×

Why is no one asking candidates about THIS?

Three debates into the presidential season and the candidates have yet to be asked about an issue vital to both Republicans and Democrats: how they will restore balance to our democracy.

Voters and candidates agree our politics are now dangerously tilted toward the wealthy; the New York Times reports that only 158 families – in a nation with 120 million households — have contributed $176 million this year; that's more than half of the money invested in the presidential election.


Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Jeb Bush argue during the presidential debates on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California.
Getty Images
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Jeb Bush argue during the presidential debates on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California.

And yet, none of the candidates have been asked about the issues raised by Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that determined political spending by corporations is protected under the First Amendment — they can spend as much as they want, as long as it's not through a specific party or candidate. This ruling essentially put wealthy special interests in the front row of our politics and pushed the rest of us into upper balcony.

Candidates seem eager to talk about the issue. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Sen. Jim Webb raised it in the first Democratic debate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who've released comprehensive plans for reform, skirted it throughout the debate, even though the power of big money touches on other problems they discussed, including racial and economic inequality, guns, foreign policy, and climate change.

Among Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham has said overturning Citizens United would be a priority in his administration, while Donald Trump has asserted that candidates who solicit big money are beholden to the donors and super PACs that provide it.

The candidates' interest should be no surprise. Recent Public Policy Polling surveys found that a majority of primary voters in both parties believe that special-interest groups and corporations should have to disclose their donors.



So why aren't the candidates being asked about this in debates? Voters in both parties clearly want not only to hear from the candidates but to see specific commitments to advance political reform.

Common Cause and 12 other public-interest organizations have endorsed the "Fighting Big Money, Empowering People" agenda which lays out achievable ideas to make sure every voice is heard in the corridors of power. It explains how small donor-based public financing, political-spending disclosure, and sensible campaign-contribution limits can give us a government that works better for everyone, not just the wealthy. The plan also calls for protecting Americans' right to vote, overturning Citizens United, and reforming the Federal Election Commission so that campaign-finance laws are enforced and lawbreakers held accountable.

Reforming campaign finance would bring more people into civic life, rather than permitting a handful of millionaires and billionaires to dominate it. Because voting is the great equalizer of our democracy, we must also make sure that every American can easily access the ballot and preserve the principle of one person, one vote.

As Common Cause Board Chair and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has said, "The central issue of our time is not the size of government, but who the government is for." The next election should be about more than who raises the most money or has the richest supporters or who tweets the most outrageous lines, but rather who has the best policies for Americans. To counter today's wealth-dominated politics and extreme inequality, we must ensure that everyone has a voice in government.

Commentary by Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy. He is a former state legislator and Secretary of the State of Connecticut and a former president of Demos.