Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Interview from the Archive: What is the American Anti-Corruption Act? Josh Silver of Represent.Us explains.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 18, 2017.

This is the final article of my discussion with Josh Silver. The first and second pieces are available.
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Most Americans think that their government is corrupt.
According to a 2014 Gallup study, the number is 75 percent, a jump from 2009, when only 66 percent of Americans believed the same.
When this represents the good old days, where does the present-day stand?
Many a citizen now look back on that time before Citizens United as a golden age which must be revisited. However, I would caution anyone from growing too nostalgic. Pay-to-play corruption has long been part-and-parcel of Capitol Hill.
If you have ever seen the film Amistad, you might remember that Spaniard nobleman who advised Queen Isabella II: Angel Calderon de la Barca y Belgrano.
Less than a decade before his death, he told American writer Orestes Brownson the following: "The government struck me as strictly honest, and your statesmen as remarkable for their public spirit, integrity, and incorruptibility. I was subsequently sent to Mexico; and when, recalled from that mission, I was offered my choice between Rome and Washington, such was my high opinion of the American republic, and the honesty and integrity of its government, that I chose Washington in preference to Rome, though the latter was more generally coveted.
"I have been here now for several years a close observer, and I have seen every thing change under my eyes. All my admiration for the republic and for republican government has vanished. I cannot conceive a government more corrupt than this government of yours. I see men come here worth only their salary as members of Congress, and in two or four years return home worth from a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand dollars." 
Brownson pointed out that these words were "said in 1852, when corruption was very little in comparison with what it has become."
This last sentence was written in 1873.
In many respects, little has changed in Washington, DC throughout the ages. Those of us who wish to see cleaner, more responsive federal politics would be wise to consider Belgrano's words very carefully.
The entire system is flawed. Checks and balances might separate the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, but they cannot produce an entity which functions as -- supposedly -- intended: "Of, by, and for the people."
Despite such a daunting scenario, a vocal band of activists has not surrendered hope -- quite the opposite, in fact. They are pushing stronger than ever before so a new day might dawn on American polity; even though this amounts to pushing a giant boulder up the highest Smoky mountain.
Represent.Us is, as its website declares, gathering "together conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to pass powerful anti-corruption laws that stop political bribery, end secret money, and fix our broken elections."
Inline image 1Its leader is Josh Silver, who "is a veteran election and media reform executive. He was the campaign manager for the successful 1998 Arizona Clean Elections ballot initiative, and is the cofounder and former CEO of Free Press, a leading media and technology reform advocacy organization," Represent.Us explains on-line. "Silver has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal and featured in outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, NPR, and CBS Sunday Morning."
Silver recently spoke with me about many issues relative to American electioneering. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: Activists on the left and right alike believe that the "other side" is inherently more detestable, and therefore abhor politicians who attempt to cross the aisle on important issues; even if this benefits constituents. Is this now-baked-in-the-cake perspective the result of a divide-and-conquer strategy by special interests?

Josh Silver: Yes, with a strong assist from media outlets that play into the narrative. At the grassroots level, Americans are more than willing to put aside partisan differences to work together. on nearly everything other than social issues, which often create insurmountable differences. Polarization is not an insurmountable hurdle for Americans united by the desire to fix our corrupt political system, and work together on other right/left issues. It takes a new brand of organizing and leadership that is emerging in our organization and many others.

Cotto: Since the ascent of Donald Trump, the right has become more anti-establishment than the left. This was cemented by the election of Tom Perez as Democratic National Committee chair, which many progressive activists saw as an in-your-face triumph of corporatist Democratic interests. In the long run, might serious campaign finance reform come from the GOP, while Democrats are generally resigned to the status quo?
Silver: No. Both parties remain captured by special interests, but their voters are not. Candidate Trump was propelled by his drain the swamp, anti-corruption rhetoric on the right, and Bernie Sanders was buoyed by a similar sentiment on the left. President Trump has offered some nibble-around-the-edges reforms on the issue, but they are small- bore, and will not change the system appreciably. Politicians in positions of power are not going to change the system that got them elected. You can’t expect the fox to put a lock on the henhouse. Change will occur because cities, counties and states will model what reform looks like, and a burgeoning anti-corruption movement will demand it.

For several years, Represent.Us has been a champion of the American Anti-Corruption Act. What does this proposed legislation bring to the table?
Silver: The American Anti-Corruption Act is model legislation that transforms [how] candidates RUN for office; how Americans VOTE, and how politicians GOVERN once in office. It says you can lobby or you can donate, but you can’t do both. It closes the revolving door so that politicians and their senior staff can’t become lobbyists soon after leaving government service. It incentivizes small dollar contributions. It ends coordination between campaigns and superPACs. It makes all political money transparent. It ends gerrymandering, so that voters choose politicians, instead of the other way around. And it changes how we vote so that independent and third parties can run and win office.

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