UPDATE: Sign this new petition from Lawrence Lessig and Rootstrikers to demand an FEC hearing on Super PACs following Monday’s statements on corruption from FEC chairwoman Ellen Weintraub.

We all know that elections in this country are far from a healthy state.

GX ED StickerSuper PACs, voter ID laws, $7 billion in election spending, and long polling lines mark most of our memories of the torrid 2012 election season.

Referring to those who waited hours upon hours to vote in states like Florida, Obama said, “We have to fix that.” He mentioned it again on Inauguration Day last week. And “fix it” we must, even though writers at the Huffington Post and Washington Post agree inaction is likely.


Since the Voter ID laws have proven to be largely partisan assaults on voting rights and outcomes primarily in Black and Latino (i.e. Democrat-leaning) communities in the first place, bi-partisan collaboration on solutions that would likely draw power and election victories away from the Republican party has solicited an openly hostile response to fixing this ‘democracy-problem.’ But, as we know, ignoring threats to democratic process is not a way to make these problems go away, and supporting pushes for vote reform is good. So let’s keep at it.

But even if this badly-needed vote reform succeeds, we have a major democracy-ulcer that must be treated: The broken-wing, stalemate agency known at the Federal Election Committee.

When Obama has spoken on behalf of badly-needed reforms in our elections, he limits his discourse to complications in the administration of voting itself. This breed of chaos roosts in the realm of counties and is largely pushed by external conservative lobbying hubs such as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). However, the FEC DOES have the authority to make our elections more democratic by enforcing and specifying laws around campaign finance.

“In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) – the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.”
FEC.gov: “About the FEC” 

Remember the SCOTUS Citizens United decision and all the uproar about lack of specificity and concerns about dark money funneled anonymously into the election through 501c4 ‘shadow nonprofits’? Well, the FEC could have regulated that. The FEC could also more stringently penalize those who break election campaign finance laws.

The McCain-Feingold Act (2002) increased the maximum monetary penalties for these violations. But, as noted by FixTheFEC.org, the FEC rarely seeks these raised maximum penalties and often doesn’t pursue violations at all. John McCain bitterly refers to the FEC as a “muzzled watchdog” and “the little agency that can’t.”

So even what few laws we have managed to pass to protect our democracy simply aren’t enforced by the good old FEC. WHY?! Well, maybe you guessed it, but the bulk of the problem lies in partisan gridlock:

“The Commission is made up of six members, who are  appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Each member serves a six-year term, and two seats are subject to appointment every two years. By law, no more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for any official Commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions.”
FEC.gov: “About the FEC” 

Ha! Nice try with the whole, ‘encouraging nonpartisan decisions’ part, but it’s just NOT happening y’all. Records of the commission gridlock along party lines has years of records of formal complaints, and the lack of movement has resulted in the alarming fact that only one of the six commissioners is currently serving within their term limit.

Update: Bauerly left the FEC on Feb. 1, 2013. Image courtesy of CREW (Citizens for Ethics in Washington)

Update: Bauerly left the FEC on Feb. 1, 2013. Image courtesy of CREW (Citizens for Ethics in Washington)

Fortunately, one commissioner, Cynthia Baurely, resigned this year and left the FEC on Feb. 1, 2013. Four more expired term commissioners remain, but need to replace Bauerly will hopefully spark a transition. In with the new, for the sake of our ailing democracy. In a post-Citizens United world, there is no time for extra bickering in the Wild West of unlimited campaign spending and $7 billion elections. We need to enforce what campaign finance laws do exist, period.

I would hope that this is a breakthrough in getting some needed changes on the commission and moving away from the dysfunctional FEC that we’ve had for the last few years,” Democracy 21 President Frank Wertheimer stated this month. But we’ll see how it goes. 27,285 people have signed a petition to the White House to FixTheFEC. The White House responded to the petition, but with little real substance or commitment to actually create badly needed change at the FEC.

President Obama, in your State of the Union address on Feb. 12, there are many things we want you to address and take a stand on: dealing with climate change, ending the wars and drone strikes, and restoring our democracy. Don’t forget about this last part during your final term. Remember your campaign promise: “We have to fix that.” Get the expired commissions OUT of the FEC, and nominate qualified candidates for the Senate to pass. This year.

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2012 certainly hasn’t been boring! Thanks to you and the hundreds of other people who are part of the Elect Democracy campaign, we’ve taken action to free our democracy from the moneyed grip of corporate interests… Thank you.

Here are some Elect Democracy campaign highlights:

“How Wall Street is Burning Democracy” Report and Legislative Scorecard: We made it easy to find out how much Wall Street gave to Congressional campaigns to check how often Congresspeople voted in line with Wall Street’s lobby position on free trade bills, Wall Street regulation, the bailout, and more. The Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine, Alternet, Nation of Change, Daily Kos, and dozens of other news outlets covering our shocking revelation that Wall Street spends over $1,331 per minute on political influence via lobbying and campaign money.

