Statement of Nick Penniman: “We must return government to the people”

I’ve worked in Washington for more than a decade — as magazine publisher and editor and now executive director of Issue One. I’ve seen more brilliant ideas than you can imagine in this town collect dust on shelves or disappear entirely because the political parties are too busy chasing donors rather than solving problems.

There are whole issues of policy — particularly money in politics — that haven’t seen real debate in more than a decade on Capitol Hill. While the middle class watched manufacturing jobs and economic opportunities evaporate, I’ve seen reporters and editors disappear from newsrooms and watchdogs disappear from Washington. Some of this is due to philanthropy’s stubborn reticence to invest in the long-term work of strengthening democracy. That means there are fewer people to hold our elected leaders accountable for the promises they make, and the important policies they don’t debate.

If there’s one lesson from the last election cycle, it’s that all the Washington pundits, prognosticators and “people who know” have been deaf to middle-America outcry and pain for too long. The elites live in a bubble — one in which money often determines who is heard. Not merit, not public-opinion — money. Voters last month launched an arrow at the Washington bubble, in the form of Donald Trump.

That’s why this week my organization and our bipartisan ReFormers Caucus of more than 160 former governors, cabinet secretaries and members of Congress are putting forth an agenda to return government to the people. We believe political spending should be transparent, election laws enforced and watchdogs well-funded and empowered. We believe in free speech and every American’s right to petition their government, not just those who can pay to play. We believe in encouraging participation in government and politics, not restraining it.

We believe it’s time members of Congress work for all of us again and stop relying so much on donations and money movers. Our framework aims to make Congress the dynamic “People’s House” that the founders envisioned, and that all of us are clamoring for. 

Read the framework: Returning Government to the American People