It’s not just a matter of fixing Wall Street

With all the talk of banking reform in the news today, I thought that now might be a good time to remind folks about Lawrence Lessig’s attempts, through his organization, Fix Congress First, to rally support for the Fair Elections Now Act. As I suspect many of you know, regulating Wall Street, while critical, in and of itself won’t fix all that ails us as a nation. What we have to do, in conjunction with regulating Wall Street, is get the corporate money out of American politics. Here, on that subject, is a recent note from Harvard’s Lessig:

Scott Brown, Massachusetts’ new senator, opposes legislation in Congress that would strengthen regulations for Wall Street.

But when a reporter recently asked him why he’s against this bill, Brown couldn’t give an answer. He’s against financial reform, but he has no idea why.

Let me help Senator Brown: During his campaign last year, Brown received half of his campaign contributions from Wall Street and business executives. He benefited from another million dollars in issue ads by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They oppose the bill, so Senator Brown opposes the bill. It’s no wonder Pew recently found that trust in Congress is at its lowest point ever.

I focused on Scott Brown, but the influence of special interest money pervades both parties in both chambers. Americans are right to suspect that their representatives are merely doing the bidding of those funding their campaigns…

And, here, for those of you who prefer not to read, is a little video on this very subject, narrated by Lessig.

Now, if you’ve got a second, check out this page on what you can do to help create an opt-in system for citizen-funded elections.

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17 Comments

  1. Edward
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Republicans voted unanimously to not debate Wall Street reform. They voted to give hundreds of billions to the banks in the bailout, but now they’re voting against oversight. It’s insane, and you’d think that the Tea Party patriots would be up in arms about it. They would rather focus on the black man in the white house though.

  2. EOS
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Had the Republicans voted in support, there would have been no debate. The Democrats would have forced a quick vote on a bill that is poorly constructed and incapable of achieving its stated goals. Kudos to the Republicans for stopping this bad legislation. Goldman Sachs bought Obama with campaign funds and is expecting to continue to reap financial windfalls for their executives as they fleece stockholders and bludgeon the stock market. Democratic “reform” represents abuse by government and the erosion of morality. Their tactics reveal an apparent disregard for all things truthful.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Goldman bought them all, douche.

  4. Glen S.
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I realize these hearings may turn out to be just political theater, but this …

    http://www.dailykos.com/tv/w/002674/

    … prompted me to send Carl Levin a donation for his re-election campaign.

  5. Posted April 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know where we could pick up a few hundred cheap guillotines? They don’t need to be real sharp…just sharp enough to get the job done in 2 to 5 whacks. I think I may have a good solution to this Wall street problem. If you wanna help EOS, just put your head right here…we need to test a few of these first…

  6. Peter Larson
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    The free market will solve everything!

  7. Glen S.
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I just finished watching the end of the the (live) hearing, during which Senator Levin issued a scathing (and inspiring) indictment of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his entire company for their role in creating and fueling the subprime mortgage crisis.

    Almost immediately, the “analysts” on CNBC were “tut-tuting” about how Levin (and the New York Times) had “gone too far …” and about how these “political rubes” (meaning Senators like Levin, McCaskil and others) “simply don’t understand the complexities of high finance.”

  8. EOS
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Glen,
    Levin was responsible for oversight and regulation of Wall Street when these shitty deals occurred time and time again and made the brokers rich while destroying our economy. And for this incompetence you think he deserves financial support for his re-election??? Even the lame street media now acknowledge his incompetence. Exactly what has he done that you think is laudable?

  9. EOS
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Lloyd Blankfein, the head of investment bank Goldman Sachs, supports the Democratic financial reform legislation!

  10. EOS
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The major investment firms in the U.S. contributed more to Democratic campaigns than to Republicans in the last election cycle by a more than 4 to 1 ratio.

  11. Posted April 28, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    EOS: Most businesses view campaign contributions as investments. If they don’t think a candidate is going to win, they tend not to contribute. If they think a candidate is likely to win, they tend to contribute more. That’s compounded by heavy Democratic representation in the places where big investment firms are based (New York, Connecticut, etc.) If the 2010 elections proceed as expected (reasonably big Republican gains), I suspect you’ll find that the gap narrows or even reverses.

