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Forum Post: Who and What Can Possibly Save American Democracy?

Posted 2 years ago on Aug. 2, 2012, 4:32 a.m. EST by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR
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Who and What Can Possibly Save American Democracy? 4 Key Questions

We’re deep in the hole with Citizens United and unlimited campaign spending. How should we try to resolve this problem?

July 26, 2012 |

When the final gavel fell on Tuesday ending the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “taking back our democracy,” it was hard to tell if this exercise was striking political theater or actually the start of something bigger—the first steps toward reforming America’s dysfunctional campaign finance system.

A handful of mostly Democratic senators and left-leaning witnesses shared vivid war stories about the many ways big money in elections is destroying our democracy. They agreed that a terrible situation has been made even worse by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling further deregulating campaign finances. But they backed off discussing proposed solutions or suggesting a timetable for next steps.

While it was temporarily satisfying to hear senators Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, Bernie Sanders, Max Baucus, Thomas Udall, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons, Amy Klochubar and Rep. Donna Edwards, and witnesses Buddy Roemer—an ex-congressman, governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate—and Harvard Law School professor Larry Lessig describe exactly how big money and an illogical Supreme Court have undermined the founders’ vision of what a citizen-based democracy is supposed to be, they reluctantly—or perhaps deliberately—put off hard talk about solutions.

“You are faced with raising a million dollars a month to be competitive, under the old rules, before the arrival of super PACs,” said Illinois’ Sen. Durbin, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, speaking of his campaigns. “Most Americans, I think, would be maybe a little embarrassed, certainly surprised, about how much time that members of Congress spend talking about raising money, and actually raising money…

“Now, air drop in super PACS and you don’t know what’s going to happen in the closing days. So far, a couple of our colleagues have faced $10 and $12 million of super PAC negative advertising, unanswered, in their election campaigns. That’s the new world.”

What can be done about that new world was Tuesday’s topic. Durbin’s panelists sat across from 1.7 million signed petitions calling for Congress to send a constitutional amendment to the states to address the distorting effects of big money in elections and politics. He and other witnesses mentioned that six legislatures—California, Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island and New Mexico—and 275 local governments have demanded similar action. Four hundred people watched in total from the hearing room and an overflow room. New and old grassroots groups—Move to Amend, Free Speech For People, People for the American Way, Common Cause and others—demonstrated there is tremendous public support for sweeping political reform.

Three senators who have proposed different amendments—Sanders, Udall and Baucus—and Edwards, who offered an amendment in the House, sketched out their ideas. Witnesses then added their thoughts. Some amendment proposals seek to strip corporations of political and constitutional rights. Some just want to empower Congress to regulate campaign donations and spending in elections--no matter who is doing it. A few blend those approaches. But not one of the Senate and House sponsors were asked to distinguish their proposals from others, or say where there was common ground.

The witnesses also spoke of laws Congress could pass—if the Supreme Court could be stopped from eviscerating its ability to regulate money in politics. They cited the need for full and timely disclosure of campaign donations and spending, banning contributions from lobbyists, making rules on PACs the same as on individuals, closing 2012’s new loopholes exploited by billionaires and corporations, and improving public financing options. And almost everyone agreed—except for the libertarian Cato Institute’s representative, who defended unlimited spending by wealthy people and interests (no Republican senators were present for the hearing)—that a line of Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1976 could only be reversed by a constitutional amendment.

Baucus called it “the only way to solve this.” Leahy said, “Constitutional remedies have to be considered.” Udall said, “James Madison argued that the U.S. Constitution should be amended only on ‘great and extraordinary occasions.’ I believe we have reached one of those occasions.” Sanders said, “We are well on our way to seeing our great country move toward an oligarchic form of government, where virtually all of the economic and political power rest with a handful of very wealthy families.”

The most interesting questions, outside occasional discussions about how inconsistent and imperious the Supreme Court was in Citizens United and other recent campaign finance cases, concerned an assertion by Harvard’s Lessig, who told the panel that Americans did not trust Congress to propose a solution to fix the vast problem of how money has corrupted elections and lawmaking.

“You have evolved a government that is dependent upon the people and dependent upon the funders,” he said. “And that different and conflicting dependence is a corruption of our framers’ design now made radically worse by the errors of Citizens United. But in responding to those errors, please, do not lose sight of one critical fact: On January 20, 2010, the day before Citizens United was decided, our democracy was already broken. Citizens United may have shocked the body. But the body was already cold. And any response to Citizens United must also respond to that more fundamental corruption.”

“Now how you do that will be as important as what you do,” Lessig said, without addressing what any of the proposals would do.

