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
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 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.