Americans understand that those who represent us in Congress are for sale. Dollar-rich special interests underwrite their election campaigns, and in return, expect legislation friendly to their causes. And they get it. To identify these slave owners would create a mighty long list, but among them are the National Rifle Association (NRA), major pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, Wall Street, and polluters, for starters. We know that this corrupts our democratic system, but it’s been going on for so long, we accept it as normal.
In our hearts, we know it is wrong. It perverts our constitutional form of government and places power over our lives in the wrong hands. Will anyone ever have the guts to fix it?
My congressman Rep. David Price (D-NC), and Tom Udall (D-NM) are trying. They have introduced the “We the People Democracy Reform Act of 2017,” a bill that “addresses a series of comprehensive democratic and electoral reforms to restore integrity, accountability, and transparency to our broken political system,” according to a news release.
“For too long, Washington has neglected the systemic issues undermining our democracy,” Price said. “A lack of accountability in our political system has left the door open for mega-donors, foreign actors, and other groups to exploit our elections and curtail our ability to get things done on behalf of the American people. The ‘We the People Democracy Reform Act’ offers common-sense solutions that would boost accountability, empower regular citizens, and restore public confidence in our democratic institutions.”
Price notes that the proposed legislation is more expansive than past versions and includes proposals to comprehensively reform campaign finance laws, increase transparency and accountability in the political system, end extreme partisan gerrymandering, increase voter participation, and strengthen lobbying and revolving door laws.
Udall says our democracy has reached a crisis point. “The American people have seen too much evidence that our government no longer answers to ordinary citizens. Disastrous Supreme Court decisions have opened up the floodgates for secret, special interest money to drown out the voices of regular people. Foreign adversaries are interfering in our elections. Voting rights are under attack across the country. And big money donors are being rewarded with cabinet posts, high-ranking positions and special access.”
Anyone familiar with this current Congress understands that this bill faces a steep uphill battle on Capitol Hill. Still, it has received endorsements from The Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, the Center for American Progress, and Public Citizen, as well as policy leaders such as Norman Eisen, board chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama (2009-2011) and Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President Bush (2005-2007).
E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post columnist, points out that efforts at reform tend to happen when even those who are skeptical of change grasp the truth that the present system cannot sustain itself. “If Trump’s rise and the abuses of his presidency do not persuade us of the depth of our problem, nothing will,” he writes. The time has come, Dionne adds, to make our democracy democratic again. “Now, no one can say we lack ideas for how to do it.”
I will share further details of the Price-Udall bill in future blogs. In the meantime, I celebrate this step by two courageous members of Congress.