FLORIDA, May 21, 2013 — Activists on the left and right alike believe that the “other side” is inherently more corrupt. Is malfeasance an equal problem on both ends of the political spectrum? During the years ahead, is the influence of special interest groups expected to strengthen?
Represent.Us is a champion of the American Anti-Corruption Act. What does this proposed legislation entail? If passed into law, would the American Anti-Corruption Act be more effective than past government reforms?
Josh Silver is the director of Represent.Us, an advocacy group with an ambitious mission: to curtail the power of special interest groups as well as the corrupting influence of lobbyists. Needless to say, in order to accomplish this, it is proposing grand-scale reforms on America’s political scene.
In this second part of our discussion, Silver answers the questions listed above. He also tells us a bit about his life and career.
Joseph F. Cotto: Activists on the left and right alike believe that the “other side” is inherently more corrupt. In your opinion, is malfeasance an equal problem on both ends of the political spectrum?
Josh Silver: Corruption has so deeply infected our political system that trying to figure out which major party is more corrupt only distracts from the fact that the whole system is broken, and every politician is trapped. Grassroots liberals and conservatives understand this, and will be better served by focusing on fixing the system rather than squabbling over which side of the aisle is more corrupt.
Cotto: During the years ahead, do you expect the influence of special interest groups to strengthen? Why or why not?
Silver: It’s going to keep getting worse until we have another moment similar to 1974, when a raft of reforms were passed just after the Watergate scandal. Special interests will continue to grow in size and power, and they will figure out more effective ways to spend SuperPAC and other “independent expenditure” money to influence political outcomes. Many point out that Republican SuperPACs didn’t do well in 2012. You can be sure they are overhauling how and where they spend their money next time.
Cotto: Represent.Us is a champion of the American Anti-Corruption Act. What does this proposed legislation entail?
Silver: • Stop politicians from taking money from those they regulate
• Limit superPAC contributions and “coordination”
• Prevent job offers as bribes (revolving door)
• Call everyone who lobbies a lobbyist
• No fundraising while congress is in session
• Limit lobbyist donations by 80%
• End secret money
• Disclose “bundling”
• Enforce the rules
• Create a small donor tax rebate/voucher
Cotto: If passed into law, do you believe that the American Anti-Corruption Act would be more effective than past government reforms?
Silver: The only way to fix this problem is an aggressive political campaign pointing out how bad things have become. And this will resonate – because the American public senses that money runs politics, even if they can’t put their fingers on how. You can’t change this culture of governance built over a generation by limiting PAC contributions. You have to disassemble each and every one of the things that contribute to the primacy of money in political power. Implementing all the elements of the American Anti-Corruption is a first step.
Get those things done, and you have a chance that the next generation of politicians and government decision-makers will think differently and operate in a different culture of what is possible, normal, and conventional. But we would be foolish to believe that a culture of corruption that developed over decades can be undone overnight. We must fix our democracy through exactly the same kind of slow and painful social change that broke it in the first place. We have to create the conditions in which “normal” is better.
This doesn’t mean that politicians will suddenly become enlightened overnight. It just means we’ll have a better chance that the actual needs of society will more frequently be met by the actions of its government. With this in mind, we have crafted an Act that is the most robust, comprehensive reform of its kind ever proposed in our nation’s history. It would completely transform the power structure in Washington, and hand it back to everyday Americans. It’s strong medicine… as robust as the corruption problem is rampant.
Cotto: Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Silver: Back in 1997, when I was in my 20’s, I planned to go abroad to help work at refugee camps. A mentor of mine said “no, you need to stay here in America, because money in politics corruption is compromising our democracy.” He made the case that if I could help fix that problem, the ripple effect; the actual change I could create would be far greater than going abroad.
It was at that point that I became a “structuralist.” That is, I realized that the greatest potential for creating positive change in the world comes from creating democratic structures that prevent corruption, and promote the free flow of information and ideas. I’ve been working on those two issues all of my adult life, and I intend to keep doing so for the rest of it. Hopefully, when I’m an old man reflecting on my life, I will have moved the needle in the direction of integrity, freedom, and justice for all.
Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto
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