Tuesday, April 3, 2012

House Judiciary Hearing on the Disclosure Bill

Great news for political transparency in Rhode Island!  This Tuesday, April 3rd, the Judiciary Committee at the Rhode Island Statehouse will hold a hearing on the Rhode Island Transparency in Political Spending Act, sponsored by Speaker Gordon Fox and Representative Chris Blazejewski.  As it stands now in Rhode Island, corporations and wealthy individuals can give unlimited anonymous donations to SuperPACs to influence our election cycle.  If enacted, the Rhode Island Transparency in Political Spending Act will update our election laws to require SuperPACs to disclose their donors and ensure Rhode Island citizens know who is seeking to influence our elections. 

As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, corporations and wealthy individuals can now spend unlimited amounts to influence our election cycle.  As a result, corporations can form SuperPACs and spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertisements to influence the electorate.  Under our current state election laws, SuperPACs do not have to disclose their donors.  Consequently, this election cycle Rhode Islanders can expect to be bombarded with electioneering materials from anonymous entities whose private agendas are completely hidden. 

As a small state, Rhode Island is uniquely vulnerable to outside spending during our election cycle.  It costs an estimated $30,000 to run for state legislator in Rhode Island compared to the millions of dollars that it can cost to run for office in states like Massachusetts.  We have seen donors give upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to candidates for state offices in larger states.  So, as a small state in a land of concentrated wealth, Rhode Island is a small ship on a big ocean. 

The Transparency in Political Spending Act will modernize our campaign finance laws to ensure there is a bright light shining on the money behind these otherwise anonymous political advertisements.  This law will require SuperPACs to disclose their top five donors on any campaign material.  The law will also require SuperPACs to disclose their top donors to the State Board of Elections to illuminate the world of political donors. 

This is a major step forward to make our election system as democratic as possible. For Rhode Islanders to make responsible voting decisions, we need to know who is sending us messages and who our representatives will potentially reward once they enter office.  We applaud all the state legislators who have worked to spread information to the public.

It is imperative that as many people as possible support the bill at the hearing!  The House Judiciary Committee will hold its hearing in the House Lounge, Tuesday, April 3rd beginning at 4:30.  Please join us to support voter ownership of elections!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The New York Times had a nice editorial today about the effects of Citizens United.  According to the editorial, SuperPACs have spent of $92.2 million dollars in the presidential election so far, and we're not even through the Republican primary!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Check it out!  Larry Lessig interviews ex-speaker of the House Jack Abramoff about campaign finance reform!  It's pretty long, but there's a lot of great information about the influence of money in politics.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Senate Judiciary Hearing Tomorrow!

Join us at the Senate Judiciary Committee as we testify on behalf of Disclosure in RI! The full text of the bill submitted to the senate can be found here. The committee meeting starts at 4:30 at the State House!

We will be live tweeting through our twitter, @fairelectionsri using #TIPShearing. No, we will not be offering any tips on how to shear sheep.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting Closer!

House bill 7859, entitled 'An Act Relating to Elections -- Disclosure of Political Contributions and Expenditures' was officially introduced to the general assembly on Tuesday and was then referred to the House Judiciary.

This is a big step, and we're very excited! Further details to come once our members have reviewed any and all changes made to the bill over the last few weeks. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Becoming Brazil?

Is the US becoming Brazil? And what is meant by Brazil is not the “cuddly BRIC”, a cliché repeated by the media that only describes accurately the southern half of the country from the mid 90s onwards. Nor the land of beaches, carnival, caipirinhas et al –there are several ways in which New England is not Rio de Janeiro. This is the Brazil I am referring to: the one that has been sadly famous for being the global wealth inequality champion, the textbook example of a corrupt, patrimonial state.

Corruption is rampant in Brazil, today more so than ever. Even a relatively apolitical city like Rio has witnessed several mobilizations against corruption in 2011. Fourteen months into her first term, Dilma Rousseff has lost seven cabinet ministers to corruption scandals. Against the wishes of 79% of Brazilians, the President is unable to veto a bill that would amnesty illegal loggers in the Amazon… because parliament is in the hands of the pro-legislation lobby.

Does this ring a bell?

There are multiple explanations for Brazil’s endemic corruption. Institutions left in place by the Portuguese –or the lack of them. Unspecified cultural phenomena. Brazilians’ inability to tell the difference between what is publicly and privately owned. Using soccer players as role models. But the most interesting explanation I have come across blames the problem on campaign finance.

In an article published in the Brazilian edition of Diplo, Francisco Fonseca explains why this is the case. In the first place, campaigns are privately funded. In the second place, Brazil -like most democracies in the world and unlike the US- has a multi-party system that requires coalitions between its 28 different parties. This is not bad per-se, but mix it with number one, add existing wealth inequalities, and voilà –what you get is a kleptocracy. One in which every cabinet minister, coming from a different party, keeps a very busy agenda rewarding his and his party’s private sponsors. Fortunately Fonseca provides a solution to this problem. Hint, hint, it has to do with the title of this blog...

One might feel tempted to point out that the US is not endemically corrupt, and is in fact a rich and developed country –unlike Brazil. Yes, the US is less corrupt than Brazil (excluding Providence, of course. And not viewing lobbying as legalized corruption). As for underdevelopment, Brazil is not a developing country anymore –it is the world’s third largest commercial aircraft producer. And as former president Cardoso’s once said, Brazil is not poor; Brazil is unequal.

Where the comparison ends is in future trends. Despite huge challenges ahead Brazil is slowly becoming more egalitarian. In the US the opposite is taking place, and in fact has been taking place for the past thirty year. Citizens United vs. FEC points out to a dismal future, corporate rule not being the best way to fight inequality. And so at last we are “compelled to face with sober senses” the road that lies ahead. The US could become Brazil… with stagnant growth and growing inequality instead of samba. That is, the US could become Nigeria.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hope for National Disclosure

This article shows that senators are starting to get more serious in their rhetoric and discourse surrounding super PAC regulations - possibly the seeds of a proposed national bill regarding campaign regulations?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Victory for Campaign Finance Reform

This afternoon, Rhode Island scored a huge victory for campaign finance reform. Governor Chafee, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and House Speaker Gordon Fox endorsed the Transparency in Political Spending Act (TiPS), our coalition’s top priority this legislative session. Our bill sponsors, Representative Chris Blazejewski and Senator Juan Pichardo, as well as Senate Minority Leader Algiere and John Marion of Common Cause RI were also there to voice their support.

Our message is clear: we, Rhode Islanders, want to know where the money is coming from. In Rhode Island alone, $1.9 million was spent in the 2010 elections through independent expenditures. But who were the sources or figures aiming to shape our elections? With this bill, previously unregulated political expenditures must be fully disclosed, making clear whose interests are being promoted by these messages.

“Campaign finance disclosure is absolutely vital to the health of our representative democracy."

- Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feingold rips Dems for "dancing with the devil"

All right, maybe not "rips," but definitely some scolding over on former Sen. Russ Feingold's Progressives United blog today. Responding to a Politico report on the growth of the Senate Dems SuperPAC, Feingold critiques Dems' putting politics above principle by embracing this opportunity for limitless fundraising:

Democrats should never use unlimited contributions to fund their campaigns, and their participation in and enthusiasm for this type of cynical politics will only foil them in the long run. Our leaders are defined by the company they keep, and this company is corrupt.

Feingold, of course, was defeated in 2010 in a reelection campaign in which—despite facing a well-funded opponent—the Senator refused to take any money from special interest groups and asked them not to run ads in his support.