The manifesto of the Citizens Congress is to find non-partisan unity and establish consensus goals with people across the country to remove the corruptive influence of money in elections. I am thrilled to tell you that we made a great start in June.
This issue of money in politics resonates with people and our first night in Cal-Poly’s Spanos Theatre was standing room only with more than 450 people in attendance. It is clear that the large majority of Americans want reform and are hungry to learn what actions can be taken to change the rules that favor the economic elite at the expense of the community as a whole.
Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig spoke of his Mayday campaign to crowd fund candidates who make campaign finance reform their priority issue. Pulitizer and Emmy Award-winner Hedrick Smith spoke of the need for political activism on the scale of the Civil and Environmental Rights movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. John McCain and Stephen Colbert’s attorney, Trevor Potter, addressed the inconsistencies of reasoning in the Supreme Court and the need for regulatory reform. My job as the director of Citizens Congress was to remind people that it isOUR government – not THE government – and that locals do have a part in the national discourse on correcting the mess we’ve allowed ourselves to get into.
Over the next three days about 35 people from around the country – from New Hampshire to Missouri to Washington – discussed the variety of reform options available. These include 11 different constitutional amendments, three separate statutory reforms, regulatory rule changes, a national convention, better messaging, a code of ethics pledge for candidates, and a national event. Incredibly, after a looking meticulously at each of the tools available to us to effect reform, we were able to come to near unanimous agreement on our approaches.
Here is the summary of our conclusions:
1) We support the Udall Amendment to the Constitution. It is scheduled for a vote in the Senate in September. Rep. McGovern has a very similar bill in the House of Representatives but it is stalled in committee and not scheduled for a vote.
2) We support the Government by the People Act in the House of Representatives. This is a public financing bill proposed by Rep. John Sarbanes and is co-sponsored by 155 Representatives in the House.
3) We require rule changes in the Federal Election Committee, the Securities and Exchange Committee and the IRS. Rules should require publicly traded companies to disclose campaign donations, give subpoena power to the FEC and establish ways to break partisan paralysis to insure proper investigations of campaign corruption. There needs to be more specific limits to social welfare organizations as classified by the IRS. Trevor Potter has agreed to help draft these letters.
4) The group supported an Article V national convention to propose change to the constitution.
5) They agreed to the need for a national event that galvanizes the public as did the civil rights movement. A variety of ideas are being considered, including a multi-state, 20 city roadshow.
6) You Count! End Moneypolitic$ will be our new messaging catchphrase that we hope to establish as part of the political lexicon.
7) The Citizens Congress adopted the following candidate code of ethics. To gain our support the candidate must agree to:
*Make campaign finance a primary component of their issues platform.
*Not take any funds from any industries that theyregulate.
* Make full disclosure of all cumulative donations of $200 ormore. E-file Senate reports.
* Make the “You Count – End Moneypolitic$” standardsin campaign messages/ads.
* Don’t take money from lobbyists.
* Emphasize small donations.
8) It is important that we create a national “clearinghouse” website to access reform efforts around the country. We also have an important role to play here in our state that will help at the national level as well. California may have the chance to vote in November on whether we, as a state, demand a national constitutional amendment. SB 1272 has passed through the appropriations committee and needs approval in the assembly before it goes on our November ballot. Contact Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and let him know of your desire that he support this bill.
Over the next few months we will be canvassing the country to learn of nearly 1,000 federal candidates positions on finance reform and their willingness to honor our code of ethics. We will be testing ideas for a national event. We will be updating our website to disseminate the decisions of our Citizens Congress and information regarding candidates.
If you would like to see reform happen, these efforts take time and effort and we can’t do it alone. We need your help physically and financially. You can contact us through our website, www.citizenscongress2014.org, and send us an email or donate. To restore our democracy we first need to take ownership of it and that means investing by doing something.
William Ostrander is the Director of Citizens Congress 2014. Learn more about the organization atwww.citizenscongress2014.org.