  12. Kim
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    It took your writing about it about ten times, but I finally wrote a letter to my Congressman about this legislation.

  13. Meta
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    From today’s Progress Report:

    Casting Light On Corporate Influence
    In January, the Supreme Court struck down a 63-year old ban on corporate money in elections in the Citizens United case, clearing the way for corporations, unions, and advocacy groups to anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. The decision drew instant criticism from government transparency watchdogs, consumer advocates, legal scholars, and even some businesses which warned that the ruling would lead to a flood of corporate money into politics that would allow deep-pocketed organizations to “drown out any voices that disagree with them.” President Obama called the decision a “huge blow to our efforts to rein in this undue influence,” and Democratic lawmakers set to work crafting legislation to limit corporate political influence. Meanwhile, Republicans and corporate lobby groups hailed the decision as victory for free speech, even while polls showed that “Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose” the ruling. After months of work, Senate Democrats, along with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Republican Reps. Mike Castle (DE) and Walter Jones (NC), unveiled a sweeping campaign finance reform bill Thursday to address the Citizens United ruling. The DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) aims to increase transparency and accountability in campaign finance, so voters will know who is behind political advertisements. Obama lauded the bill, calling it the “toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests…trying to buy representation in our government.” The bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, Charles Schumer (D-NY), said the legislation was designed to affect this fall’s election “in every way,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged to bring the bill to the floor before July 4. The House Administration Committee will hold the first hearing on the bill this Thursday.

    LET THE SUNSHINE IN: The bill has a number of provisions to limit and expose corporate, union, and activist groups’ political spending. Foreign corporations and their domestic subsidiaries would be barred from any electoral spending, as would companies that received funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and have failed to pay them back. The bill also extends the electoral spending ban to government contractors with contracts worth more than $50,000. It cracks down on front groups designed to conceal the source of political spending by mandating that an ad’s top funder record a “stand-by-your-ad disclaimer” similar to current candidate ads and the top five donors “be listed on the screen at the end of the advertisement.” Money transferred to front groups by corporations for the purpose of making campaign ads would now be considered campaign spending, and thus subject to stricter disclosure rules. The bill would also require the CEO or highest ranking officer of an organization to appear on camera to say he or she “approves this message,” just as candidates are required to do now. Political expenditures would also have to be “disclosed to shareholders and members of the organization in any financial reports.” Moreover, the bill helps level the playing field by requiring that “broadcast, cable and satellite outlets to provide candidates the lowest rates and adequate airtime should a corporation or union buy airtime to support or oppose that candidate.” The Sunlight Foundation said the legislation would “shine a powerful light on…corporate political expenditures,” while Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington heralded the bill as way to “ameliorate the most devastating effects of Citizens United.”

    THE PUSHBACK: Not surprisingly, many corporations and their political front groups quickly mobilized to oppose the bill. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue immediately condemned the bill as an attempt to “silence constitutionally protected speech.” Donohue may feel threatened because the DISCLOSE Act undermines the very purpose of the Chamber: to attack progressive reforms while concealing the corporate money behind those attacks. “I’m not sure what their problem is with transparency, but clearly they are uncomfortable operating in sunlight,” Van Hollen said of the Chamber. The Center for Competitive Politics, one of real estate tycoon Howie Rich’s many anti-government advocacy groups, joined the assault, absurdly arguing that the “stand by your ad” mandate “provide[s] no informational benefit and reduce[s] the amount of available political speech.” Meanwhile, the Cato Institute — an anti-government think tank founded by oil magnate Charles Koch and funded by his brother David — decried the bill as a “gambit to chill speech.” All three groups spend huge amounts of money on various political activities without disclosing the true source of the funds, and notably, all filed amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on behalf of Citizens United. The National Association of Broadcasters is also objecting to the provision that requires broadcasters give candidates less expensive ad rates, even while they stand to “reap enormous profits from an increase in political ads from companies and interest groups — organizations that will be paying the full price for the air time,” the Washington Independent’s Mike Lillis points out. Schumer was unable to get a single Senate Republican to co-sponsor the bill — though he said he is still courting Olympia Snowe (ME) — and Republicans contacted by The Hill for comment were “reluctant to publicly support the bill.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blasted the legislation as being about “election advantage plain and simple,” not reform or good government, without providing more detail. McConnell strongly opposed the McCain-Feingold Act, which eventually led to the 2003 Supreme Court case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which challenged the constitutionality of the campaign finance law.

