How to Turn Congress Inc. Back to Just Congress

What is the biggest scandal of 2010 so far?

Allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation from Goldman Sachs? An oil
spill that poses a threat to our environment and economy for
generations? Mining operators freely ignoring safety violations and
treating workers as disposable?

Each of these is bad. But perhaps the biggest political scandal is
the one that aids and abets these others -- the pay-to-play system that
buys up Congress, pollutes our political system with special-interest
cash and deep-sixes the kind of bold reform agenda that we voted for
and need.

The health-care industry has contributed more than $200 million to
congressional candidates in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Is it any wonder that
there was no public option in the final bill, or that Medicare isn't
able to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors the same way the
Veterans Administration does for veterans?

Big banks and Wall Street financial firms spent more than $500
million since the beginning of 2009 on lobbying and campaign
contributions, the center reports. In just the first quarter of 2010,
the finance, insurance and real estate sectors spent more than $123
million on 2,057 lobbyists. Any bets on whether the final financial
reform bill will create the kind of robust, independent Consumer
Financial Protection Agency that would serve as a watchdog with teeth?

Big oil and gas spent nearly $170 million lobbying in 2009 -- nearly
$1 billion in the past 12 years -- and has given more than $140 million
to members of Congress in the past 20 years. Is it any surprise that
we've seen so many exemptions from environmental studies for
oil-exploration plans? Or that the climate bill is stalled and
insufficient to confront the global warming crisis?

It is clear that the kind of strong reforms we urgently need won't
be achieved simply by electing a new president or new members of
Congress. Despite the voters' mandate for change, the underlying
problem of Washington -- what author and Washington Post reporter
Robert Kaiser calls "so damn much money" -- remains unaltered and is in
many ways more powerful than even before. In the wake of the Supreme
Court's recent Citizens United
decision -- which awarded corporations the rights of citizens when it
comes to electioneering, allowing them to use their coffers to
manipulate political discourse -- the prospect of a Congress "brought
to you by (insert corporate sponsor here)" has only grown.

Americans must fight back with legislation that will help organized
people defeat organized money. I'm not speaking of the Disclose Act --
a good response to Citizens United
that would make corporate campaign funding more transparent. Democratic
leaders must recognize that such efforts are mere triage and fail to
get to the heart of the money problem in Washington. Congress should
also pass the Fair Elections Now Act.

This legislation would sever ties between big-money campaign
contributors and members of Congress, who, in the Senate, must raise an
average of $27,000 every week they are in office in order to run
competitive races. The bill would bar participating congressional
candidates from accepting contributions larger than $100 and allow them
to run honest campaigns with a blend of small donations and public
matching funds.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin and Rep. John
Larson (D-Conn.), the bill has 18 Senate co-sponsors (12 of whom signed
on since the Citizens United
decision) and 149 bipartisan cosponsors in the House. Activists are
hopeful there will be a House vote as soon as this summer, and Durbin
reportedly will push for the Senate to take it up after the House does.

Fighting for this bill is good policy and good politics. A recent Greenberg/Mark McKinnon poll
found that voters support the Fair Elections Now Act by a 2-1 margin,
62 percent to 31 percent. Independents support it 67 percent to 30
percent. Is there a candidate in the country who wouldn't gain votes by
saying, "I want a political system in which someone who doesn't take
more than $100 from anybody can run a competitive race for Congress. I
want a political process that makes Congress listen to their
constituents and allows them to ignore the lobbyists with fat checks in

It was a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who had it right
when he told Congress, "All contributions by corporations to any
political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by
law." He was so worried about the power of the trusts that he called
for public financing of elections. More than 100 years later we can
take a desperately needed step to protect the public interest and clean
up our politics by passing this legislation.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Washington Post