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Editorial Note: This piece was first published as part of the Huffington Post's Shadow Convention discussion on money in politics and on my Huffington Post blog.
The growing influence of money in politics threatens to corrupt our representative form of government, where the people – through their votes – are supposed to make the decisions.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, we seem to be headed toward recognizing only the most explicit forms of corruption, where a candidate agrees with a donor to vote a certain way when elected, to justify limits on big-money in campaigns. But special interests that seek and receive special access, special consideration and special treatment once the candidate is elected to office also corrupt our politics and distort the democratic process where the voter is meant to come first.
As the Republicans convene in Tampa and the Democrats in Charlotte, it is a good time to reflect on the impact special interest money has, not just in elections, but on the political parties through their national conventions. Both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have a history of corporate and lobbyist contributions. For example, lavish parties at the national conventions highlighting Members of Congress and sponsored by lobbyists and lobbying organizations in order to gain favor or influence have been staples of convention activities for decades. The influence lobbyists and their organizations can have over elected officials has been well documented, and the League of Women Voters (LWV) has been at the forefront in seeking to limit this influence.
LWV recently joined with our coalition partners in a letter asking members of the U.S. House to honor new congressional ethics rules prohibiting Representatives from participating in parties at the national conventions that are paid for by lobbyists or lobbying organizations and are held to “honor” them. The new rule was put into place to limit the favor and influence lobbyists and lobbying organizations gain by holding these parties.
For the convention itself, the Republicans openly accept direct corporate donations and display corporate sponsorship from the likes of Chevron, Coca-Cola, Google, and Ford on their host committee website.
This year for the first time, Democrats proudly proclaimed that they would not accept corporate donations to provide the sizable financial backing needed to host their national convention. However, a new group, the New American City Inc., is accepting big-money, corporate donations to pay for convention-related activities for the Democrats.
Last month, Dan Murrey, the executive director of the Democratic National Convention’s host committee, Charlotte in 2012, explained:
"I guess it comes down to how you define ‘the convention.’ The distinction we've drawn is that there are official convention activities that are in the program, that are gavel-to-gavel, have minutes, the whole bit. And then there is all the stuff that happens outside of that."
At the League, we aren’t so sure it is so easy to draw boundaries between the ‘official’ business at the conventions and the other events and activities happening in Charlotte and Tampa during the conventions.
While the two major political parties are showing different sensitivities to big-money, corporate and special interest donations, there’s clearly a flood of money coming to both conventions in some manner, with the special interest influence that won’t be far behind. These special interests are betting big money not only with the conventions, but also on the elections – and spending huge sums to attempt to ensure the outcome they desire.
We know the best and only response to the flood of money is a flood of voters. Those voters are deciders in the race for President and for every election race from the top of the ticket to the bottom. Empowering those voters to show up at the polls is a job the League has always welcomed and has always done well!
This election season, LWV is doing everything we can to ensure voters have all of the information they need to cast their ballots. We recently launched a new and improved VOTE411.org, a website that provides voters with a personalized voting guide containing up-to-date information needed to cast a ballot. Since 2006, VOTE411.org has provided millions of voters with information, including absentee and early voting options, registration deadlines, ID requirements, the candidates’ vision for America’s future, and other important updates regarding any changes you can expect to see at the polls this year.
In addition to turning out a flood of voters on Election Day, we are also working towards solutions to limit the influence of money in politics. We’ve joined with our coalition partners to urge President Obama to fix the broken Federal Elections Commission which is tasked with policing money in elections. Short of stemming the tide of unlimited money flowing into politics, we are strong advocates for disclosure requirements so that voters know where the money is coming from. And we are committed to educating the public on these issues and providing the information they need to make informed decisions.
We may not know the outcome of the election in November, but we already know it is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. Voters this November will be voting on the issues that most directly impact them and their communities. They’ll be voting on the economy, jobs, health care, the environment, and education, to name just a few. They’ll be voting because it is important to them, their neighbors and their community and because voting is one of the few ways we have to take control on these critical issues facing our nation.
For more than 90 years, the League of Women Voters has been fighting to make democracy work. We continue to work to create an equal, open and honest election process and to maximize citizen participation.