Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Worst Scandal of 2009: Big Money in Politics

/PRNewswire/ -- The following is being released by Common Cause and Public Campaign:

What was the biggest scandal of 2009?

Blagojevich trying to sell a Senate seat? Senators, governors, and their mistresses? Allegations that lobbyists were lining up defense earmarks in exchange for straw donations?

No, the biggest scandal of 2009 was that the entire pay-to-play system that dominates Washington and occupies Congress' time and attention sidetracked bold policies.

One year after President Obama was swept into office on a ticket of change, a wall of big money from the health interests, banks, and Big Oil thwarted, slowed, or deep-sixed legislation in Washington. Special interests were on track to spend $3.3 billion to shape policy outcomes, according to a recent story in Politico. Despite the voters' mandate for change, the underlying problem of Washington - what author and Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser calls "too damn much money" - remained unaltered and in many ways, more powerful than ever before.

The bottom line is that America will not see the significant change that a majority of people are demanding until we change the way we pay for political campaigns by getting special interests out of the business of paying for our elections.

"Yes we can" has been blocked by "no you don't."

Here are some facts to consider:

-- The health care debate is a perfect example of all that is wrong.
Everyone agrees health care must be made more affordable, and that
more people need coverage. But with the health care industry spending
more than $1 million a day this year to lobby for their bottom line,
and contributing more than $200 million to candidates for Congress in
the 2008 election cycle and first nine months of 2009, it's not a
surprise that reform proposals were watered down.
-- At the beginning of December, the U.S. House passed legislation to
reform the financial regulatory industry. The vote came fifteen months
after the collapse of the financial sector and the $700 billion
bailout of Wall Street banks. Reform of Wall Street shouldn't have
been so hard -- these firms exploited a weak regulatory regime to
wreak havoc on our economy -- but throughout 2009, financial, real
estate, and insurance interests poured $85 million in campaign
contributions into Washington, D.C. They succeeded at watering down
sections of the House bill, and have declared all out war on the
Senate bill.
-- As the climate change conference in Copenhagen comes to a close,
President Barack Obama's hands were tied not just by China and India's
unwillingness to negotiate far-reaching agreements. He was also hemmed
in by the politics of passing climate legislation through the U.S.
Senate - and the stranglehold that Big Oil and coal companies have
over our elected officials. The energy sector has contributed more
than $4.5 million to Senators just this year - an off-election year.
Senators like Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) have declared that any action on
climate change in the Senate faces an uncertain future. Inhofe has
received more than $1.2 million in contributions from oil and gas
interests during his career.


The swamp of special interest money is rising in Washington and Congress needs a way out.

The Solution: The Fair Elections Now Act

One year later, it's become clear that change doesn't come simply with the election of a new president or new members of Congress. To dramatically change the way Washington works we need to change the way campaigns are financed in this country.

It's time for the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752, H.R. 1826), legislation that would sever the ties between big money campaign contributors and members of Congress. With Fair Elections, candidates would be able to run a competitive race for congressional office with a blend of small dollar donations and limited public funds. Sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), this voluntary system would put people in office unencumbered by special interest influence. In addition to Rep. Larson, the House bill has the broad bipartisan and cross-caucus support of 124 members.

There have been a lot of political scandals and intrigue in Washington this year, but the worst of them all is the sordid impact of money in our political process. The scandal is what is legally permitted day in, day out, in Washington, D.C. It is time to change the system and pass the Fair Election Now Act.

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