“For America’s cynicism about this government, whether fair or not, is too profound to imagine that this Congress alone could craft a response that would earn the confidence of the American people," he continued. "Instead, this Congress needs to find a process that could discover the right reforms that itself could earn the trust of the American people. That process should not be dominated by politicians or law professors, indeed, [or] by any of the professional institutions of American government. It should be dominated instead by the people.”

Lessig suggested that the Committee convene four super-sized, grand jury-like panels—one in each corner of the country—where citizens would be randomly chosen and paid to meet and discuss all the amendment proposals and suggest the best remedies for the Judiciary Committee. It wouldn’t be the same as the formal convention envisioned under the Constitution’s Article 5 that could revise the actual Constitution, but would create debate, discussion, non-binding suggestions and legitimacy for the effort. He described the panels as “a civic jury… convened to advise Congress about the best means for reform.”

Lessig’s “citizen convention” plan might be described as the "new kid on the block" among many well-known reform proposals. Several senators seemed intrigued by it—or, at least compared to proposals put forth by colleagues, asked questions about it, even though it was premised on Congress's inability to produce an amendment that the public would support.

But for people who have worked on campaign finance reform for years, the prospect of more delays, pushing initial deliberations past the 2012 presidential election, and lack of any detailed discussion on what the various proposals would mean for various interests is frustrating. The different amendment proposals are not hard to understand. They break down along straightforward lines. For example, does it affect the Koch brothers or not? Or wealthy candidates? Does it affect non-profit corporations? Or labor unions? What kinds of corporations would be affected? Would it affect more than their speech rights? And what words would allow Congress and the states to regulate all campaign cash—fixing the root problem created by the Supreme Court?

That discussion—with its comparisons, a decision tree and diagnosis of the problems—has yet to be constructed or occur. If there is good news from Tuesday’s hearing, it is that Democrats do not need convincing that the problems of big money in politics need a big solution. They agree. But they also need Republicans who abhor the current system to join them. In the past, Republican senators did propose or co-sponsor amendments to do just that, Udall said.

But it is an open question whether today’s Republicans (and Democrats) will be so beaten up by the excesses of money—from both sides of the aisle—in the 2012 campaign that November’s victors will want a solution that dismantles the current campaign finance system. In the past, winners of elections tend to want to preserve the system that awards them power. And their contributors or patrons want to see returns on their investments.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

39 Comments

39 Comments


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[-] 1 points by nomdeguerre (1775) from Brooklyn, NY 2 years ago

You spread the word that the country is being run as a kind of control fraud. The enraged populace will the restore the democracy.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

What do you think of niphtrique's reply below??

[-] 1 points by niphtrique (323) from Sneek, FR 2 years ago

Well, the answer is...

the monetary system is the basis for the power structure that you are facing.

The solution is...

ending the monetary system with something powerful enough to topple it.

It is not complicated.

It does not take many people.

It does not need much money.

http://www.naturalmoney.org/proposal.html

Make sure, that while the power structure is crumbling, you will get some political reforms like:

  • corrective referendum laws like in Switzerland;
  • proportional representation like in Europe so you will have a multi party system.

Waste no time on that otherwise a new elite may emerge and you still will have no real democracy.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Thanx!

[-] 1 points by niphtrique (323) from Sneek, FR 2 years ago

Thank you for your kind reply.

The crucial part is that the idea gets the interest of the business people of a community.

For the business people this is an opportunity to survive and to increase profits. This will in turn increase employment, improve living conditions and make the economy sustainable. This is explained in more detail in the theory:

http://www.naturalmoney.org/full-theory.html

The profit motive will get things done and this is a powerful driver for change. I think it will work better than activism and contacting politicians.

I am trying to get the interest of the business people in my home town but I do not know whether or not they will follow up on it. It can work anywhere so I hope that it is tried out somewhere on this globe.

If it is a success then it will spread.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

I think you have something.

[-] 1 points by niphtrique (323) from Sneek, FR 2 years ago

I think it could be something big. It only needs a place to start.

I could be wrong but I have good reason to think that it will work.

Therefore I am prepared to quit my job and to go anywhere to try this out.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Well come on out to Portlandia! It's plenty weird up here.

[-] 1 points by niphtrique (323) from Sneek, FR 2 years ago

The plan is weird, and if a community is serious about it, then I will go there only if needed.

I am not planning to quit my job for nothing, but if it is needed to make it happen, then I will quit my job without hesitation.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Do you think activism in America effects other countries?

Don't you think America is doped and dumbed down?? I do!

After the election.

[-] 1 points by niphtrique (323) from Sneek, FR 2 years ago

Activism in itself cannot change much. If it did then the system had been changed in 1968 already. So any improvement should be market driven.

A good idea will gather people around it because people see that they benefit from it. If it benefits the 99% then people from the left as well as the right will support it.

