FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Three Steps to Restore Our Democracy

by

In a democracy, the people rule through representative government.  Yet in our last federal election 40% of eligible U.S. voters chose not to cast their ballots.   Such opting out by citizens should come as no surprise given the systemic flaws that breed skepticism and distrust.

Do we have a democracy in America when corporations, billionaires, and their lobbyists pump huge sums into political campaigns, often making the critical decisions on who will have the financial resources to launch a campaign?  Is it a democracy when interest groups ply elected officials with gift travel?  Do we still have a democracy when states impede the right to vote of minorities? Or when local parties in power gerrymander congressional districts to serve partisan political goals?

To restore our democracy we need to take money out of politics, encourage, not constrain, voter participation and implement fair redistricting.  Here are three important steps to achieve those goals.

Step 1 Ban Big Money

As investigative reporter Greg Palast declares in one of his recent books, America has “the best democracy money can buy.”  That is an accurate assessment.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court held that corporations are to be treated as people and that the contribution money they lavish (albeit indirectly) on campaigns is protected speech.  When corporations and wealthy individuals use the power of money to influence elections, no wonder citizens stay away from the polls.

In the wake of Citizens United, federal campaigns are not only awash in donor money, much of it is “dark money,” contributed by undisclosed donors through super PACs, political nonprofits and limited liability companies (LLCs).

More detrimental to democracy than lack of transparency is the association of money with lobbying.  While the latter alone is legitimate and often helpful to lawmakers, the contributions that embellish lobbying efforts corrupt the recipients and distort policymaking. Our political campaign finance system, says Bernie Sanders, “is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests.”

A related example of blatant conflict of interest corruption is gift travel, such as the Israel lobby regularly offers lawmakers at all levels.  This month, some 53 Members of Congress were treated to an all-expense weeklong trip to Israel, valued at about $10,000.  How can such gifts not be viewed as overpowering individual constituent interest?

Let’s face it, large contributions by corporations and billionaires create conflicts of interest since they are intended to buy access to lawmakers, reward them for their votes or promote favorable legislation.

To restore democracy we need to (1) reverse Citizens United and (2) ban all corporate and special interest contributions (including gift travel) to candidates and elected officials.  To finance federal elections, let’s begin to rely on modest individual contributions and matching public grants.

Step 2 Ease Voting Rules

For a democracy to work, it needs to make the polls more, not less, accessible to all citizens.  The imposition of registration and voting barriers in some states unfairly constrains citizens who find it difficult to procure required documentation.

Reversing Obama era policy, the Trump administration is now siding with states that want to deregister citizens who fail to vote in two successive elections and don’t heed a warning notice.  If adopted, that policy will further discourage voter participation, especially among minorities.

To restore democracy, we need to make it easier for citizens to register and vote.   Eliminating burdensome paperwork requirements, adopting automatic registration systems and allowing pre-election day voting would surely increase turnout.

Step 3 End Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering, the process of setting electoral districts to establish a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries, leads to partisan gridlock, entrenched incumbents and a resistance to compromise—all of which America is now experiencing.  The prevailing state practice of allowing the party in power to fix electoral districts favors more extreme politicians and weighs against moderate candidates—to the detriment of our democratic process.

According to Common Cause, “the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015 would put the people back in charge by setting up independent commissions that prioritize inclusive public participation, fair representation and transparency when drawing maps.”

We need a law that would mandate state redistricting standards.  Non-partisan entities and judicial oversight should replace the current winner-take-all redistricting policies.

As both Republican and Democratic parties seek to energize and enlarge their memberships, they should consider making the above reforms their top priorities.

More articles by:

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail