On Dark Money, Mr. President, The Time for Action Is Now

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On Dark Money, Mr. President, The Time for Action Is Now

President Obama could – and should – issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

In December, more than a million signatures were delivered to the White House calling on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending. (Photo: Public Citizen/flickr/cc)

President Obama has repeatedly called for a "better politics" in the midst of a Presidential election where public outrage has turned the usual election narrative on its head.

The President Barack Obama of 2016 has been courageous in addressing climate change and gun violence. But in the past year, big polluter money and arms manufacturers spent more than $250 million in contributions and lobbying* (that we know of) to make sure their issues matter more to our elected officials than the needs of everyday Americans. Another $14 million in election expenditures has come from secret donors whose ​ motive is likely known only to the person they intend to influence. As a result, Congress has acted neither to curb climate change or make guns safer.

"If this election matters, act like it does by making it free and fair - no more secret money, no more pay-to-play for federal contracts. Make sure all citizens ​can vote as their right."

Secret donors could be easily unmasked by executive action. But it must happen soon to benefit voters in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

The challenges facing policy action on the environment and gun violence are reflective of a bigger crisis in American democracy. Americans broadly support modest measures on both issues, but are largely shut out from national decision making by economic and political elites. The change many were hoping for in 2008 and 2012 – for a better politics – did not come to fruition. The hope we were inspired to feel has turned to outrage - reflected in their support for presidential frontrunners who oppose the current campaign finance system across the board.

We, the People, know the richest corporations and individuals have more control over how the country is run than millions of everyday Americans. We don't know which corporations pay to have legislation written in their favor, how much this one paid to get the no-bid contract, or that one paid to get that special rider in the budget bill. But we know that we are being shut out of the process and that many citizens are blocked from voting by restrictive voting laws.

The trend began with the U.S. Supreme Court unraveling the law limiting election spending (Citizens United) and then by voiding a key part of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby). Though Congress could fix both problems, intentional sabotage of democracy ​seems to be the priority of the current congressional leadership. What has the president done in response? Not much, except talk about the need for change.

But he could do something – singlehandedly – to improve transparency of election spending. He could – and should – issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending. Such an order would affect 70 percent of the Fortune 100 companies.

A million signatures have been delivered to the White House in support of such a measure. But still, Obama hasn’t acted.

When will he stand up for democracy? Or will he continue to stand by while  big money elite groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, now, ludicrously, declared a charity by the IRS, dismantle the rule of law and our rights piece by piece? We know that Congress should work for the People alone. But, too many members of Congress and state legislators also work to boost profits or do favors for big donors – and many believe they must do so to stay in office.

If there is hope for a better politics, President Obama, show us this year, before the election. If this election matters, act like it does by making it free and fair - no more secret money, no more pay-to-play for federal contracts. Make sure all citizens ​can vote as their right. 

Every day the election draws nearer​the population grows more frustrated with the status quo​The corporations that sell the government our fuel, chemicals and guns should not be able to write the health and safety laws that affect our children.

The political mood calls​ ​for action. The time for change is now. Please don't miss the moment.

Aquene Freechild

Aquene Freechild is the Co-Director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign.

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