Money in Politics: From Bad to Worse

I really wish I wasn't writing this. Especially in the wake of Bill Clinton's formidable speech last night. But it needs to be said.

Back in 2000, I worked with Arianna at the Shadow Conventions. She and I had met the previous year because of our shared passion for ending the corrupting influence of money in politics.

We thought the problem was bad then; it's rotten now. And neither party seems any more genuine about addressing the problem now than they were then. The Republican Party platform that was unveiled last week in Tampa was flagrantly hostile to reform (despite the fact that millions of Republicans are pro reform). And the Democrats' platform is, as one centrist reform group recently said, "disappointingly tepid."

Which is why I wish I wasn't writing this. Back then, we were all hopeful things would get better. Who knew they'd actually get this much worse?

Not only is there so much more cash being pumped into the system, but Washington has become so much more transactional. As Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has observed: "The connections between policy actions or inactions and fundraising are no longer indirect or subtle." And, as former congressman Dan Glickman says in these pages today: "The volume of money raised is so high that the job has changed from public service to begging for dollars."

The business of governing has been slowly replaced by the businesses that govern. And those businesses, for the most part, either seek to rig laws to their own advantage or to maintain the status quo. As an influential lobbyist once told me, "It's a lot easier to make sure things don't happen in DC than to make them happen."

Indeed, that nothing-happening feeling is pervasive. That feeling that Washington has been shut down. That we're no longer capable of solving our most vexing problems -- problems that loom larger every day. That the people we elect to represent our best interests have become more interested in their own careers and the desires of their donors than in our collective future. That, somehow, slowly, tragically, the magnificent experiment of American democracy -- of a republic that derives its power from all of the people -- has somehow come to a grinding halt.

Of course neither Arianna nor I nor anyone at the 2000 Shadow Conventions could have predicted that a partisan Supreme Court would, ten years later, issue a ruling as brazen as Citizens United. The whole idea of limitless super PACs and direct corporate interventions in elections would have seemed improbable, archaic... something from the days of the robber barons.

But some of us did predict that, unless the money-in-politics problem was solved, the other Big Problems wouldn't be. And, indeed, they've mushroomed: The massive wealth divide; a short-sighted energy policy; the rocketing cost of health care; crony capitalism (and the financial meltdown that resulted from it); a misguided and expensive war on drugs; wasteful spending, both on the left and right. These were many of the themes then, and they still are at today's Shadow Conventions in large part because well-financed special interests have been able to make sure that reform doesn't happen in Washington.

Money-in-politics reform is the reform that enables other reforms. People get it. In a recent Gallup poll, an eye-popping 87 percent of Americans said that ending government corruption was an "extremely important" or "very important" priority for the next president -- it ranked as the #2 cause, just below job creation (at 92 percent).

87 percent is about as much support as any cause could hope to garner. And I've had countless conversations that reinforce the polls -- with Tea Party leaders and life-long Republicans who are just as vehement about the need for reform as progressive leaders. Which is why it's even more eery that it's not at least being mentioned at the conventions -- there's votes in those hills. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg posited a few months ago: "Voters believe that Washington is so corrupted by big banks, big donors, and corporate lobbyists that it no longer works for the middle class... All voters, and swing voters in particular, strongly support candidates who are willing to take on money in politics as a serious campaign issue."

Amidst the soaring speeches in both Tampa and Charlotte, HuffPost is using its megaphone to make this point loud and clear. We all should use whatever megaphones we have -- our email lists, talk radio stations, blogs, newspapers, calls to members of Congress to make it, too. We have to make it not just a recurring theme but a dominant theme as this year's election really heats up.

You could also -- just to make a purely practical suggestion -- give money to one of the great groups working on reform. They are chronically starved for resources, totally outspent and outgunned by K Street lobbyists. (Perhaps ironically, it will take big money to fight Big Money, and the fight for reform is one of the most underfunded of American causes.) There are some good links to them here. Support them, join them. Because what it comes down to is this: Unless we generate a massive, history-making surge in the fight for reform in the coming year we are likely, in another 12 years, doomed to having an even more dire conversation about the state of our country.

Let us all work as hard as we can to make sure money in politics isn't a major topic at the next Shadow Conventions.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the corrupting influence of money on our politics August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.