I do not think that the US is dumbed down. However, your country is controlled by an elite. They control the politicians with bribery and corruption. This issue is less prevalent in Europe.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

We've allowed money to replace votes.

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 2 years ago

Well, the cops and military and mafia are in the pocket of congress, so I guess you do what they are doing, and hire a mercenary army, and stage a war.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

I doubt that would save American democracy.

How about a mandatory Vote with a big fat fine for non-compliance??

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

Part of the problem is getting an informed voter, the only reason attack ads work at all is because neither the people nor the media bother to research candidates. Attack ads give us only a small twisted slice of half truth and no one bothers to uncover the full truth. Mandating that everyone vote just increases the pool of ignorant voters, making the negative ads even more effective.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Strawman!

Is Big $ informed? Just greedy!

Get out the Vote! Get democracy!

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

No, I don't see it as a straw man in response to your call for mandatory voting. Forcing uninformed disinterested voters to vote would simply exacerbate the problem by making ads that are already tailored for the ignorant more effective.

I'm speaking only to your suggestion that a solution would be to require everyone to vote. It operates under a fallacy that because you force someone to do something that they will do it right. It won't save democracy, it's more likely to increase the power of the super pacs.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

What are you afraid of, let's give it a go! Got to be better than Big $ calling all the shots!!

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

I don't have any particular fears about voting. I simply don't see mandating the activity as being a solution to the problem. If you could mandate that voters become informed, that would be something. If you could mandate that people give more thought to their long term benefit and less to their short term greed, that would be nice too.

It's all pretty much just talk anyhow. There is no serious thought being given to any law or amendment to do what you suggest. So we're just two people discussing an idea. My opinion is it would at best do little to change things. It would simply drive a mass of lemmings to vote to save our guns, our god, our abortions, our whatever, without any thought to what the real facts might be.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Enough talk, let's do it!

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

Do what? I'd need to be convinced making voting mandatory would somehow improve the process before I would work for that particular change. I'm all for voting and will continue to do so.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

JEEEEESAZZZZ Fucking Christ!!!

We have mandatory things all over our pathetic American, corporatized lives!!! WTF are you afraid of!!!!

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

No fear, I'm saying mandatory voting will not change anything. The nation is split, roughly one third democrat, one third republican. Their vote won't change no matter what facts come out. The independents that you make vote are the ones all the money tries to sway. The money is still there if you force them to vote. Voting in ignorance isn't a solution. The solution isn't making them vote it's educating them about the candidates.

There is also no reason to fear, this idea is light years away from happening. It may even violate the first amendment. What I'm saying is that it's an overly simplistic solution that doesn't consider the real problem. The money in politics doesn't actually buy votes it sways the ignorant. Get the money out or educate the voter. Bringing more people to the poles isn't going to do anything.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

After Big $ buying elections, I'll take my chances on the people!

Just like a JURY!!

I love juries, don't you?

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

A jury gets informed on the facts of the case, they are instructed to leave any preconceived ideas out of their deliberations. Under those conditions the electorate could make a good decision no matter how much money was thrown around.

If you could ban the short ads that operate on fear and buzz words. Require candidates to produce a video listing their proposed plan for governing, stick to facts and eliminate attacking through rumor and half truths.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

See Runaway Jury.

And jury duty is mandatory. People just can't be allowed to ignore our precious democracy. People do get killed (Iraq) and property is lost and damaged (Wall Street Scandal).

[-] 1 points by JPB950 (2254) 2 years ago

A trial has a judge and two sets of attorneys, making sure the jury gets educated on the facts of the case. Work out some way to educate your voters and the analogy would be valid, as long as you don't intend to eliminate voting rights the way we sometimes eliminate a juror from hearing a case.

As it is, what you propose about voting is like letting a jury reach a decision based on a couple of 30 second ads and how the defendant looks. Runaway Jury is fiction, an interesting story, but not one to use as a base for establishing voting laws.

[-] 0 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 2 years ago

if voting where declared a holiday

people would enjoy the day off

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 2 years ago

We have that in Australia.

The leading party (Labor) would win every time, but the other two parties have made an alliance, and sometimes they get the nod on a two-party preferred basis. Money talks, and bullshit walks.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

I know, you told me once a note gets you out of it.

Instant Runoff Elections to end our two party monopoly.

Boycott Chick Fil A!!

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 2 years ago

A well-written letter got me out of it, back when a gerrymander was in place.

Seems to me that whatever the situation, the public ends up on the losing side. That is what has to change.

Or it's revolution, here we come.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Could be some good content, but can't get past the old news, sophomoric and smug presentation. Zeitgeist with a goatee.

