Must-read article on approaches to money in politics

The debate over corporate power and money in politics is beginning to generate some significant light – good analysis, integral thinking, creativity – as well as heat – passion, slogans, quick response. If both of these forces of nature can synergize we might get some seriously transformational results out of the process.

The Alternet article below by Steven Rosenfeld gives an excellent overview – the best I’ve seen so far – of many major streams of thought and action currently being played out regarding “money in politics”. It is an excellent contribution to helping us see the bigger landscape through which all these streams are flowing. (After the article, I’ve excerpted nine of the best comments on it, the ones with additional thought-provoking approaches to handling the problem.)


As a journalist, Rosenfeld is fairly – and with due complexity – presenting diverse perspectives so that we – citizens, activists, voters – can see them with all their strengths and weaknesses and make up our own minds. This is a gigantic gift and, in my view, one of the highest forms of journalism. The subsequent comments add to such journalism’s service to our democratic collective intelligence.

But something is still missing. Even higher forms of democratic collective intelligence can be called forth, more dynamic uses of this rich diversity, namely productive conversations of the following two types:


1. Quality conversation directly among these diverse perspectives – all of whom, ironically, share the same purpose – to weave their diversity into a more potent and unified strategic vision about which they are all passionate – a possibility that we can taste in the wind as we read Rosenfeld’s article, but can’t quite see… (Suggested processes: Dynamic Facilitation or Future Search)


2. Quality conversation among a few dozen or a few hundred ordinary citizens – chosen randomly to embody the diversity of our society – who get briefed using high quality materials like Rosenfeld’s article but representing even more sides of the issue and, through creative deliberation, produce real “public wisdom” about what makes deep sense to We the People. (Suggested processes: Citizens Jury, Consensus Conference, or Creative Insight Council)


It is one thing to see the whole and make up our own minds about it. It is another to have all the parts of the whole in living interaction with each other, evolving as they go into new forms that truly serve them all as well as the rest of us.




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The Uphill Battle Against Citizens United: Tricky Legal Terrain and No Easy Fixes


Steven Rosenfeld is a longtime journalist specializing in democracy issues and voting rights.


This is a good exegetic essay on what it will take to change Citizens United. It will not be easy, and by the time it happens, it may be too late to return to the democracy we have known all our lives. This is why the selection of Supreme Court justices is so important. One decision and the world changes.


The movement to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling and confront the doctrine of corporate personhood stands at a perilous crossroads…. (continued at )






It’s clear that ‘solutions’ potentially coming legislatively, will be of the slow and highly contested variety and against the prevailing, corporate funded political grain. They’re counting on it.


In the interim, public debate and opinion will be as influenced as are elections by the same money through the same means. So, as necessary as are legal challenges on state and federal levels, our friends at Comedy Central have provided a very useful inroad to the heretofore total dominance of corporate funded Super Pac use of broadcast and other media,… and selection of what amounts to a visible challenger, a third-ish party ‘candidate’ in the theater of the decidedly politically absurd.


If you can’t beat-’em, (at least in the interim), join-’em, which is exactly what Steven, Jon & the jesters at CC have done.  [For a briefing on the amazing Colberg/Stewart spoof azooks is referring to, see – Tom]

We have some very clever talent exploiting the exploiters to national effect, right now. Access to national media with biting political effect through Super Pac funding is now established, the message is clear and fundamental to pressure for reform. Even drone ‘journalists’ of MSM are embarrassed, indignant and provoked into critical dialog having been upstaged, mocked as clueless or corrupt and supplanted by their satirist superiors.

Comedians occupying journalism in a faux election campaign of pretenders. Brilliant!


The most effective and expedient resistance to usurpation of elections by corporatists is, demonstrably, to hijack the media mechanism of their own stupefying propaganda. We have a means to expose them right here, right now in a election year with the creative and critical genius of some trustworthy ‘fools’ wielding the ability to draw a 99% crowd to collectively fund it through 11/12.


Want to restore some sanity? Why not really make a party of it? Or, more fool us for not following through with some opportune media hardball?






One really good solution would be to limit campaign spending to registered voters.




Mr Willow


we could leave the republic in place, and instead have its members be appointed through sortition—two years for each member, after which they draw the name of a replacement, and perhaps not even their replacement, the effect being to randomize the election process as much as possible.





According to Public Citizen … …. in spite of the Citizen’s U. ruling, the SEC can require publicly traded corporations to disclose how they spend their monies in politics.


Their contention is based on the fact that the bulk of monies in public corporations is shareholder money …. who Public Citizen contends is made up of working people and their 401K or retirement fund accounts. In other words, since their retirement funds/dollars are being invested in these public corporations then these shareholders (and ultimately the public) have the right to know what their retirement funds are doing … who the money is supporting and how much. Public Citizen is active in pressuring the SEC to take this action.





