When we the people are united, no challenge is too great. Together, we can restore balance to our democracy, so that we all have a voice.
A policy framework generated by a bipartisan working group of the ReFormers Caucus
The framework lays out specific proposals for returning our government to the representative path the founders envisioned, and is intended to serve as a starting point for bipartisan conversations in Washington. Implemented together, the proposals in the framework would “drain the swamp” and sever the money connection between powerful private interests and our elected government.
We can do this now
We all pay the price for a democracy dominated by the power of money, and we can’t wait any longer to start fixing this broken system. It’s a major barrier deterring many Americans from participating in politics. Our solutions focus on the changes we can make right now. These will restore our government’s ability to tackle our most pressing challenges and rebuild trust in our democracy without waiting for new jurisprudence from the Supreme Court or for the Constitution to be amended. Our solutions focus on the following core values:
- Promoting transparency and disclosure in government and elections
- Increasing participation in politics
- Reducing pay-to-play policymaking and cronyism
- Strengthening enforcement of campaign finance laws
- Encouraging a new, pro-democracy jurisprudence
Promoting transparency and disclosure
Special interests, corporations and unions spend millions of dollars influencing voters — and they’re using a complicated web of dark money nonprofits, super PACs and sham companies to make sure voters never know the real source of their campaign messages. We need transparency so we can properly evaluate the messages, and messengers, influencing our votes.
To improve transparency and disclosure, we should:
- Require timely disclosure of political giving and spending, and mandate that all money spent in elections is fully disclosed.
- Require companies that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.
- Ensure that television viewers have the tools to determine the true identity of the sponsors of political advertisements.
Increasing participation in politics
Democracy is sustained by active and engaged citizens, and it is important to encourage more Americans to participate by speaking out, investing in candidates and running for office themselves. It will always cost money to run a winning campaign. But right now most members of Congress rely on an incredibly small number of individuals and groups to fund their campaigns, and the result is that those people have an outsized influence on our politicians and our government. We can change this dynamic by offering incentives for small-dollar donors to participate. After small-dollar donors make a contribution, they remain more engaged in all aspects of our democracy, meaning elected officials from both parties will have more of an incentive to pay attention to them instead of the small pool of larger donors. Additionally, increasing participation will also enable politicians to spend less time “dialing for dollars” and more time getting to know their constituents, developing policy expertise and meeting with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
To increase political participation, we should:
- Offer tax credits or rebates to small-dollar donors for their contributions.
- Allow political parties to better harness the power of small-dollar donors by establishing a separate account made up of only small-dollar contributions (e.g., $1,000 or less) that can be used to support candidates.
Reducing pay-to-play politics and cronyism
In a democracy, lawmaking should be based on the power of ideas, not simply the powerful money interests behind them. The Constitution protects lobbying as a First Amendment right, but when money is tied to lobbying, voters rightfully begin to suspect that Congress is a coin-operated policy machine. To tamp down on pay-to-play politics, and increase the public’s confidence in Congress, we should establish clear lines between lobbying and political giving.
We can change the dynamic by:
- Banning registered lobbyists from making contributions or bundling for congressional campaigns.
- Updating lobbying disclosure laws to ensure more accurate information about paid efforts to influence U.S. policymaking — especially from foreign corporations and governments.
- Ensuring that leadership PACs are not used as a means to evade contributions limits by counting contributions to a leadership PAC against the contributor’s contribution limit for the member that controls the PAC.
- Prohibiting Cabinet secretaries from conducting campaign fundraising or attending campaign fundraisers.
Strengthening enforcement of existing campaign finance and ethics laws
When we don’t enforce our campaign finance laws, violations go unchecked, and we send a signal that it is fine to abuse the system. Right now, there is no “cop on the beat” to enforce laws regulating political campaigns. The Federal Election Commission (FEC), the agency charged with enforcing our nation’s election laws, is mired in partisan gridlock and has been described by its own former chair as “worse than dysfunctional.” When the FEC fails to enforce existing campaign finance laws, it is effectively wasting more than $60 million each year in taxpayer money. The agency could curtail much of the activity that super PACs and dark money groups engage in — the kind of activity that diminishes trust in the system — but right now the agency is too broken to enforce the laws on the books. It is up to Congress to fix it.
To strengthen enforcement of existing campaign finance and ethics laws, we should:
- Empower the FEC to effectively enforce the law. We support the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act, introduced by Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jim Renacci (R-OH), with five Republican and five Democratic original cosponsors in the 115th Congress. The bill would reduce the number of commissioners from six to five, eliminating partisan gridlock, and create a chair of the agency which serves a 10-year term. The bill also would establish a blue-ribbon commission to recommend nominees to the president.
- Strengthen laws to ensure that super PACs operate independently from candidates and parties, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
- Protect the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
- Strengthen the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and its oversight of the executive branch.
- Update and bolster congressional ethics rules around travel, advocacy and more.
Fostering a new, pro-democracy jurisprudence
We support the creation of a new campaign finance jurisprudence — one that fully embraces the values of the First Amendment. In addition, we support legal challenges to Speechnow.org v. FEC and Buckley v. Valeo. In the meantime, as other advocates pursue avenues to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, we’re focusing on other steps that can be taken immediately to address our broken system.
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