Celebrate yesterday’s trouncing by getting involved in Campaign Finance Reform

I was in the midst of trying to cobble together a hopeful and constructive post of some kind, and failing miserably, when I received the following note from Lawrence Lessig, the co-founder of Fix Congress First. As it successfully accomplished what I could not, I thought that I’d steal it and pass it along.

Just about 10 months ago, I published an essay in The Nation. The original title of that piece was “The Tyranny of Tiny Minds.” (Some thought the title, however valid, was too inflammatory. The actual title as published is “How to get our Democracy Back.”)

My argument, Twitter length, was that Obama had betrayed a fundamental promise of his administration: That he would, in his words (from the campaign) “take up the fight” to “fundamentally change the way Washington works.”

As Obama had explained to us, “unless we’re willing to challenge the broken system in Washington, and stop letting lobbyists use their clout to get their way, nothing else is going to change.”

His campaign, he promised us, was not: “just about ending the failed policies of the Bush years; it’s about ending the failed system in Washington that produces those policies. For far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans.”

And as he wisely – perhaps, presciently – warned, “if we’re not willing to take up that fight, then real change – change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans – will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo.”

It seemed to me obvious in February, 2010, that Obama hadn’t “take[n] up that fight.” It seemed obvious as well that the consequence of his betrayal would be the trouncing that he and his party received yesterday. It makes me enormously sad to see this trouncing, because I, like many, believe in the changes that “keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo” – Obama, it seemed, included.

But “hope” may well have returned. As I was climbing on a plane this afternoon, I listened to the President’s press conference. One line caught my attention. In answering a skeptical reporter’s question, Obama said: “We were in such a hurry to get things done, we didn’t change how things get done.”

Finally. Recognition. If you read this with bits of his interview on The Daily Show, there is reason to hope that “Obama the Reformer” is finally back. Those “tiny minds” – who thought that the only way to make Washington work was to work with Washington the way it always has worked – have left. And perhaps, just maybe, the President has again remembered what he told us two and a half years ago: That the “reason I’m running for President is to challenge that system.”

So let him begin today, with the help of all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike. “How things get done” is the problem. We need to find a way to focus America on that problem, and build the political will to change it.

You can help in this by helping us map the plan that will spread this lesson to enough Americans, both supporters of Obama and not. The plan is here. The campaign begins today. Join us.

Lawrence Lessig
Co-Founder, Fix Congress First

And, for those of you who need an illustration as to why campaign finance reform is so desperately needed, I give you the following clip from Monday’s Washington Post:

…Almost from the moment Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the bench five years ago, the court’s conservatives have acted systematically on their deep skepticism of campaign spending restrictions. They have repeatedly questioned the ability of Congress to regulate the role of wealth and special interest involvement in elections without offending the First Amendment guarantee of unfettered political speech.

The court’s rulings are being felt this year everywhere voters go to the polls. But they have special resonance in Wisconsin, where Sen. Russ Feingold, the Democratic author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, has seen not only his legislative legacy but his Senate career endangered.

“I’ve always been a target in this stuff,” Feingold said during a recent swing through the western part of his state. “And this year, I’m getting the full dose: over $2 million in these ads [criticizing him] that used to not be legal.”

The court’s rulings on campaign finance have assured it the most prominent role in the country’s elections since its polarizing decision 10 years ago in Bush v. Gore. They also provide perhaps the most striking example of how the Roberts Court differs from its predecessor.

In decision after decision, a slim majority of the court has cut back major parts of McCain-Feingold and other campaign-spending restrictions. The capstone came in January, with its 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that rewrote decades of law and said corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates.

It’s not surprising, Feingold told a small group of supporters recently on the windswept campus of the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, that outside groups are gunning for him. He pointed to a recent piece in Washingtonian magazine that divided the Senate into categories.

“I wasn’t fourth, third, second: I was the number one enemy of Washington lobbyists,” he said, adding, “A Senate seat can’t be bought; it has to be earned. We will never let the special interests drown out the voices of the people.”

Polls show Feingold in serious trouble in his reelection fight with Republican businessman Ron Johnson. Johnson has invested more than $8 million of his money in the race, and although the two campaigns are competitive with each other financially, outside groups have spent nearly $3 million on Johnson’s behalf.

Feingold said he has requested that outside groups stay out of the race, and a Washington Post analysis shows 92 percent of the outside spending has supported the Republican. The impact has been obvious: The Wesleyan Media Project said there have been more commercials about the Senate race in Wisconsin than in any state outside Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) is running for reelection…

Feingold, as you probably know, was defeated yesterday, becoming the first fatality of Citizens United ruling. This is serious stuff, and we need to treat is as such. If we don’t do something now, corporate control of our lives will only increase, and the threat of corporate fascism will only grow more and more real. If you haven’t already, I urge you to take some of that anger you have over yesterday’s trouncing at the polls, and channel it into something positive. If you’re not yet a member of Fix Congress First, please take a moment and sign up today.

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  1. Knox
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    What happened to Feingold makes me sick. He was taken out by corporate money.

  2. Ayn Rand Paul
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Also consider getting involved in reality.

    Interesting piece here about the Jon Stewart Tea Party:


  3. Oliva
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Bless you for this post, Mark. I heard just a snippet of Feingold’s concession speech, and he sounds powerful still, thank goodness: “It is on to our next adventure! Forward!” It isn’t easy, won’t be easy, but we’ve just gotta (1) reform campaign financing; and (2) get every possible voter to care enough to vote. Forward!

    (Unrelatedly but anyway–I heard Rand Paul in an interview following his win, and he dared spout the libertarian BS that we are all the same, poor people, rich people, those in between. This is the deep trouble with theory against actual life–in each moment we are each one of us and not all the same, and one person’s impoverishment can be deadly in a moment. I think a cure would be to have this arrogant crackpot live with nothing for many months, not supported by privileged friends or even government services–and then report if it’s really true that we are all the same, rich and poor, privileged and not privileged, with access and without it. And while he’s feeling real hunger and hurt, he could write many times in a notebook: “I have made a bundle of money by billing the government, and I am such a hypocrite.”)

  4. Posted November 4, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Mark. We’re actively planning for the future. Here’s our plan so far–it’d be great to hear your thoughts: http://www.fixcongressfirst.org/page/content/plan/October_26_2010_draft.html

    Online Director, Fix Congress First

  5. Posted November 4, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    P.S. It’s not stealing! All of our material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/

  6. Edward
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I think Lessig is right. Nothing will change until we get the money out of politics. Unfortunately, I don’t see who would lead such an effort. None of our leaders are daring to talk about it, and I don’t get the sense that there’s a groundswell of support in the nation.

  7. Meta
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The New York Times has an interesting article on the enormous increase in corporate spending this election cycle.


  8. Kim
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Joey. This is awesome.

  9. Edward
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I’m reading through your plan and the reaction that it’s received from people thus far, and I appreciate how open you’re being with the process, Joey. Yours is a cause I’d be happy to support.

  10. Posted November 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see Russ Feingold be a leader of this cause…….actually ANY cause. A Sarah Palin for progressives who starts a new party. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are coming through for the people, the Tea Party folks are just uninformed and crazy, so how about something else?

  11. John Galt
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I agree that reform is needed. I think that, from now on, only corporations, and people able to give $100,000 or more, should be able to contribute. We don’t need, in my opinion, to have a system that depends on the sweaty $5 donations of manual laborers. We are better than that, America.

  12. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted November 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Better yet, people can still make contributions, but they have to make them through corporations, who will decide which politicians deserve them.

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