The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

The end run around blocking change

In Legislation Today on May 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, wrote a fiery blog post in the Huffington Post last night: “Corruption is Dangerous to Your Health.” In it, he excoriates the corporate lobbyists who effectively block so much legislation that would improve the lives of all Americans, such as paid sick leave:

More than 160 countries, the Times tells us, have laws that ensure all their citizens receive paid sick leave and more than 110 of them guarantee paid leave from the first day of illness. The US does not. The reason goes no further than the influence of money on politics.

There’s a way to change this culture of corporate influence and it’s a piece of legislation called “The Fair Elections Now Act,” H.R. 1826 and S. 752. Here’s what Congressman John Larson and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree wrote in a join editorial in the Kennebec Journal yesterday:

The Fair Elections Now Act, which has been in the works for more than a year, takes the big money out of our political system and empowers small donors and average Americans. Our proposal, which would be entirely voluntary, would require candidates for Congress to qualify by raising at least 1,500 small contributions of between $5 and $100 from in-state residents. Once they qualify, they will receive an upfront grant, based on the average costs of winning campaigns in recent elections, for their primary campaigns; and if nominated, another grant for their general election campaign. Candidates will also receive a 4:1 match for in- state contributions. No individual may give more than $100 and that match will stop after a certain spending level is reached.

The Fair Elections Now Act builds on the experiences of states to perfect a system that has cleaned up local elections across the country. In Connecticut and Maine, more than 80 percent of candidates for the state Legislature now participate in a clean- elections system. The clean-elections laws in these states have let lawmakers get back to doing the people’s business, tackling big issues such as the economy and the environment without the influence of lobbyists and big donors.

Senator Durbin is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, and Senator Arlen Specter is the co-sponsor. The House version is sponsored by Larson and has 24 co-sponsors. Without the need to raise millions of dollars to wage a competitive campaign, candidates (and thus, elected officials) would not be beholden to corporate pressuring. It’s not that the voices of corporations would be silenced; they would simply be a part of the chorus instead of the solo divas.

We advocates for social justice have a choice. In each battle — for health care, workers’ rights, etc. — we can fight the corporate interests lined up against us, or we can go to the root of the problem and free our legislative process from its addiction to corporate dollars. Systemic retooling is not easy but it’s the only way to make an end run around those powerful entities blocking change.


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