This week, Lawrence Lessig offered a prescription for change that has not appeared on Barack Obama’s radar screen – a fundamental change in how Washington does business. Lessig is a longtime friend and colleague of Obama’s, so it carries that much more weight.
For Obama once spoke for the anger that has now boiled over in even the blue state Massachusetts–that our government is corrupt; that fundamental change is needed. As he told us, both parties had allowed “lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system.” And “unless we’re willing to challenge [that] broken system…nothing else is going to change.” “The reason” Obama said he was “running for president [was] to challenge that system.” For “if we’re not willing to take up that fight, then real change–change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans–will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo.”
This administration has not “taken up that fight.” Instead, it has stepped down from the high ground the president occupied on January 20, 2009, and played a political game no different from the one George W. Bush played, or Bill Clinton before him. Obama has accepted the power of the “defenders of the status quo” and simply negotiated with them. “Audacity” fits nothing on the list of last year’s activity, save the suggestion that this is the administration the candidate had promised [...]
The point is simple, if extraordinarily difficult for those of us proud of our traditions to accept: this democracy no longer works. Its central player has been captured. Corrupted. Controlled by an economy of influence disconnected from the democracy. Congress has developed a dependency foreign to the framers’ design. Corporate campaign spending, now liberated by the Supreme Court, will only make that dependency worse. “A dependence” not, as the Federalist Papers celebrated it, “on the People” but a dependency upon interests that have conspired to produce a world in which policy gets sold [...] In a single line: there will be no change until we change Congress.
This is an elaborate setup to Lessig’s current policy pitch: citizen-funded elections, an idea that’s over a century old (Teddy Roosevelt first proposed it); the banning of any lawmaker from working in Washington as a lobbyist for at least seven years after his first term; and now, in the wake of the Citizens United ruling, a Constitutional convention, dedicated to finally wresting the control of government back from special interests. It’s a bold and innovative outline that many would consider a pipe dream, a progressive’s best wish but not a realistic platform.
But a new poll shows significant support for at least part of that agenda.
From the study released by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in conjunction with McKinnon Media for Common Cause, Change Congress and the Public Campaign Action Fund:
“A majority of voters strongly favor both requiring corporations to get shareholder approval for political spending (56 percent strongly favor, 80 percent total favor) and a ban on political spending by foreign corporations (51 percent strongly favor, 60 percent total favor).”
Both of those provisions are staples of the more than half-dozen pieces of legislation currently under consideration by lawmakers in the House and Senate. But poll respondents expressed even more support for tougher campaign finance restrictions, in a sign of just how eager the public is for limits on money in politics.
The Fair Elections Now Act, which would set up a publicly-financed campaign system, is favored by a two-to-one margin (62 to 31 percent), according to the survey. Fifty percent of Republicans support the proposal compared to 40 percent who oppose it.
Those are huge numbers for the Fair Elections Now Act, although they come before any effort is put in by special interests to kill the idea. In addition, corporate spending may be able to overwhelm any public financing, which to pass Constitutional muster under the Roberts Court may have to be voluntary.
Nevertheless, the strong support for public financing, as expressed in this polling memo, is a sign that people are finally fed up with influence-peddling in Washington, and willing to make a difference.
Marc Schmitt has some interesting thoughts on public financing as well.