Will the President Support Us?

In his State of the Union address, President Obama was as clear as he could be: "We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can't bankroll our elections - and if our existing approach to campaign finance can't pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution."

There is a temptation to dismiss Obama's call for reform. He has expressed similar views in the past, but most of the time his actions have not matched his rhetoric. It is true that, as an Illinois State Senator and in the United States Senate, he did support campaign finance reform. But as President his record is negative. He was the first presidential candidate fully to opt out of the presidential public funding system. Even more importantly, since assuming office he has not spent any of his political capital on behalf of reform. Ruth Marcus, writing in the Asbury Park Press, details his failures. According to her, he has made no effort to compel sources of "dark money" to be reported, to require phony "social welfare" groups to disclose their political spending, to fix the dysfunctional Federal Elections Commission or to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to report their contributions http://www.app.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/01/13/marcus-obama-deliver-campaign-finance-reform/78757096/

While the temptation to be dismissive is strong, it should be resisted. For in his address, Obama did say that he was going to travel the country over the course of the next year on behalf of reform.

We should take him at his word, and provide the opportunity for him to do so.

The most important of these opportunities will be the spring actions planned for April by a coalition of reform activists. Our movement has become strong enough so that, for the first time, we are able to organize mass rallies and events in Washington. The President should be invited to endorse them.

Three separate activities are being organized in support of campaign finance reform and voting rights protection. Democracy Spring is sponsoring a march from Philadelphia's Liberty Bell to the Capital in Washington between April 2 and 11, to be followed by non-violent civil disobedience to protest Congressional inaction. Democracy Awakening is sponsoring a rally, teach-in, and concert on April 17 and 18. And Congress of Conscience is planning a Congressional lobby day on April 19.

It might be a little much to ask the President to endorse civil disobedience. But there is no reason he cannot be supportive of the other actions. After all, Obama did work as a community organizer. He understood then, and probably still knows, that only a mobilized public possesses the potential to curb the undemocratic power of wealth. To quote his address: "Changes in our political process...will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you" https://www.whitehouse.gov/sotu

In seeking a presidential endorsement of our activism, our goal is precisely to avoid in the future the disappointments we have experienced during the Obama years. Were Obama to align himself with the money in politics movement, the next President (particularly if he/she is a Democrat) will be under great pressure to move on the issue. That pressure will be particularly intense because all three Democratic Party candidates have repeatedly called for reform, and even the Republicans have been compelled to address the issue (though in almost all cases unsatisfactorily).

An important source of that growing pressure is our movement's increased political savvy and success: organizing at the grass roots and selectively endorsing reform candidates. But more than that, the American people have become increasingly aware of the nexus that exists between a political process dominated by wealthy people and an economy that favors the very rich. Tax policy that, in the name of fairness should be progressive, instead favors the rich because wealthy donors seek to protect their privileges. It is ever more obvious that political inequality creates economic inequality.

But even if Obama shuns us, the press will be watching as we demand that he back his rhetoric with support. Our approaching him will draw the media's attention. That media exposure cannot help but assist us in gaining support within a population that is increasingly ready to hear what we have to say.

In all of this, it is important to take the long view. As we get stronger as a movement, we have to be prepared to contend with a heightened push-back from super-rich. In the coming political combat, we will need all the help we can garner. Raising our demands to the level of the Presidency is a way not only to show our political relevance, but also to provide ourselves with a new level of political credibility.