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A Crisis of Democracy

February 23, 2018 | Francoise Stovall

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We have a national crisis of mass shootings, exacerbated by our crisis of democracy.

The latest, horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, has brought renewed attention to the way the NRA circumvents the will of the vast majority who seek commonsense solutions to gun safety. By pouring millions from the gun lobby into political campaigns and lobbying, the NRA has changed the terms of the debate — away from constituents who are scared for their lives and in favor of the $20 billion per year gun industry whose main motivation is to sell more guns. Their ability to do this comes from their wealth and the lax campaign finance laws that allow them to leverage that wealth into political power.

The survivors of the Parkland shooting understand this relationship perfectly. “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face it was a ‘terrible tragedy,’ I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the NRA,” student Emma Gonzales said in a speech over the weekend. David Hogg, another student survivor, told CNN: “If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers, why are you running?”

At the CNN townhall following the shooting, Cameron Kasky, one of the survivors of the shooting, asked Sen. Marco Rubio directly: “Will you tell me now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” Rubio declined.

The NRA is just one example of a wealthy special interest leveraging its money to set the terms of the debate in its favor. The same dynamics are at play with the oil and gas industry, for example. The vast majority of people want safe drinking water and breathable air, and they aren’t being heard because they can’t fund a super PAC. The vast majority want affordable and quality health care, but they can’t compete with the lobbyists the insurance and pharmaceutical companies send to Capitol Hill, and so their needs are ignored.

We have to solve the underlying crisis of money distorting and redirecting our democracy, or we will be unable to address the other problems we face in a sustainable and lasting way. Rather than rely on big donors and large checks, we can change the way we fund campaigns to center regular people who can give $5, $10, or $27 to a campaign. Through public matching of small donations (usually at a 5-to-1 or 6-to-1 rate) those small donations add up to real power. It’s our best tool for reshaping the terms of the debate to the will of the sensible majority.

This isn’t just a theoretical idea, either. Cities and states across the country have or are in the process of implementing small-donor public financing programs. In places where it’s working – Connecticut, New York City, Maine, Seattle – we see elected officials who are more accountable and responsive to their voters, and less reliant on a narrow segment of very rich people. These lawmakers might still meet with corporate lobbyists, but because they don’t depend on them for campaign cash, they don’t have to give those views more weight than those of their constituents.

We must get to work solving this nation’s crisis of mass shootings before more people are murdered. But we don’t just have a national crisis of mass shootings.

We have a national crisis of income inequality and unfair taxation, exacerbated by our crisis of democracy.

We have a national crisis of polluted water, polluted air, rising sea levels, and eroding coasts, exacerbated by our crisis of democracy.

We have a national crisis of health care, dental care, and reproductive justice, exacerbated by our crisis of democracy.

We have a national infrastructure crisis. We have a national labor organizing crisis. We have a national mass incarceration crisis. All exacerbated by our crisis of democracy.

Let’s fix the crisis of our democracy.


 

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Francoise Stovall

Francoise Stovall is the digital director at Every Voice.