Fool Me Once

We’ve been burned too many times by candidates who sound great on the campaign trail, but once elected, do little or nothing to ensure that our democracy is of, by and for the people.

So this year, we’re demanding action and giving voters the tools to hold candidates accountable in the “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Reform Agenda.”

The list of candidates from both parties publicly calling out the influence of money, special interests and lobbyists in our government already covers most of the ever-growing field.

On the Republican side, even Sen. Ted Cruz, one of big money’s staunchest defenders, complains, “career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.” Jeb Bush, whose Super PAC outraised his campaign by 10:1, promises to fix the “culture of special interest access” in the nation’s capital. Rick Santorum notes, “Americans don’t need another president tied to big money.”

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, with questions swirling about the possibility of money channeled through the Clinton Foundation, pledged, “to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections.” Jim Webb said, “fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money.”

And, of course, President Obama campaigned on the ills of big money while using it, and has yet to do anything but talk about undoing the mess created by Citizens United. He could sign an executive order banning secret money from federal contracting. He could do it today.

The hypocrisy could be dispiriting, if we allow it. There is persuasive evidence that we won’t.

According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in June, the influence of money in politics is a top concern for voters in 2016. Another recent poll by the New York Times/CBS News found that 85 percent of Americans think the system for funding political campaigns needs “fundamental changes” or that “we need to completely rebuild it.”

It’s one thing to score cheap rhetorical points against lobbyists and special interests while deflecting attention from the fundraising required to be competitive in a system that is universally loathed. It’s another thing entirely to put forward concrete solutions with a real plan of action for achieving them once elected.

Some of the candidates have offered solutions, including a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and full, real-time disclosure of political spending. Both an amendment and robust disclosure are critical, but the influence of money in politics is a complex problem that demands a comprehensive set of solutions.

A coalition of 12 organizations with expertise in democracy and campaign finance reform issues recently issued the “Fighting Big Money” agenda. Any candidate who is serious about making our democracy truly representative should endorse this slate of reforms. We will not be fooled by anything less.

The goals of the platform are simple and based on principles and policies broadly supported by Republican, Democratic and Independent voters.

We demand a democracy where everyone participates, and one that elevates the importance of small dollar donors in our elections so candidates are accountable to, and dependent on, the people rather than moneyed interests.

We demand a democracy where everyone’s voice is heard. Our democracy is based on the principle of one person, one vote – not one dollar, one vote. From equal access to the ballot box to the right not to be silenced by big money, democracy requires everyone to have a voice in the decisions affecting our lives.

We demand a democracy in which everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and our representatives. Americans should be able to easily look up candidates online in “real-time” and see exactly who is financing their appeals and those of groups supporting them.

We demand a democracy where everyone plays by fair, common sense rules. We must overturn Citizens United and other Supreme Court cases that have gutted common sense limits on election spending.

And we demand a democracy where everyone is held accountable, with enforceable penalties to deter bad behavior. We need a new enforcement infrastructure to hold those who break our campaign finance laws accountable.

You can learn more about the policy proposals on our website, and if you agree, become a citizen co-sponsor. You can also print this reform agenda and use it to ask candidates to sign on, or ask them how they would reform the system and when they intend to do that, and compare it to this plan. Bottom line, voters should applaud when candidates say the right things about reform, but should quickly ask when those promises will be kept.

This agenda will help frame the debate; together we can keep the campaigns and the next president, Congress and state legislatures accountable to these nonpartisan principles and policies and deliver a government that is truly of, by and for the people.