Only We the People Can Break Congress's Cash Addiction

Beholden to lobbyists and big-ticket donors, legislators will never flush the secret money out of politics -- unless we force them.

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The Republican Party has historically been a champion of transparency, trusting that the best way to balance free speech concerns with the growing influence of money in politics is a little sunlight. But this week, Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, filibustered the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would curtail secret money in politics. McConnell is the same senator who 12 years ago practically shouted his love of disclosure from the rooftops, telling Meet the Press that "Republicans are in favor of disclosure .... We need to have real disclosure .... Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?"

McConnell now claims that disclosure is an assault on free speech and an attempt by Democrats to harass and intimidate big donors like Charles and David Koch, who have poured unknown millions into recent elections. So why aren't Republicans supporting this version of the act, despite the fact that 91 percent of Republicans believe that PACs and political lobbyists have too much power in Washington?

Democrats point out that the GOP has benefited more from the recent flood of cash into the campaign finance system -- spurred by the January 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision and other federal court rulings. Surely, Republicans' upper hand in the super PAC race is part of the answer, but the truth is, both major parties are completely addicted to cash, and both are unwilling to go to the mat for reform.

Solving the nation's most entrenched problems See full coverage

Special-interest money in U.S. politics is a cancer that has paralyzed our democracy. Politicians now spend as much as 70 percent of their time fundraising, while policy debates are fought between competing special interests. More often than not, the public is a tertiary consideration in any given legislative debate.

The obvious results are failed banking and offshore oil drilling protections; failed health, energy, education, spending, and tax policy; and a teetering economy. However, the more insidious results take the shape of painful facts: Once the envy of the world, we are now 49th in the world in infant mortality and 50th in life expectancy. Our banks are still too big to fail, and they paid their executives massive bonuses the year after we-the-taxpayers bailed them out -- with no repercussions. This is what happens when politicians are bribed, lobbyists write the laws, and democracy becomes an auction.

Our nation's founders were expansive, outside-the-box thinkers who dared to be great. We should take a moment to think about how they would view the current system, and, more importantly, what they would do to fix it. This is the question that should be foremost in the minds of all Americans.

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Josh Silver is CEO of United Republic, a new, nonpartisan campaign to pass sweeping democracy reforms. More

Josh Silver is CEO of United Republic, a new, nonpartisan campaign to pass sweeping democracy reforms. He was campaign manager of the successful 1998 Arizona Clean Elections campaign finance reform initiative, and was co-founder and president of Free Press, a leading media and technology public interest organization.

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