    THE NEED: As ProPublica noted in an investigation published yesterday, the Supreme Court based its Citizens United decision “in part, on the assertion that campaign finance records are more open and accessible than ever before.” “With the advent of the Internet, disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s majority opinion. But using fundraisers during a pair of Bruce Springsteen concerts as a test case, ProPublica found that it was nearly impossible to determine out “who attended the fundraisers or how much money was raised.” Only through a leaked email, an extensive records search, and advanced reporting was ProPublica able to find the relevant information — hardly something an average citizen would have the time or expertise to do. An ad recently released by a corporate front underscores the problem. The racially tinged ad features actors portraying Indians thanking Arkansas Senate Democratic primary candidate Bill Halter for supposedly sending jobs to Bangalore. The ad is sponsored by Americans for Job Security (AJS), which most viewers would never realize is actually a “sham front group that would be better called Corporations Influencing Elections,” as Public Citizen noted, with strong ties to the Chamber of Commerce. AJS has run multi-million dollar advertising campaigns for repealing the estate tax and against the Employee Free Choice Act. In addition to being offensive, the ad is “patently false,” but there is currently no way to hold AJS’s corporate backers responsible, or of even knowing who they are.

  14. Meta
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    New from Lessig:

    After the Senate passed the financial reform bill last week, the Center for Responsive Politics compared the senators’ votes with their campaign funding.

    The results are all too familiar.

    Senators who opposed the legislation received 16 percent more money from the financial industry than senators who supported it. For the House version, it was even more egregious: Representatives who voted No got 70 percent more money from commercial banks than those who voted Yes.

    Is it a coincidence? You probably know what I think.

    Special interest money continues to poison our politics, creating the impression that votes in Congress are bought and sold to the highest bidder. According to the CRP, the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors — those that would be regulated by the financial reform bill — showered $2.3 billion onto candidates, leadership PACs, and party committees since 1989.

    We’re going up against some deep-pocketed interests in our fight for electoral reform, but with your help I know we can beat them.

    Please support our work with whatever you can afford. Your contribution will allow us to continue building this movement to make Congress accountable to the people. You’ll help fund a series of TV ads and nationwide lectures aimed at recruiting new supporters and increasing the pressure on Congress to pass electoral reform.

    Contribute now:

    http://www.fixcongressfirst.org/YourContribution

    Given the finance industry’s lavish campaign spending, it’s amazing the financial reform bill made it through Congress at all.

    But for every good bill that survives Washington’s economy of influence, there are dozens more that are blocked by special interest pressure. If their spending didn’t work, they wouldn’t waste their money. But since the campaign contributions are still flowing, the special interest groups must be getting something in return.

    Together, you and I are going to stop this flow of special interest money. We’re going to convince Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act to create a system of publicly funded elections. And we’re going to restore the people’s faith in our democracy.

    Since the Citizens United ruling in February, we’ve been busier than ever. The Change Congress community has sent more than 20,000 letters to Congress urging their support of the Fair Elections Now Act. And in the past few weeks, more than 4,000 people have taken our Funders Pledge, vowing to withhold more than $4 million in campaign contributions from Congress members who oppose the Act.

    We’ve got tremendous momentum, but we need your help to keep it going. We’re running this organization as leanly and efficiently as possible, so you can be sure your contribution is used wisely.

    Please contribute to Change Congress today:

    http://www.fixcongressfirst.org/YourContribution

    Thanks again for all your support.

    — Lawrence Lessig

  15. Posted May 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    That Funders Pledge pledge thing sounds like a pretty cool idea.

  16. Hiram Orbaker
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Agreed, but fixing Wall Street is a damned good start.

  17. Max
    Posted October 22, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely. We need to put some bankers in jail, but we also have to act on campaign finance reform. The good news is, I think the people at Occupy Wall Street know this.

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