This post was originally published in the Huffington Post.
On at least one issue, it’s becoming hard to tell Republicans and Democrats apart. Try for yourself.
“Iowa has sent notice that the … next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media. Will not be chosen by the Washington establishment. Will not be chosen by the lobbyists.”
“What the American people have said — and by the way, I hear this not just from progressives, from conservatives, from others — and that is we can no longer continue to have a corrupt campaign finance system.”
That was Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who could not be further apart on political spectrum, but who have nevertheless converged on money in politics as a key issue that animates their campaigns and supporters.
Outside of the beltway, where nearly 80 percent of Democrats and Republicansagree that money in politics has more influence on politics today than ever before, it’s not really controversial to assert that money in politics has reached a crisis level. But in Washington, a town where naming a post office might set off a filibuster, it’s hard to overstate the value of consensus.
However, it’s starting to look like the volume of the public’s outcry and the force of its anger has breached in opening in Washington’s ironclad do-nothing status quo. Last week, in a rare show of agreement, liberals and conservatives in Washington, D.C. came together and agreed that money’s corrosive influence on our politics is a crisis that must be fixed today.
With support from Issue One, the Brookings Institution hosted a campaign finance solutions summit to bring together influential Americans and experts of all political stripes with the express purpose of fomenting consensus on how to restore meaningful representation for all Americans.
Panelists at the event, which included Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), former members of Congress Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN) and Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), current Federal Election Commission (FEC) Ann Ravel (D) and former Commissioner Trevor Potter (R), best-selling conservative author Peter Schweizer, as well as state Supreme Court Justices and state legislators, were eager to share their experiences and expertise.
Commissioner Ravel railed against the disfunction at the FEC which allows laws to be “flouted without consequence” and where half of the commissioners are ideologically opposed to the agency’s mission.
Rep. Steve Israel described spending 4,200 soul-sucking hours over the course of his career calling donors for money. That’s 175 days. Assuming an 8 hour work day, that’s 525 workdays. He said this fundraising regime, “has never been more dangerous to our democracy,” confirming from the front lines what the vast majority of Americans can see plainly from Iowa, New Hampshire and all across the country.
To be clear, this is a system that’s not working for anybody except entrenched, rent-seeking special interests and the ultra-wealthy. Miserable members of Congress aside, half of eligible voters choose to ignore our democratic process altogether. Nothing so clearly illustrates how broken American democracy is than that.
Fortunately, the depths of the problem are as dark as the future is bright. Commissioner Ravel, Rep. Israel and Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus painted a stark picture of the problem, but it only served as a backdrop for illuminating conversation between staunch conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals on how we can fix our democracy together.
John Pudner, executive director of the conservative money-in-politics group Take Back Our Republic made the case for why Republicans “must lead” on reform and cited disclosure measures and tax-benefits for small political contributions as solutions that the right should champion.
FEC Commissioners Ravel and Potter agreed that the commission must be overhauled and a new “blue ribbon” committee of commissioners appointed to ensure partisanship doesn’t affect the FEC’s ability to enforce the law.
Rep. Sarbanes echoed the enthusiasm from state officials for small-donor empowerment programs that free candidates from having to primarily fundraise from special interests and the wealthy, and allow more people to run for office. He chastised the media for missing the “next big story” on money in politics–everyday Americans running for and winning office because of public financing programs.
Brookings Visiting Fellow Norm Eisen summed up the event perfectly:
“Individuals representing the most conservative and most liberal political ideals, from all different worlds, including every branch of government, state and federal levels, media, and lobbyists, have all come together around the consensus that our campaign finance system can and must be fixed. That consensus is what will turn into policy.”
It’s gatherings like this that create the right climate for change and lay the groundwork for sweeping reform. With primary season in full swing, and the candidates themselves lambasting this broken system, there is no better time than now to mobilize. The pressure is on for Washington’s do-nothing status quo — and my organization, Issue One, is going to keep it up, one handshake across the aisle at at time.