Government by the People, Not the Polluters

Ever since the Supreme Court's disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC, big polluting, big money campaign donors have been allowed to wreak havoc on our democracy, drowning out the voices of everyday Americans by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns and lobbying, warping our government's priorities. But, today, we're taking some important steps to fight back. Important legislation was introduced in Congress this week that would help again make our democracy accountable to we the people.

This week, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced the Government By the People Act -- a vital first step supported by diverse voices ranging from those of us at the Sierra Club to the National Education Association to the Communications Workers of America to our friends at the NAACP. At a time when the story of our political system is about who has the most money, this bill would help refocus the debate on who has the most support from everyday Americans.

This bill closes the floodgates on the big money flowing into our government and changes the focus not to the demands of the wealthiest few, but back to the voices of the American people.

We need that now more than ever. Millions from the Koch Brothers and the likes of Art Pope in North Carolina are trying to destroy the notion of accountability that is so crucial to our democratic system. More and more money is coming in from fewer and fewer people. And what's worse? A huge proportion of this cash is coming from the massive bank accounts of a few big polluters.

Look at the facts. In the last two months of the 2012 election cycle, polluter-backed groups spent $270 million on political ads. The Koch Brothers, who have made their fortune from oil, pumped over $400 million into campaigns in 2012 alone. That's more than the John McCain campaign spent in all of the 2008 presidential cycle coming from just two people.

That means if you are a Sierra Club volunteer and you want to fight to get rid of the dirty coal giving your kid asthma, you have to compete with that. If you want to fight back against the oil company that dumped thousands of gallons of toxic tar sands oil in your front yard when a pipeline exploded, you have to compete with that. And if you want to end the billions in tax subsidies that big oil gets every year and instead invest in clean energy, you have to compete with that.

Like the rest of the country, we're sick and tired of a government that responds only to big money. And we're sick of paying the costs of those warped priorities in the form of sick children and toxic fossil fuel policies that contaminate our air, our water and our climate.

The Government By The People Act will help change that by lifting up the voices of everyday Americans and taking a step toward a democracy that is -- as the bill's title suggests -- of, by and for the people.

This legislation encourages the use of small dollar contributions and contributions from $1 to $150 from everyday Americans like you or I will be matched on a six to one basis by the "Freedom from Influence Fund," that works only to protect the voices from everyday people, not big money donors. Plus, the first $25 that people donate will be eligible for a "My Voice" refundable tax credit. And, campaign finance laws will be strictly enforced to ensure that the source of all contributions is publicly disclosed.

The Sierra Club is proud to stand with our labor, civil rights and good government allies in support of the important efforts of Congressman Sarbanes. We know that when we create a more level playing field, we're empowering those in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color who have been dealing with toxic dirty fuel contamination for decades. We know that when we lift up the voices of all Americans -- and not just the 1 percent -- we lift up the voices of more champions for clean air, clean water and clean energy. And we know that by curbing the influence of big money campaign donors, we'll be able to restore accountability to Congress and our government.

Citizens United and a series of other Supreme Court decisions have given big polluters the power to buy a bullhorn that drowns out the speech of everyday Americans. It's time to turn their volume down. Let's get started by passing the Government By The People Act into law now.