Lynn Abbott: Voters have the power
August 23, 2012
Are you as appalled as I am at the obscene amounts of money spewing into this election? Time magazine estimates this election will cost $2.5 billion. We could talk about many better uses for such money — creating jobs, improving our education system, shoring up public infrastructure, feeding our hungry and speeding up the new smart-grid technology — but we know the people who have poured this money into elections have other interests in mind.
Are you as fed up as I am with the results of this river of money? It would be one thing if those billions enabled us to hold in-depth conversations aimed at solving our national problems. Instead, these dollars are used to assault TV viewers with endless, obnoxious ads that take snippets of speeches out of context to manufacture half-truths presented in high-decibel sound bites. Unfortunately, many viewers base their voting decisions, without further research, on such ads.
In part, we can thank the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision for this onslaught. Although money flowed into politics before, Citizens United has opened the flood gates. Wealthy individuals and corporations are spending — without accountability or disclosure — unlimited amounts of money on this election. Do we really want billionaires and corporations choosing our leaders? We know those donors expect policy decisions in return.
In elementary school we were taught that America guarantees government of the people, by the people and for the people, determined by elections in which one person has one vote. Today we are told that a corporation is a person, money is speech and government can be bought with money. We don't have to accept this. Here's what we can do:
Fact-check every ad. Two websites, http://factcheck.org, and http://www.politifact.com, analyze campaign ads regularly. If an ad is incomplete, inaccurate or worse, they will give you the full picture. Then you can form your own opinion.
Join one of the many organizations working toward a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Public Citizen and Common Cause are two. More than a million people and 300 local governments have joined this Move to Amend effort.
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Support legislative efforts to require disclosure of the names of all political donors. The DISCLOSE Act would have brought more transparency (although in my mind, not enough) to the identities of the biggest donors behind political ads. Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans killed the act last month. Oddly enough, Sen. McConnell spoke for full disclosure on "Meet the Press" in 2000. Quite a switch.
Watch New York state for a new effort in public financing of campaigns. It is led by a strong coalition of organizations, investment bankers and businesses, and it has the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Its goal is to "put power in the hands of voters rather than donors" and to free state legislators from the constant demand to raise money. This would allow them to actually work on the issues that their constituents sent them to Albany to solve. How refreshing! To learn more about this effort, see http://ppefny.org/.
It's time to be proactive. We must change the way money affects our elections, our public policy and our country as a whole. We can start by fact-checking those expensive ads and joining the grass-roots Move to Amend effort. From there, we can get busy working to finally enact true campaign finance reform and put power in the hands of voters rather than donors.