The new unified theory of progressive politics is that desperately needed changes along an entire spectrum of otherwise unrelated issues are all dependent on the same thing: reducing the way money and intense partisanship interfere with the fundamental exercise of democracy.
That’s why groups committed to such varied causes as the environment, civil rights, stopping gun violence, LGBTQ issues, human rights, just foreign policy, free speech, health care, corporate accountability, abortion rights, collective bargaining, immigrant justice – you name it – are enthusiastically joining with good-government, voting rights and campaign finance organizations in support of H.R. 1, the House Democrats’ 571-page democracy restoration plan.
After all, how does a common, pro-public citizens agenda stand a chance when money warps every element of the democratic process from who gets heard to who doesn’t get heard to who runs to how they run to who gets to vote to who doesn’t get to vote, to whose vote counts?
A position held by a solid majority of citizens means nothing if their messages are drowned out by massive amounts of dark money; if only candidates with corporate backing can win elections; if voters can’t get to the polls or are turned away; or if the legislative process is perverted by the prospect of lucrative job offers and legalized bribery.
A variety of leaders from among the 125 national groups who have joined a coalition supporting H.R. 1 spoke on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in support of the bill, which would enact small-donor funding for elections while ending secret money, voter suppression, extreme partisan gerrymandering and flawed government ethics rules.
It was hardly a surprise to see Fred Wertheimer, the dean of the campaign-finance reform movement, in attendance.
But what was Debbie Sease, federal campaigns and legislative director of the Sierra Club, doing there?
“The Sierra Club is an environmental organization,” Sease said. “We care passionately about clean air, clean water, finding solutions to climate change — so you might say, ‘Why would the Sierra Club think that the We the People Act, HR 1, is the single most important thing that we may do this Congress for the environment’?”
She explained: “We care passionately about clean air, clean water, finding solutions to climate change – and so does the vast majority of the American public. And the biggest things standing between the American public and those solutions have been the influence of corporate money and an electoral system that is broken.”
Until real democracy is achieved, she said, “we will not get those things.”
What was Christopher Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America, doing there?
“CWA members believe that Washington is rigged against the interest of ordinary working people,” he said. “They are crying out for anyone to bring our democracy back to its founding principles of ‘We the People,” not ‘We the Well-Connected With Huge Bank Accounts.’ That’s why we are so excited.”
What was Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, doing there? “The dark money that corrupts politicians and tilts the scales in favor of special interests must be addressed,” he said. “And no money is darker than the funds funneled from the National Rifle Association headquarters to Capitol Hill.”
What was Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, doing there? “Voting rights is an LBGTQ issue,” she said. “Today we stand with our colleagues representing other movements to urge Congress to move forward on HR 1, a bold sent of reforms that will serves as a much needed lifeline to democracy.”
What was Bishop Garrison, interim executive director of the Truman National Security Project, doing there? “We know good, inclusive governance is the first step toward making our nation safer, while ensuring we remain an effective leader on the world stage,” he said. “It is important to our national security that we keep dark money out of politics.”
Public Citizen is leading the coalition of groups. Its president, Robert Weissman, said there is a growing movement across the country demanding democracy reforms.
“The Americans people do know that it is the failure of our democracy that stands in the way of the agenda that they want,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily a progressive agenda. It’s an American agenda – to provide health care for all, to raise the minimum wage, to deal with the price gouging of pharmaceutical companies, to take on the existential threat of climate change.
“That agenda has the support of 70, 80, 90 percent of Americans,” he continued. “The reason we don’t get progress is because our political system is broken through corruption and the undermining of democracy.”
Weissman concluded: “The only thing they support more than the things I just listed is fixing the democracy itself, which gets 90 percent support in public opinion polls.”