Campaign Plans for 2001


To abolish our current campaign finance system, we must first transform the way it is portrayed. The diagnosis of an illness determines its treatment. The current debate about our system of privately financed campaigns, Public Campaign’s valiant efforts notwithstanding, revolves around policy-oriented discussions, cloaked in esoteric language, that fundamentally avoid the deep ethical questions that lie at the intersection of money and politics.

The predominant approach of tinkering with -- or reforming -- America's increasingly exclusive political process by altering the way private money flows into the system is inherently flawed because the diagnosis essentially validates the system itself, resulting in a treatment (or solution) that merely calls for incremental reform, reform that can be -- and always has been -- gutted by the self-interest of politicians, donors, and lobbyists, just as the reforms of the mid-1970's have now been gutted. Incremental steps on this issue are far too easy for established opponents to thwart. It's time to invalidate the current system as a whole and take the case for fundamental transformation of it to the people.

Because of the mild and increasingly calcified way this issue has been portrayed, it is not politically or morally damaging to argue for the existing system of privately financed campaigns. To stand against a soft money ban or for a soft money ban; to stand against raising hard money limits or for raising hard money limits are all equally feasible and, generally speaking, comfortable positions to take in today's political climate. That's because the question that frames the current debate is: "Where does the private money come from, how is it spent and what contributions constitute proper and improper forms of influence and political expression?"

However, it would be much more difficult, both morally and politically, to argue for a system that is widely thought of as one of political bribery, and just as hard to argue that deep conflicts of interest do not plague the Big Money process. The great value of changing the debate and drilling down on the deep ethical questions that exist at the intersection of money and politics is that an ethical analysis of the system is one that can only lead to the abolitionist solution. In other words, it makes no sense to try to incrementally create less bribery or less conflict of interest. They must simply be abolished.

That's why the debate must be reframed: "Should political access be for sale and, once it is, what ethical conflicts and violations of law result?" Political battles are often won by those who control the terms of the debate, and in this case too, the reform community has lost. We must begin creating – and propagating through literature, media work, and advertising – lines of reasoning and argumentation that lead directly to the need for complete transformation of the system.

The Alliance's goal for 2001 is to focus on the ethics of influence and steer political organizing away from "campaign finance reform" to "ending political bribery" by sparking dignified, nonviolent direct actions, launching a political accountability project and implementing a grassroots education effort. The goal of each of these campaign elements is to expose the illegality and deep ethical conflicts and contradictions at the heart of the current money-in-politics system, thus provoking widespread active support for a systemic transformation of the ways in which political elections are funded and run.

Bold, new, collaborative, strategic initiatives that move beyond highlighting the value of public funding to inducing the need for public funding will be implemented. Politicians must be made to feel the shame and political discomfort of participating in such a system. The campaign will take root locally by demonstrating the local effects of this national problem and engaging grassroots organizers in our political accountability work.

Six key programmatic initiatives will help fulfill the campaign's goals.

Note to chapter members: As you read through these initiatives, please consider which ones your chapter might wish to participate in, then note your areas of interest in the enclosed survey so that the Clean Elections team cancoordinate plans with you.