Ari Melber is a correspondent for The Nation magazine, the oldest political weekly in America, a writer for the magazine’s blog, a columnist for Politico, an attorney, and a frequent guest on The Dylan Ratigan Show.
This is his first guest post for our continuing series, “Get Money Out.”
Dylan just launched his national program to Get Money Out of Politics. Like many idealistic reforms, the proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to change American elections has drawn a pretty typical response: “Great idea — but it will never happen.”
People are skeptical because they don’t expect politicians to legislate against their self interest. I get it. Just look at the the politicians in office right now. They won through a money-driven system, so they won’t want to change it. That’s true, as far as it goes. But if you consider the history here, the fact is that politicians have repeatedly been forced to pass tough reforms curbing money in politics. How?
When President Nixon resigned over Watergate, the uprising against campaign corruption was so intense, Congress passed a bill for the first public funding of presidential campaigns in United States history. The same legislation also created the Federal Elections Commission, which regulates campaigns and public disclosures to this day.
And remember the McCain-Feingold bill to curb soft money spending? That was never supposed to go anywhere. Hillary Clinton called it the “Democratic Party Suicide Bill”! Republicans controlled the the White House and the House of Representatives in 2002, and they were on record against it.
But then the Enron scandal hit.
People were outraged over the influence that company had over our government, and suddenly a wave of anger pushed the bill onto the agenda. Here’s how one historian recounted the reversal:
“The Enron scandal. . . [turned McCain Feingold from] dead in the Republican-controlled House [to passing] with 240 votes. Where President Bush had opposed the bill during his presidential campaign, he reluctantly signed it into law.”
So yes, reforming the financial structure of our democracy is hard. And big changes don’t usually happen all on their own.
But Congress did not write McCain Feingold after Enron — the idea was already there, people were already studying it and pushing it. And when a crisis hit, they were ready. I’m not rooting for a crisis, but when a man-made crisis does happen, there’s no reason for it to go to waste.
WATCH: ARI TALKS “GET MONEY OUT”