Most Americans agree that big money in politics is a problem. Until recently, however, there seemed to be little hope of halting, or even slowing, the ever-growing political funding machine. Enter the citizens of the very small state of New Hampshire who are taking some very big ideas to the streets and in so doing, creating the template for a larger movement aimed at preventing corporate interests from further controlling the political process.
Writing for The Atlantic, correspondent Lawrence Lessig describes a march in which he took part last week christened The New Hampshire Rebellion. The march, organized to commemorate the one year anniversary of internet activist Aaron Swartz’s death, attracted over fifty citizens who demanded serious campaign finance reform. The New Hampshire Rebellion was the most significant march for campaign finance reform since the activist Granny D marched from Los Angeles to Washington fifteen years ago with a single sign on her chest that read “campaign finance reform.”
Throughout the 185 mile march, Lessig described the excitement of the citizenry as they looked on: “So as we walked, the people of New Hampshire reacted—wildly. They honked their horns, they came out in their pajamas, a woman painted a sign and put it on the front of her lawn. When we met them—at stores, on the street, or going door to door—they almost screamed their frustration with the current system. Indeed, one person did scream. Many were overjoyed that ‘someone was trying to do something about this’.”
Given the overwhelming current dissatisfaction of the populace with its “representation,” the potential of New Hampshire’s growing movement could be a significant factor in future elections. Lessig explains: “If just 50,000 New Hampshirites made this issue central—if they weaved a briar patch throughout the state, making it impossible for any presidential hopeful to avoid answering this single question: How are YOU going to end the system of corruption in D.C.?—then New Hampshire could create the conditions for a leader to take this issue on, credibly.”
Americans have felt powerless to correct the influx of corporate dollars since the Supreme Court ruling “Citizens United.” This decision permitted corporations, Wall Street, and the richest Americans to flood the campaign coffers of their preferred candidates. During his State of the Union address in 2010, first-term President Barack Obama publicly admonished the Supreme Court Justices who opened the floodgates for corporations. However, the President, seeking a second term in the 2012 election, ultimately embraced, benefitted from, and capitalized upon the controversial ruling. The Democratic Party, having applauded the President’s condemnation of the “Citizens United” ruling in 2009, set about the unseemly business of forming Super-PACS in 2012 to resist a right wing takeover of Congress and the White House. Obama became America’s first sitting President to form a tax-exempt 501(c) (4) group which allowed him to accept unlimited campaign funding from anonymous donors. By the end of the 2012 election, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns collectively spent $7 billion, the most expended on any presidential campaign to date.
A minority of wealthy donors continue to influence American political outcomes. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, speaking about the dangers of yet another disencumbering campaign funding Supreme Court decision, “McCutcheon v. FEC”: “If you think that a party’s got to get $1.5 billion together…that is about 450 people you need to round up. Less than 500 could fund the whole shooting match.” Clearly, in any equation where funding equals influence, and when less than 500 individuals are able to completely finance a campaign, the White House is for sale and we are no longer a democracy but a plutocracy. The possibility of such a corporate compelled government led Canadian writer John Ralston Saul to propose even as far back as 1995 that Americans are in the midst of a “corporate coup d’état in slow motion”.
The rapidly-growing movement in New Hampshire could offer citizens a vehicle through which to illuminate and eliminate corporate and special interest domination of the political process. Lessig concluded his thoughts on the New Hampshire march by explaining how the New Hampshire Rebellion has the potential to expand into other states: “As we increase the number of teams walking, we would increase the number of “GDs” (Granny D’s) walked in the name of reform. Let’s say 2,016 GDs by 2016. All across the country, but especially in the early primary states, these walkers would raise awareness of this cause, and evince a movement much more powerful than the clicktivism of online organizing.”
The American people, weary of elected officials who are increasingly beholden to campaign contributors rather than to constituents, are eager for reform; set against such a backdrop of nationwide political discontent, the significance of the New Hampshire Rebellion and its potential as catalyst cannot be ignored. As consumer rights activist Ralph Nader warns, without a vibrant and sustainable grassroots movement to challenge the status quo, Americans will continue to have a government “…of the Exxons, by the General Motors, for the DuPonts.”
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