We are gyrocopter

Last month, Doug Hughes landed a gyrocopter on the front lawn of the United States Capitol Building. His gyrocopter was laden with 535 letters—one for each member of Congress—urging elected officials to take action to reduce the influence of money in our political process. He flew through restricted airspace and a no-fly zone, and was arrested immediately upon landing. His arraignment is Thursday, and he may spend four years in prison if he is later convicted. Some pundits have misguidedly characterized his stunt as a security threat, but the real security threat is the billions of dollars special interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists pour into our elections. Millions of everyday Americans like Hughes are increasingly frustrated at their lack of voice in their political system.

Hughes’ flight was not a rash act of defiance, but a deliberately planned act of civil disobedience. His actions were perhaps not the best way to protest, but they speak to the powerlessness of citizens who no longer feel represented by their government. 

{mosads}As one Democrat and one Republican, we may not always agree politically, but we do agree that our broken campaign finance system is a serious problem for both voters and for those in office. Between the two of us, we have forty-four years of combined public service, most of them spent in elected office. So we know better than most just how damaging special interest influence can be to our political process, and how corrosive big money’s influence is on public servants. 

We know that our elected officials can’t do their jobs effectively when they have to spend half their day raising money for the next campaign, or when leadership positions are assigned on the basis of fundraising success rather than expertise or experience. And the fact that the need to raise ever-greater sums of money causes politicians to prematurely retire, or prevents some of the best and brightest from even running for office in the first place, only confirms that the system is seriously out of balance. The American people see it too.

Hughes’ concerns are shared by millions of Americans. In poll after poll, majorities across the political spectrum and from every demographic agree that our political system is broken and that fixing it should be one of our top priorities. 

The good news: this is a problem we can fix. State and local reformers are pushing for and winning meaningful, constitutionally viable reforms across the country, like Montana’s new dark money ban, or Tallahassee’s anti-corruption laws, or Montgomery County, Maryland’s comprehensive public financing system.  

Reforms like these fit firmly into our vision for afunctional democracy where everyone participates and small donors are valued just as highly as large ones; where Citizens United is overturned so everyone’s voices are heard; where everyone knows who is spending what on our politics; where everyone plays by common sense rules; and where everyone is held accountable for breaking them.  

Democracy requires constant vigilance. When the interests of major campaign donors and their allies are favored over the needs of ordinary citizens, we all pay the price.

This is why we are speaking out, across party lines, as Americans, to urge all presidential candidates to take a firm stand on this issue, so that no matter who wins in 2016, fixing our political system will be at the top of the agenda.  

And so that no one has to land a flying bicycle on the Capitol lawn to call attention to the crisis in our democracy.

Morella served in Congress from 1987–2003, and was ambassador to OECD from 2003-2007. Glickman served in Congress from 1977-1995, and was secretary of Agriculture from 1995-2001. Both are members of Issue One’s Advisory Board.

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