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5 Ways the GOP (And Obama) Have Undermined Our Democracy

The institutions designed to make campaign finances more transparent and to ensure that election technology is evolving are paralyzed by empty leadership positions.

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Initially, some of Washington’s biggest business lobbyists balked and pushed back. But by last December, as the anniversary of the Citizens United decision loomed, there was some talk that the White House would soon act, especially as the presidential campaign season was gearing up. But nothing happened, disappointing disclosure advocates.

4. Saying No To Presidential Public Financing

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama became the first nominee of a major political party to reject using public financing to pay for his campaign after his party’s national nominating convention. The thinking then was that the Obama campaign could raise more money than it would get from taxpayers, and wouldn’t have to abide by spending limits in exchange for the public funds.

That same scenario was repeated in 2012, and then the president’s supporters created the same kinds of big-money super PACs that the GOP pioneered in its presidential primaries. These decisions reflect a truism in politics: there’s little desire to change the rules of a system that a candidate mastered and elected him into office. However, it underscores that the administration does not see democracy issues as a priority.

5. Securities and Exchange Commission

The SEC regulates publically held corporations. In 2011, a handful of law professors petitioned the SEC to change a rule allowing a public corporation to hide its political spending from shareholders. The rule-making petition would require that spending be disclosed and to date has prompted more public comments ( 300,000) than any other draft rule in the agency’s history.

The SEC did not act on the petition before the 2012 election, which saw numerous pro-business trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spending millions on political ads without disclosing donors. But according to Craig Holman, agency staffers this week told him that the rule change is still on its 2013 agenda.

“In two weeks, we will be holding a press confernce and making some demands on these fights,” Holman said, referring to everything from the agency appointments to disclosure rules. “I used to work with Republicans—people like senators John McCain and Olympia Snow. But recently they’ve all just marched in lockstep with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] John Boehner.”

That discouraging reality means it is up to the White House, or independent agencies like the SEC, to move ahead on their own. You would think the constitutional lawyer and voting rights activist in the Oval Office would not need convincing in these fights.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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