Corporate influence on politics is what all the candidates are talking about

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The outsized influence of Wall Street and other corporate interests has become a hot campaign issue. The candidates can’t stay away from the topic, from Democratic candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trying to one-up each other on their understanding of the fundamental problem with our moneyed democracy, to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) — before he dropped out of the race — saying that he wants to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to Republican front-runner Donald Trump once again touting his independence from big-banking backers.

{mosads}They aren’t the only ones who understand that it is the issue du jour. President Obama also is being vigorously vocal. From this year’s State of the Union address, in which he said, “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections,” to this month’s stirring speech in Springfield, Ill., on creating a “better politics” — a speech made on the anniversary of the launch of his bid for the presidency — Obama understands that this issue is rightfully a pivotal one to the American people.

Politicians are speaking about this now because the system needs a course correction and the people know it. Three-quarters of the American people believe their government is corrupt, according to Gallup. To take one key state example, 91 percent of likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers reported in September that they were unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about the amount of money in politics, just 3 percentage points shy of Democrats who said the same thing.

The rhetoric has been robust. Following the New Hampshire primary, Clinton recalled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was instigated by a conservative group attempting to air an anti-Hillary Clinton film in 2008. “So yes, you’re not going to find anyone more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me,” Clinton told the cheering crowd.

Sanders opened the most recent Democratic debate with his ongoing trope about the need for a political revolution, saying “We have today a campaign finance system which is corrupt, which is undermining American democracy, which allows Wall Street and billionaires to pour huge sums of money into the political process.”

With the chatter from politicians ramping up, the only remaining question is what our current and future representatives will do to address the problem. It shouldn’t be hard for them to get specific, as the solutions are achievable and widely called for.

In a recently released report, seven national organizations documented the movement growing throughout the nation, where 23 states already have strengthened disclosure laws, 16 states and 700 municipalities have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and recent ballot initiative victories in Maine and Seattle have amplified the voices of small donors via public financing. More cities and states will vote on ballot initiatives aimed at fighting big money in 2016 than in any previous election cycle. Politicians should embrace these solutions.

At the federal level, the president should move on the long-awaited executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose political spending, push agencies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to require disclosure, and nominate a new Supreme Court justice who sees the flaws in the Citizens United decision. The obstruction he is facing on any eventual nomination is yet another sign that we need to take action to fix our broken democracy.

The policy impact of these actions will be large — an executive order alone would cut a swath of transparency into corporate spending, bringing 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies’ political expenditures into the sunlight in an election year tainted by dark money.

Everyone is talking about it, so now is the time to see the talk backed up with action, with our politicians pushing the specific and considerable available solutions to benefit American democracy.

Gilbert is the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Tags 2016 presidential election Bernie Sanders Campaign finance Citizens United Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission disclosure Donald Trump Hillary Clinton
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