When CNN asked for input from the public on topics for last night’s Democratic debate, they were flooded with hundreds, possibly thousands, of questions about getting big money out of politics. But none of the moderators asked a single question about it, either unaware of or indifferent to the groundswell of people who wanted to hear more from the candidates on this issue.
Even without a question posed, money in politics was a pervasive theme throughout the night. Jim Webb kicked off the debate by acknowledging that “people are disgusted with the way that money has corrupted our political process” and painting himself as a leader who hasn’t been “coopted” by the system. Bernie Sanders wove the issue throughout his comments, connecting it to everything from climate change to Wall Street regulation. He brought up the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision more than once, saying that Americans rightly “want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United.”
The candidates are not only right to bring up the big-money takeover of our democracy -- they’re smart to do so. Polling consistently shows that this is a top issue for voters and that Americans are looking for leaders who will fight for reform. More than nine in ten voters want to see their elected leaders work to lessen big money’s influence in elections.
But we want to hear more from candidates about how they will actually make reform happen. The leading candidates have laid out agendas on money in politics reform that include a range of solutions, from a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United, to disclosure of secret political spending, to small donor empowerment measures. The CNN moderators missed a ripe opportunity to ask the candidates how they would put these plans in place if they become the next president.
At the next debate, it’s time to move from talking about the problem of big money to talking about the solutions.