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Reformers Split On How To Fix Congress

by Alex Gauthier, published

Credit: Kentoh  / Credit:

A divide is growing amongst campaign finance reforms on how to re-democratize the political process. On the one hand, reformers are pushing for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v FEC. On the other, publicly funded congressional elections facilitated by a more radical and arguably less democratic solution – the ‘money bomb.’

In this instance, the ‘money bomb’ is the brainchild of Harvard Law professor and Rootstrikers founder, Lawrence Lessig. The money bomb is essentially a $1-2 billion pact amongst several dozen millionaires at about $30 million a piece. Lessig plans to aim that multi-billion dollar money cannon directly at congressional representatives unwilling to support a small-donor election model; models replicated in states like Connecticut, and outlined in proposed legislation like the American Anti-Corruption Act.

Connecticut’s public funding of campaigns has been heralded as a poster child for such programs. A Citizens Election Fund is financed with taxpayer dollars, giving an eligible Senate candidate up to $85,000 and $25,000 for the House. According to Demos, the process has resulted in decreased lobbyist influence and “a more substantive legislative process.”

The irony of relying on extremely large donors to limit the influence of big money in elections is not lost on anyone, and remains hypocritical to some. However, exercising the current system in this way is neither illegal nor insurmountable, but definitely unprecedented.

The highest grossing Super PAC from the 2012 election was Restore Our Future, dedicated to electing Mitt Romney. Restore our Future spend $142 million during the most expensive election in U.S. history, a fraction of what Lessig hopes to raise.

It's the ultimate Robin Hood maneuver, except instead of stealing from the rich, one hopes they'll save you the trouble and donate it willingly instead.

Meanwhile, the other surge of popular current to reform campaign finance law is a constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood and distinguish money from speech. At a time when confidence in Congress has reached an historic low, support for a 28th amendment is growing steadily.

Groups like Move to Amend and Public Citizen have pushed for a new constitutional amendment as the first priority to solving government dysfunction. Fourteen states, including Illinois earlier this month, have passed legislation endorsing an amendment. Nevertheless, a super-majority (2/3) of the House and Senate need to approve a proposed amendment, a longshot by today's standards. Likewise, the amendment would need to be ratified by 38 states.

Each approach attempts to answer the question, 'how to fix Congress?' but it's becoming increasingly clear that both can't be accomplished at the same time. As is true for most reform movements, a single front with one clear goal is critical to enacting reform in a timely manner. Whether or not either plan will actually work remains to be seen.

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