Democracy 'Waking Up' with National Movement to Reform Campaign Finance

As the 2016 election cycle shapes up to be the most expensive in history, communities throughout the country are winning “important victories” in the fight against big money, according to a new report released Monday by a coalition of progressive groups.

Since 2010—the year the Supreme Court codified corporate personhood and opened the doors to unlimited election spending with Citizens United v. FEC—at least 23 states have enacted disclosure laws to counteract the court’s ruling, while a slew of cities and localities have launched efforts to prioritize small donor participation, Our Voices, Our Democracy (pdf) found.

“This report demolishes the conventional wisdom that nothing can be done to break the hold on our democracy that Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions have given to corporations and wealthy special interests,” Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs, said Monday.

“People are working in their communities, and now connecting state-by-state, in building a national movement to preserve democracy and make sure our government listens to and reflects the people it serves,” Hobert Flynn said. “And they’re winning important victories.”

That includes more ballot initiatives in 2016 than any previous election cycle to “rebalance the system so it works for voters.”

Ballot initiatives like South Dakota’s Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act, a proposal to safeguard transparency and political ethics; New York’s push to close its infamous “LLC loophole,” which enables special interest  groups to circumvent disclosure laws and contribution limits; and three separate measures in California that seek to overturn Citizens United, remove the ban on public financing, and require public disclosure of donors making contributions of $10,000 or more.

Other ballot initiatives are cropping up throughout the country, from Washington state to Washington, D.C., according to the report, released by advocacy groups Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, Demos, Every Voice, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.


“The debate about the problem of money in politics is over,” the report states. “The question is not ‘if ‘but ‘when and how’ we will reform our democracy.”

The report comes as a potentially groundbreaking voting rights case continues in North Carolina, where plaintiffs are arguing that the state’s election laws act as roadblocks for black and minority voters.

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pledged to make dark money a priority of his remaining year in office, stating, “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

Common Cause, along with dozens of other organizations, delivered one million petitions to the president following his address urging him to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

As of the report’s publication, Obama has said he is “seriously considering” heeding the call. To that end, more than 100 groups are scheduling dozens of actions in the nation’s capital for the week of April 11-18, including a three-day mobilization they are calling “Democracy Awakening,” to call for reform proposals that will restore and strengthen voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics.

It will be the first mass demonstration calling for reform on both of these fronts, the NAACP said Monday.

“We’re not talking about the nostalgic disenfranchisement of 1965. Once again, states with the worst histories of discrimination are pushing for new barriers to block the young, the poor, the elderly and minority voters from the ballot in 2016,” said NAACP president Cornell William Brooks. “We must answer the call for action.”

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