The problem will not stop with overturning the Citizens United decision. Over the years, Congress has made several attempts to get money out of our elections and each time the Supreme Court has stepped in to undo their efforts. Sure we should have a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, but we need to do something about the way our Supreme Court now functions without democratic oversight. Once appointed, a Justice serves for life. The founders thought this useful to give the Court independence, but they also put in the Constitution that Congress, not the Court itself, would set the rules for how the Court would operate. The founders did not anticipate that the Court would assume the power to decide what was or was not a valid law under the constitution, but in Marbury v. Madison (1803) they did just that.

We have now had two centuries of experience on which to judge how well our government functions and we should use that experience to make changes where appropriate. The lack of democratic influence on the behavior of the Court would seem to be one aspect of our government that needs to change.


Thom Hartmann has suggested overturning the Marbury v. Madison decision to take away from the Court its ability to over-rule Congress; but this would seem to put into question much of the case law of the last two centuries. This proposal does have the advantage of not requiring a Constitutional Amendment, Congress itself could simply take this action; but that is something they have not seen fit to do for two centuries; it seems unlikely to happen now.


Another proposal has been to limit service of Justices to a fixed number of years – one decade has been proposed. However, this might deprive us of the service of truly outstanding Justices and more generally make the Justices less independent – perhaps looking out for their job prospects after they leave the bench. I would propose a third alternative – to have each Justice come up for a vote of confidence by the voters periodically – say every twelve years. With nine Justices on the Court, this would mean that every four years (on non-presidential elections) three Justices would come up for review. A Justice that the public has faith in could expect to serve for life while a Justice who is viewed as doing a poor job or who has somehow behaved badly can be removed by the voters – the way that should be possible in a democracy. Every four years the voters would have an opportunity to make significant changes to the Court if the Court is behaving poorly – the way that should be possible in a democracy.





Perhaps Congress should read the Constitution which says: “The Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact with such Exceptions and under such Regulationsas the Congress shall make (US Constitution, Article III, Section 2).


Hence, under the Constitution, Congress has the power to remove Court jurisdiction over financing election campaigns.






….Corporations claiming person-hood under the 14th Amendment must agree that all civil and criminal penalties apply equally to them up to and including life imprisonment and the death penalty. Stock holders ability to participate in the activities corporation will be nullified and the company will go into permanent receivership as an asset of state “X”. The governor will appoint an interim CEO until the next normally scheduled election cycle when candidates may apply to run in open election for the position. No stockholder will be permitted to sell, will or otherwise dispose of stock once an investigation into the alleged illegal activities begins. This date shall remain secret from the stockholders until such time as the case goes to trial. Any sale of stock during that period will be reversed….






….We also should prohibit any politician from communicating with any person on any subject which may come before them in Congress except in a public forum in which anyt member of the public has an equal chance to be heard. If the politician wants input on oil issues, for example, they can schedule a week of public hearings, available online, and anybody can speak and give their perspective. No more secret meetings with lobbyists, businesses or their representatives.


We should allow each state to pass a law requiring any corporation doing business in the state to agree they will not contribute to, or spend money or give anything of value to anyone to use in connection with elections. If they do not agree, they should not be allowed to do business in the state, and/or their corporate status should be suspended. They can operate as a general partnership, meaning each investor is fully liable for the actions of the business.


Make it unlawful for any politician or their immediate family to accept anything of value from any business or industry that came before them while they were in Congress, including a job or consulting position, for 5 years after the politician leaves office.


Pass a law requiring any television station who sells time to a PAC to give away, free of charge, three times that amount of time to each individual candidate running in a primary or in an election for the same position. For example, some Koch-brothers’ PAC buys up 10 hours of ad time from Fox in January. Fox must give 10 hours of ad time to each of the Republican and democratic declared candidates for the same position (i.e. president), primetime. Have a similar rule for radio. Both forms of communication are regulated and subject to public control. That should put an end to that.






To my knowledge none of the recent supreme court decisions regarding elections have done anything to limit congresses power of taxation. Most of the arguments about corporate personhood have been about the ability of corporations or the 1% to drown out opposing viewpoints. A quick and relatively easy, if imperfect, fix would be to tax ALL political expenditures at a high rate, say 100%. Resulting revenues to go into a campaign /issue fund to be divided equally and immediately among the candidates or sides of an issue. This will; have an immediate effect of at least diluting the advertising deluge for one point of view.


As an example say corporation or person X pays $1 million for a TV commercial attacking Y or backing candidate Z. He would immediately pay $1million in taxes half of which would go to candidate Y and the other to candidate Z. These funds would immediately be available to both candidates to provide rebuttals or put out their positions.

This is not a perfect solution, but it is one that could be done without a constitutional amendment, just a “simple” vote in congress. It would at least provide funds to corporate opposed and underfunded candidates to get their views out.




Steven Rosenfeld


Thanks everybody for all these really good comments. This was not a fun piece to write, in that in pushes back against many people who are doing fantastic work and who I have looked up to for years. But I started covering money in politics in the 1990s and the other side has had many more victories than we have. So as we have this amazing historic moment when people are going into the streets and marching and doing all other kinds of things at the grassroots, it seems really important for us to take this debate and a discussion of solutions to a higher level. We can.

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