Election Reform: Can It Finally Happen?

by Phil Anderson

   Everyone knows the electoral process is broken in this country. There is too much money and too little democracy. We all know the problems. Campaigns are too long and too expensive. Big donors have too much influence. A massive election-industrial complex profits from the legalized, dysfunctional, broken system. The whole mess is ugly and abusive even for the candidates.  

We need major changes at all levels of government. We need an electoral system that is open, fair, and truly democratic. But historically neither party has been interested in real reform. Until now. Democrats in Wisconsin and nationally are leading the way with serious reforms. Will they be successful? Will election reform actually happen?   In Wisconsin, Senator Chris Larson has introduced nine bills he is calling the “2019-2020 Campaign Integrity Package.” He is proposing sensible improvements to the campaign finance laws. These bills would reverse the worst provisions of the 2015 Republican campaign finance law that expanded money in politics. Here are his nine proposals:  

No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act would ban corporations, labor unions, tribes, and other groups from donating to political parties and legislative campaign committees. In the last election these donations amounted to $1.7 million. For more than 100 years prior to the 2015 rewrite of our campaign finance law, corporations and other groups were not allowed to make such donations.  

Communications Transparency Act would require “issue advocacy” groups to disclose the names of donors who gave $100 or more. This would limit the influence of “dark money” in elections.  

Coordination Control Act prohibits unlimited donations to “issue advocacy” groups that are coordinating with candidates. Under the 2015 law, a candidate may coordinate with these outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from their donors, thus making a mockery of the limits on direct contributions to candidates.  

The Sensible Limits Act would place a $10,000 ceiling on donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees. The 2015 law allows unlimited amounts to these groups which can pass the money to candidates.  

Stop Unlimited Contributions Act would limit the transfer of funds between political parties and legislative campaign committees.  

Restoring Reasonable Limits Act would lower the individual donation limit to $10,000 for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state. The 2015 law has raised it to $20,000.  

Special Interests Limitation Act would also cut in half the amount that the political action committees may contribute to candidates.  

Closing the PAC Loophole Act would require any group that spends more than $1,000 on advocacy to register as a political action committee (PAC) in Wisconsin. The 2015 law allows national PACs to avoid registering unless they spend more than half their money in Wisconsin.  

Contribution Sunshine Act would require campaign committees to identify the employer of any donor who gives more than $100. The 2015 law took this requirement away, obscuring the influence of companies on elections.   Nationally House Democrats have proposed sweeping election reform with the

For the People Act (HR1). This bill addresses voting rights and procedures, campaign finance, redistricting, and ethical guidelines for federal elected and appointed officials. Over 500 pages long it is a comprehensive response to electoral problems and money in politics. A few proposals include:  

HR 1 will crack down on voter suppression, purging of voter rolls and make voting easier with online and automatic registration. It would allow felons to vote after release from prison. It will restore anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were ended by the Supreme Court. It will create independent commissions and federal guidelines for drawing congressional districts to eliminate gerrymandering  

The law addresses election tampering with provisions to protect against foreign attacks and hackers. It will require paper ballots to prevent computer tampering and vote counting fraud.  

Ethics rules and conflict of interest requirements are strengthened. It requires presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns. House members are prohibited from serving on corporate boards while in office. It closes the revolving door between government and private industry.  

The influence of money in elections is addressed. It supports an amendment to end unlimited corporate contributions allowed by the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It require super PACs and dark-money organizations to make their donors public.  

Elections should be owned by the voters not the special interests. These are sensible reforms to make our elections more honest and democratic. We need to shift power to the people and away from corporate and big money donors.   It is unlikely any of this will pass this year because Republicans control the Wisconsin legislature and the U.S Senate. As with so many problems, the “party of no” is the stumbling block to progress. But Democrats are leading with proposals for change. Power never yields anything without demands. People will have to demand change.    

“IF YOU ARE NOT OUTRAGED YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION” Action Alert #2  

Trump's declaration of emergency is an abuse of presidential power. Emergency powers are authorized under various laws (primarily The National Emergency Act) to deal with situations that require immediate response. That is, real emergencies like being attacked, a natural disaster, or a nuclear accident. Many of these powers grew out of the Cold War and threats of a Soviet attack.  

This is NOT what is happening with Trump's declaration. The failure to negotiate an appropriation with Congress is not an emergency. In the past, presidents have declared emergencies for relatively minor events like natural disasters. But the purpose was to trigger federal aid. It was not to bypass congressional control over federal spending.  

Emergency powers were created with the assumption that presidents would act in the country’s best interest and only when necessary. This is clearly not the case with Trump. We can not allow this abuse of presidential power to stand.  

Sign the online petition at: actionnetwork.org/petitions/revoke-trumps-national-emergency-declaration Contact your representatives to stop the emergency declaration.