This post was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Former Senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is a very busy man with a portfolio of weighty foreign policy issues for which he advocates. You might think, in fact, that his focus on international affairs would preclude him from weighing in on just about everything else.
But his emphatic and immediate clarity on the role of money in politics, and its dire effect on America’s ability to govern itself, demonstrates just how salient this issue is with almost everyone. Let’s hope Republican candidates tonight on the debate stage pick up on his lead.
“Money in the American political system has gone beyond just corrupting… I saw it in Congress, I saw it when I was Secretary of Defense.”
That’s what Hagel told me when I interviewed him about special interest influence in politics, and his concern was broadcast on television last week in a new ad from my organization, Issue One. Hagel is a member of our ReFormers Caucus, a bipartisan group of more than 100 former senators, members of the House and governors all coming together to generate the force necessary to pass major campaign finance reforms in the coming years.
Several ReFormers, including former senator and Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock (R-TN) and former Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) participated in the making of the ad, and all emphasized the beyond-partisan nature of the issue.
The ReFormers Caucus has also reached out to debate moderators, urging them to ask questions about money in politics and demand the candidates make their positions clear. And their statement of purpose lays out what they believe a more functional democracy would look like.
“Liberal, conservative, it’s doesn’t make any difference. People get a sense that they don’t have any voice anymore,” said Brock. Case in point, new research from the Pew Research Center that finds astonishingly high levels of agreement. Remember these numbers: 76/76.
Those are the percentages of Democrats and Republicans who believe money has a greater influence on politics today than ever before. That’s the only identical level of consensus on a public policy issue that I can ever remember seeing.
The rest of the poll’s findings are similarly significant. When asked an open-ended question about the biggest problem in Washington, the most likely response by far was influence from special interest money. Once again, equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats made this point. And roughly six-in-ten say “new laws would be effective in limiting the role of money in politics.”
That stat is particularly notable because while Americans believe new laws would fix the problem, more than 90 percent say they do not believe it ever will be solved. There’s a “reality gap” here. In an ideal world, money in politics could be tackled, but with the Congress we have now, most don’t see a path to success.
And that’s where the ReFormers come in. Americans know this problem is technically fixable. It’s all about creating momentum inside the insulated fishbowl that is Washington, D.C., to enact the fixes. Our 100+ ReFormers are the spark plug of that momentum. With their networks, experiences and names, the ReFormers are bringing new energy and renewed bipartisan support to the cause of renewing our collective right to self-government.
Republican and Democratic candidates need to either enter the argument head on — and somehow claim that 116 former senators, House members, governors and cabinet secretaries are wrong — or they need to lay out what they will do to fix the mess. Now. Those on stage tonight have a great opportunity to tap into the 76 percent of Americans who want to see our democracy reoriented away from a few big check writers and back toward Main Street.