RNC/DNC: We brought our legislative scorecard and report to Tampa and Charlotte where we marched on both conventions with our call to get corporate money out of our democracy.

Stick It to Super PACs: Just days before the most expensive U.S. election of all time we used email, phone, and social media to clog the gears of the ominous Super PACs! GOOD magazine, Upworthy, and others helped us spread the message. Over 1,500 people Stuck It to Super PACs on October 25th! You can still take action here.

Election Day: do you remember that exact moment when the election was called and we learned that Barack Obama would remain President? I do. What has this election meant to you? Leave a comment on our blog.

#StopTPP: I joined social, labour and faith based groups on the US/Canada border earlier this month to stop the TransPacific Partnership. To learn more about this ominous, 13 country free trade deal (and our work to stop it), read my blog about the TPPxBorder rally we attended on the U.S.-Canada border.

All that and so much more! A great place to read all about it is our online Media Center which has a vast collection of articles about our work this year.

Next year, we have even more ways to take action. Elect Democracy is taking on the hired hands that call the shots in DC: big shot lobbyists. From challenging Super PAC millions to lobbyist billions, our work is going to be fun, tough, and more important than ever.

We’ll also need your help. Compared to the amount of money flowing from Wall Street to Washington, when you see all we have accomplished, we truly make the most of every penny.

Consider giving a Global Exchange membership to a friend this season and support Elect Democracy.

Again, thank you so much for your action. I look forward to starting 2013 with refreshed energy and refueled strategies.

Happy Holidays!

Over $629 million in Super PAC (Political Action Committee) spending didn’t sway U.S. voters as significantly as expected in this past election, but in the coming months will the billions spent in corporate lobbying sway Congress?

Lobbying is a multi-billion dollar industry. While it’s technically true that any constituent can go lobby or try to persuade their legislators, the vast majority of lobbying that is happening in our capitals is funded by -and promotes- corporate interests.

Tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists call the DC area home. Since 2008, Wall Street has spent over $2.2 billion on lobbying, largely in order to weaken and squirm out of financial regulations. Add in the pharmaceutical, HMO, agribusiness, business, oil & energy, and defense/militarism sectors and we’re talking nearly $4 billion since 2011 spent specifically to get corporations unprecedented (and undue) influence over all those folks we just elected into office.

In this year’s election, nearly $6 billion was spent to influence the 120 million votes of the American electorate. Compare that to the $2 billion spent lobbying by the top corporate sectors this year to influence a handful of decision-makers. No matter who gets into office, once the elections are over, corporations spend billions to influence the victor. While the corporate elite gave well-financed electioneering an old college try, now these interests will be lobbying harder than ever to influence the decisions of around 750 hundred key decision-makers (Congress, presidential administrators, and state and federal offices like the EPA, SEC and FDA) to get what they want directly from the people who can give it to them. If you were a greedy businessman, what would you do?

Sheldon Adelson may be lamenting, “I spent $60 million and all I got were these lousy House seats.” But now Adelson can just reroute money into lobbying, pay someone in a suit seven figures to put his feet up on the desk of a Congressperson, and still get a lot of what he wants, or at least less of what he doesn’t.

I don’t get to put my feet up on my Congressperson’s desk. I mean, I could try, but I would probably get in trouble. So why don’t lobbyists? They don’t deserve the proximity of influence and mental bandwidth of our elected leaders that their corporate-funded tactics afford them. Besides, these lobbyists usually aren’t even members of the constituencies that decision-makers were elected to represent!

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. But the speech of people hired by corporations to do their bidding in Washington needs to be reined in. On the heels of an historical election and shifting political paradigm, we must be prepared in our civic activism to challenge corporate power plays beyond those unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. We must be vigilant in challenging the undue influence of corporate lobbyists. The voters and constituencies who just cleaned out DC expect integrity, and this means that legislators need to say NO to corporate lobbyists spoon-feeding them profit prioritizing policy and analysis… that’s not who they are elected to represent.

Voting truly does matter, but a healthy democracy requires ongoing participation.

If you want to take action to protect democracy now that the election has concluded, consider looking into Global Exchange’s Elect Democracy campaign and follow @ElectDemocracy and @GlobalExchange on Twitter.

See for yourself how much campaign money the last Congress received from Wall Street and their “Wall Street Loyalty Rate” based on how often their votes matched Wall Street’s lobby position. Most importantly, call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.

Fact Sources:

  • SuperPACs spent $629 million: MapLight.org
  • Election cost $4.2 billion: Center for Responsive Politics:  OpenSecrets.org
  • Lobbying costs: Center for Responsive Politics for a) $2.2 billion Wall Street in 2012, and b) $4 for top sector lobbying (opensecrets.org)


  • Make the Call! Call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.
  • Leave a comment with your ideas about how to challenge the undue influence that corporate lobbyists have in DC.