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This Fall Voters Rejected Big Money, Demanded Reform
In the November 6th elections, old fashioned door-to-door organizing, grassroots activists infused with passion for a cause, and dedicated citizens willing to brave long lines at the polls to make their voices heard overcame the “money power” and sent candidates to office who were targeted for defeat by wealthy individuals and deep-pocketed special interests.
In Lincoln County, Corvallis, Ashland and Eugene, Oregonians defeated the premise that democracy is for sale. These Oregonians were joined in their rejection of big money by voters across the country, including Montana and Colorado where ballot measures against the Citizens United ruling received over 70% approval.
Americans understand that the problems associated with corporate and unlimited money in our politics has reached new heights: seven out 10 Americans believe that Super PACs should be illegal, nine out of 10 believe that corporations have too much power in our political process, and 52% of voters believe we need to overhaul the way elections are paid for by replacing large donations with small ones and matching public funds versus 11% who believe we should keep the system mostly the way it is.
Some now argue the big money did not matter, looking for the simplest story of a correlation between cash and victory, which completely misses the point.
A system which equates money with speech is fundamentally unfair and antidemocratic. A new study by the OSPIRG Foundation and Demos shows the ease with which big money can overpower small donors: it took just 61 donors giving an average of $4.7 million dollars to Super PACs to match every single dollar from small donors to both Romney and Obama – that is, $285.2 million from at least 1,425,500 individuals. If we take the premise that money is speech literally, each of these few mega-donors spoke at 23,369 times the volume of the average grassroots donor.
Beyond providing these special interests the ability to give their preferred candidates a hefty competitive edge, allowing the wealthy few to amplify their voices in the public square threatens the basic American value of political equality for several reasons:
First, a tiny number of wealthy individuals and interests continue to set the agenda in Salem and in Washington. Large donors enjoy preferred access to and influence over winning candidates, thus undermining citizens' confidence in our democracy. Several powerful Super PACs are now transitioning to lobbying in an attempt to use their unrestricted money to bully lawmakers into following their agenda.
Second, down-ticket races are easier to influence than high-profile contests. We are likely to see continued big money investment in state-level races, where special interests can handily overwhelm candidates’ fundraising abilities.
Finally, the threat of massive outside spending shapes candidate behavior, forcing them to spend time on a high-stakes arms race rather than engaging voters or actually governing (in the case of incumbents).
Our freshly elected legislators, in particular those who fought back against special interest outside spending, should see the election results as a mandate for reform.
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