke up one day and realized he had to break his dependency on big donors to continue to serve his constituencies. He realized that there is strength in numbers by increasing the power of small donors. He crafted a bill, the “Government by the People Act of 2014” (H.R. 20), focusing on campaign finance and multiplying small donations. Sarbanes has been joined by nearly 150 members of Congress as co-sponsors, including Reps. Frank Pallone, D-Monmouth; Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson, and Donald Payne, D-Newark.

The Government by the People Act would establish the following:

-- A six-to-one match on contributions up to $150 from public funds.

-- A $25 refundable tax credit for small donations.

-- Enhanced matching funds during the final 60 days of a general election for candidates in high-cost races.

-- Small-donor political action committees that aggregate the voices and power of ordinary citizens.

All candidates for the House of Representatives – 435 – would qualify, but we get to choose who receives this support. Although the amounts are small, our numbers (the 99 percent) are huge. When multiplied, these funds could rival the amounts spent by big donors (fewer than 1 percent) to purchase the government they want. Programs like this are already working in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New York City and other locations.

It’s time to make “government by the people” a national reality.

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-restoring-a-government-by-the-people-1.1024869#sthash.xWgWnGv3.dpuf

Showing 1 reaction

commented 2014-05-30 12:26:50 -0400
Close but no cigar. You touched on the right question “How many votes can BIg Money buy?” and the right answer “Small-donor PACs” but missed on the application. Average citizens can’t match Big Money dollar for dollar, but we can make the Big Money contributions worthless. The current political narrative is that candidates can’t win if they don’t take the Big Money contributions, we can change the dynamic to one where candidates can’t win if they do take the Big Money contributions.
Voucher Vendetta will be a website where citizens can register their intention to only vote for candidates that finance their campaigns only with contributions from individuals in the amount of 200 dollars or less. When enough citizens are registered ( this can be effective with just 20% national participation ) it won’t matter how much Big Money contributes when that money can no longer buy enough votes to win an election.
Voucher Vendetta requires no government money and no change in election law so it can be implemented and effective immediately. All it requires is participation by average citizens.
And 2014 is a good time to achieve 20% national participation. In presidential elections about 60% of eligible voters vote. In off year elections it can be closer to 40% participation. If just half of the voters that waste their vote by not voting in off year elections participated in Voucher Vendetta it would total 20% of the total vote in 2014.
You, your organization and the congressmen mentioned in your article could accomplish much more much quicker by signing on to and promoting Voucher Vendetta which is the embodiment of government by the people rather than pursuing the “Government by the people act of 2014” which must be legislated (where it will most likely be compromised into ineffectiveness and/or unworkability), funded, implemented and survive court challenges.
For more info:
current petition:
previous petition (with more detailed info):
Think of how different the 2014 elections would look if the Colbert Superpac had started Voucher Vendetta in 2012 and Voucher Vendetta achieved 20% national participation in the 2012 election.

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