Editorial: Campaign targets money in elections 

Monday, April 10, 2017

There’s a faint glimmer of hope this spring for people who feel alienated from our national government by the influence of millions of dollars in political donations from corporations and billionaires, and from gerrymandering that has helped polarize Congress.

At annual town meetings this spring, several towns will consider resolutions pushing back against the influence of money in national politics and seeking greater transparency in political donations.

It’s a long shot percolating from the ground up, but maybe such an effort is just the fix for a problem that was worsened by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, delivered in 2010, which made it easier for corporations and unions to spend vast sums in campaigns, in many cases without public disclosure.

The proposed town meeting measures are influenced by the Northampton-based pro-democracy group Represent.Us, founded by former Shelburne resident Josh Silver.

The organization seeks support for its Anti-Corruption Act, which among other things would make it illegal for Congress to take money from lobbyists, require that all significant donations be disclosed, emphasize small donors and public financing, and form independent redistricting commissions to end so-called safe congressional districts where one party’s extremists never fear losing their seats, except to someone more radical.

Overall, about 30 communities in Massachusetts are considering support for such resolutions.

“The point is for us, as American citizens, is to let our voices be heard in any way possible, and for citizens to participate in the democratization of the political process,” said Whately Selectman Paul Newlin, who has been circulating a petition to get an article on the warrant for his town’s April 26 annual meeting.

“Obviously people realize that our most recent presidential election has been seriously marred by all sorts of irregularities, and we want our elected officials to prevent that from happening in the future and to ensure that electoral democracy is in fact strengthened,” he said.

Democratic State Rep. Paul Mark, of Peru, and Congressman James McGovern, of Worcester, have sponsored proposed constitutional amendments on the state and federal levels, respectively, declaring that corporations do not have rights afforded to humans, and the Greenfield resolution would support and even “implore” the town’s elected representatives “to lead this effort to enact these initiatives.”

There are Represent.Us chapters with more than half a million members working on anti-corruption acts in 26 states. Resolutions calling for reform have been approved this year in Princeton, New jersey, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Special interests have been flooding the election process with money that gives them access, curries favor, and subtly corrupts the electoral process and government. Such influence probably has always been with us, but in the past five years Citizens United has made things worse. Elections and governing have become more about massive amounts of money given to candidates, from the left or the right.

If we think that America is about government by the people, we need to nurture that view at the grassroots level so that meaningful change can some day happen.

It’s we the people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying to reverse the course we are on. In fact, it feels like we’ve already lost control of the process when we see the influence that billionaires and national organizations on both sides wield in Washington.

It might feel OK for the moment if it’s your billionaires or corporations. But we still end up as losers if the voices of individual voters are drowned out by big money.