Outside a hot live music spot in Wilmington, NC, I excitedly talked to friends about getting folks to call their state senators and demand electronic filing of campaign finance reports. “I’d rather stick a fork in my eye,” one of my new friends said laughing. And there it was, the reality of things, the nitty gritty of campaign finance reform seemed excruciatingly dull to them.
Vice President Biden recently spoke about this conundrum associated with another important topic, voter suppression, during his appearance at Netroots Nation 2014. “…the most precious right Americans possess is the unfettered access to the ballot box…it is not as sexy, it is not as immediately heart-wrenching…,” Biden proclaimed. But for those of us who see the importance of such reforms, the question is: How can we make it a bit more sexy and heart-wrenching?
The Short Game
Don’t bet on simple transparency narratives alone doing anything meaningful. My inbox is flooded with fundraising emails touting the Koch Brothers influence on the political process – it may triple donations but seems to do little else. Let’s do more to connect the dots between contributions and legislative action/inaction. Short attention spans require accurate and quick but deeper narratives that may spark further interest and engagement. Supporting the development of phone apps that do this is a critical next step to making things more visually attractive and understandable. A great app that has many of these features is Open States. Download it!
Rhode Island is ahead of the curve on assuring candidates and committees file their campaign data electronically, but there are many states that are still flooding their election boards with paper reports. If you’re in one of those states (e.g. North Carolina), make sure campaigns are required to file data electronically. It’s the only way that our future apps will be able to quickly crunch the numbers.
The Long Game
The fluid challenges facing mainstream newspapers threatens the future of investigative journalism, the kind that gets your heart throbbing in the face of corruption and abuse of power. The apps above might be useful, but we will always need a vibrant journalistic community to inspire us to use those apps! Let’s vote with our dollar and invest in solid journalism.
Lastly, let’s not forget that any reform rests on an educated and engaged citizenry. One of my favorite quotes from President Jefferson addresses this:
“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power” (1820).
If your favored candidate for any office this fall doesn’t have a well-articulated position on assuring an enlightened society, they’re no good. Some of us learn about political engagement in home, most of us learn about it in school. The long game requires an inspiring and thorough education in civics and history.
The Last Step
This last step completes a formula for making campaign finance reform a bit more sexy: Hold elected officials accountable with your vote. Make sure every candidate you ever vote for has a well-articulated education plan and a specific position on a robust civics program.
And finally support Senator Whitehouse’s DISCLOSE Act. It’s common sense legislation from the great state of Rhode Island.