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Watch Out Plutocrats, the Progressive Pro-Democracy Movement Is Savvy and Gearing Up to Take on Citizens United

There's a sophisticated pushback against corporate power in the works.

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The package also has transparency on a whole range of activities where partisans were hiding from voters in 2012. It includes the Disclose Act, which died on Capital Hill, and requires anyone who spends money for an election to reveal it. Anyone who is paid to help a lobbyist has to register. Finally, it has an enforcement piece, empowering the FEC to do what Congress intended, but adding a seventh member to break partisan deadlocks.

The Act hasn’t been introduced in Congress. Potter said its authors want to first gather a million signatures before finding sponsors on Capitol Hill. “This is not going to happen tomorrow. So, what are our alternatives? From a constitutional amendment to the American Anti-Corruption Act to [doing something] tomorrow? And the answer is there are some things that could be done in the months ahead.”

Potter would start with remaking the FEC—and have new members of Congress tell the White House to fill its five vacancies. Now those seats are held with holdovers—three from each party. President Obama has not put any nominees before the Congress. A revived FEC could also look at the kinds of activities that the Supreme Court said in Citizens United were constitutional and regulate them—such as 2012's super PACs.

Beyond that, the IRS has been ducking making decisions on whether some of 2012’s dark money groups—those pretending to be non-profit corporations—should lose that status and be forced to reveal who is bankrolling them. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Lisa Graves has called on Congress to investigate these groups.

And as Stetson Law School’s Ciara Torres-Spelliscy told the room, the Securities and Exchange Commission has received 300,000 comments supporting a new rule to require corporations to disclose their political spending, but has not acted. Potter said that states could pass laws requiring shareholders to approve budgets for political activities. That passed in Connecticut but was vetoed by its Democratic governor after corporate protests.

“This is a national movement and that’s the sort of thing that can be pushed across the country,” he said. “You might find governors in both parties less inclined to veto it. Those are the sorts of things that can be done in the short term.”  

All of these ideas—from the long haul of amending the U.S. Constitution to pushing Congress, Obama, the FEC, SEC and states to act now—reveal a democracy movement that is deepening and growing in ways that could usher in historic political change.

“The level of discussion, the level of debate, the level of really serious discourse about how to solve these problems is really exceptional,” said PFAW’s Baker. “I’ve been to a lot of events on this subject. I have never been to an event that more throroughly, more deeply, more authentically, more honestly engaged the speakers and the participants about these really tough questions that all too often have divided us. But instead, we are united in trying to grapple with these problems. That’s really, really important…

“This is happening because the people want it to happen.”   

 

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, 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).