Randi Rhodes Daily News | http://www.randirhodes.com/main.html

[FRESH DAILY]

Aug 2, 2012

Yesterday was Chick-fil-A Anti-Gay Day! Sorry if you missed it. You’ll just have to spend today being intolerant on your own. Technically, it was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, but what the people who showed up really appreciated was just how intolerant Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy is of gay people. I don’t know if a boycott of Chick-fil-A would work. Have you ever noticed how many Tea Party types are morbidly obese? I think Chick-fil-A could thrive on their business alone. For every 10 people who refuse to eat at Chick-fil-A, they can just have one Tea Party person eat 10 times as much from Chick-fil-A. I’m sure there will be plenty of willing volunteers.

Despite yesterday’s show of support from homophobic cholesterol addicts, the Chick-fil-A brand has been damaged... not as much as their customers’ arteries, but still pretty bad. Pretty soon, Chick-fil-A will be totally dependent on a very small but fanatically devoted following—exactly like the Republican Party is. Heck, they’re exactly the same followers! Most Chick-fil-A franchises are in the South. That’s good for them. If you’re depending on having a customer base that’s motivated by intolerance, you’re a lot better off in states where Newt Gingrich did well in the primary.

Yesterday a whole range of Affordable Care Act healthcare provisions for women started to kick in. To Republicans... that’s a day that will live in infamy. GOP Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) compared the new women’s healthcare provisions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Kelly listed off Pearl Harbor Day and 9/11 and said “remember August 1, 2012 — the attack on our religious freedom. That is a date that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.” Sorry Mike, but I don’t think the History Channel will be putting together a retrospective for this one.

Loony GOP Rep. Steven King (R-IA) is making birther statements about Obama being born in Kenya. The shocking thing is that this is the least crazy thing Steven King has said in recent days. Steve has been praising dog fighting and babbling about how it’s legal to impregnate 13-year olds in this country. Having him babble about the President being from Kenya is actually a step forward.

[-] -2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 2 years ago

Super PACS only work because the sheep are too dumb to see through TV commercials.

It all goes towards TV ads. The sheep cant seem to understand how this system is working.

Hence, 2012 is Barack vs Mittens. What a freakin joke. This is embarrasing.

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Randi Rhodes Daily News | http://www.randirhodes.com/main.html

Aug 2, 2012

Yesterday was Chick-fil-A Anti-Gay Day! Sorry if you missed it. You’ll just have to spend today being intolerant on your own. Technically, it was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, but what the people who showed up really appreciated was just how intolerant Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy is of gay people. I don’t know if a boycott of Chick-fil-A would work. Have you ever noticed how many Tea Party types are morbidly obese? I think Chick-fil-A could thrive on their business alone. For every 10 people who refuse to eat at Chick-fil-A, they can just have one Tea Party person eat 10 times as much from Chick-fil-A. I’m sure there will be plenty of willing volunteers.

Despite yesterday’s show of support from homophobic cholesterol addicts, the Chick-fil-A brand has been damaged... not as much as their customers’ arteries, but still pretty bad. Pretty soon, Chick-fil-A will be totally dependent on a very small but fanatically devoted following—exactly like the Republican Party is. Heck, they’re exactly the same followers! Most Chick-fil-A franchises are in the South. That’s good for them. If you’re depending on having a customer base that’s motivated by intolerance, you’re a lot better off in states where Newt Gingrich did well in the primary.

Yesterday a whole range of Affordable Care Act healthcare provisions for women started to kick in. To Republicans... that’s a day that will live in infamy. GOP Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) compared the new women’s healthcare provisions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Kelly listed off Pearl Harbor Day and 9/11 and said “remember August 1, 2012 — the attack on our religious freedom. That is a date that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.” Sorry Mike, but I don’t think the History Channel will be putting together a retrospective for this one.

Loony GOP Rep. Steven King (R-IA) is making birther statements about Obama being born in Kenya. The shocking thing is that this is the least crazy thing Steven King has said in recent days. Steve has been praising dog fighting and babbling about how it’s legal to impregnate 13-year olds in this country. Having him babble about the President being from Kenya is actually a step forward.

[-] -2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 2 years ago

This has nothing to do with Super PACS. Try to stay on topic.

I'm pro gay marriage. But as the direct democracy vote in California proved, those of us who are, are still outnumbered.

[-] 2 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Not outnumbered! Out Spent!! Like in WI!!

Chic Fil A and Cons are both anti-democracy Cults.

Boycott the Chic and Con Cults!!! In the marketplace and at the ballot box!!

Get Out the VOTE!!

[-] -1 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 2 years ago

Outspent? So you are saying the people's minds can be warped by television?

[-] 0 points by rpc972 (628) from Portland, OR 2 years ago

Ads. Probably on RW Hate Speech Radio.