Reforming Democracy From the Grassroots Up

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Reforming Democracy From the Grassroots Up

Frustrated by a somnolent Congress, a bipartisan group is tackling campaign finance reform one city at a time.

Represent.Us, a bipartisan group, is trying to build momentum for campaign finance and lobbying reform by pushing legislation at the state and local level. (Photo: Christopher Huang/Represent.Us)

Following the April demonstrations in Washington for campaign finance and voting rights reform, BillMoyers.com has invited activists — some of whom participated in the protests and some who did not — to describe what they are doing to continue work on these issues. This essay from Represent.Us is part of that series.

America is in the midst of a grassroots revolution. Ordinary people are standing up to big money and denouncing the culture of corruption that permeates our political system. Just this month, more than 1,200 people were arrested and sent to jail for protesting special interests and lobbyists. Thousands more joined anti-corruption rallies in communities across America to demand a government that represents us.

We’ve witnessed the revolution firsthand at Represent.Us. In fact, we’re helping to foster it. Since we launched in 2012, we’ve brought together more than 500,000 people — progressives, conservatives and everyone in between — to fix our corrupt political system.

We’re going around Congress and fixing corruption ourselves.

Represent.Us members are tired of waiting for Congress to do something. By refusing to combat corruption, our representatives have proven they are perfectly comfortable letting special interests bankroll their campaigns and write our laws. So instead of relying on politicians, we’re going around Congress to fix corruption ourselves. We’re passing transformative anti-corruption acts that put regular Americans back at the heart of the political process. And we’re doing it with the ballot – no politicians required.

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Each of these  is based on the American Anti-Corruption Act, a piece of model legislation developed by some of the smartest anti-corruption advocates around. They include Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig, former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter and even infamous former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The American Anti-Corruption Act does three things. First, it stops political bribery by making it illegal for lobbyists to simultaneously lobby politicians and donate to their campaigns. Second, it ends secret money so voters know who is paying for political power. And third, it empowers everyday Americans with a small donor system, giving us a real voice in our elections. We’ve created a five-minute animated video to explain how it all works.

Not only do anti-corruption acts combat the growing influence of lobbyists in our states, but their innovative small-donor systems will help us populate Congress with a new breed of politician dedicated to fixing our corrupt political system for good.

Here’s the best part: we’re already winning. In 2014, voters in Tallahassee, Florida, made history by approving the first city anti-corruption act by an overwhelming 2-to-1 margin. The unlikely coalition behind the bill included leaders from the tea party network and Florida Common Cause. They put aside their partisan differences to wage a historic battle against corruption in their community – and won.

And it’s not just Tallahassee. Last November, voters in  the city of Seattle, Washington, enacted a similar reform. Ten other cities have approved anti-corruption resolutions – including one in South Brunswick, New Jersey, just two weeks ago.

The list of places where we’ve scored political wins on this issue demonstrates that this revolution isn’t a pipe dream.

It’s happening right now.

This November, special interests had better watch out.

This November will mark a watershed for our movement. We’re working to get anti-corruption acts on the ballot in multiple states, and will have more to say about that soon. In 2018, we believe even more states will pass these powerful reforms – and before you know it, America’s political map will be blanketed in victories.

To be sure, special interests and lobbyists will not sit idly by as our movement strips them of their political power. Secret money groups will almost certainly funnel millions into opposition campaigns in a concerted effort to keep us down.

But it’s one of those beautiful paradoxes of history that grassroots revolutions always seem to face insurmountable odds – until we surmount them. Ordinary people look weak in the face of concentrated power – until we unite and win.

So this November, special interests had better watch out. The anti-corruption movement is coming – and we’re not stopping until we’ve saved our republic. Get ready.

Charlotte Hill

Charlotte Hill is a senior communications director at Represent.Us. She has developed and managed communications programs for multiple nonprofits and companies, including the global advocacy platform Change.org. Hill also researches political corruption at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter: @hill_charlotte

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