‘Nobody here can afford to pay a corporate lobbyist, right?” asked Joe Seeman, a volunteer coordinator for Moveon.org. “One or two percent of the population can afford a corporate lobbyist. We’re not them, we’re the other 98 percent.”
Capital Region members of Moveon.org kicked off their campaign, the Other 98 Percent, in downtown Albany on Tuesday afternoon. The campaign has three goals: Overturn Citizens United v. FEC; pass the Fair Elections Now act; and pass the Lobbyist Reform Act. Aug. 10 marked a national day of action for the five-million-member progressive movement that is seeking to highlight corporate corruption in Washington.
In January, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United in a five-to-four decision to grant corporations the same First Amendment rights as private individuals. The ruling rejected a limit on how much a corporation can spend on an election and is sure to have an impact on the upcoming midterm elections in November. In a spirited 90-page dissent, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that “the majority cavalierly ignores Congress’ factual findings and its constitutional judgment: It acknowledges the validity of the interest in preventing corruption, but it effectively discounts the value of that interest to zero.”
“A corporation isn’t a person,” said Doug Bullock, an Albany County legislator representing the 8th District. “Give me its name if it’s a person. Does it have a home?”
Tuesday’s rally was held in West Capitol Park in downtown Albany and featured guest speakers from Democracy Matters and Veterans for Peace, as well as local activists and grassroots organizers. Local musician and activist Taina Asili [Metroland, Listen Here, July 22], also performed. Poems by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou were read between speakers.
In the open mic portion of the event, Moveon.org’s Wendy Brown took the opportunity to defend President Barack Obama, who until that point had been targeted by previous speakers. Brown exchanged barbs with a heckler who made it clear he wanted Obama out of office.
The exchange highlighted Seeman’s earlier argument about the need to forsake the peripheral issues and focus on getting money out of politics. “We want the elections to be about the underlying problems that prevent us from having a functioning democracy,” he said.
Moveon.org has succeeded in getting the support of congressmen Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) for the Other 98 Percent. Meetings with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are ongoing. The campaign has support from about a dozen other lawmakers across the country and numerous candidates nationwide have pledged their support.
The Other 98 Percent’s three goals were decided upon in town hall meetings conducted by Moveon.org, in which they asked their members what problems in Washington they believe are most pressing.
Of the three goals, passing the Fair Elections Now act seems to have gained the most ground. A state version of the law was adopted in Maine in 2000 and the state now boasts that 80 percent of their elections are carried out along the law’s guidelines. In Maine’s current gubernatorial race, three candidates are using the system, including the Democratic Party nominee. Other states are following suit, albeit less successfully.
Under the federal bill, donations would be matched publicly at a four-to-one rate for candidates who adhere to certain guidelines.
The Lobbyist Reform Act’s biggest provision is that it would set a five-year moratorium on lobbyists switching to carreers in government service and vice-versa. Seeman said that one of the biggest reasons corruption in Washington is so systemic is that corporate lobbyists have been allowed to slip in and out of government posts, using their personal and professional relationships to grease the wheels of governance.
Cara Benson, another volunteer coordinator for Moveon.org, said she was encouraged by the turnout at the rally and that Moveon.org was going to continue the fight by pressuring lawmakers into supporting the Other 98 Percent and signing up citizens for the cause. “Movement building is slow,” she said. “But it’s effective.”
“We’re talking about some basic reforms,” said Seeman. “About trying to get corporate money out of the political system.” Seeman noted that while these weren’t radical ideas, seeing real change in a system that protects itself so effectively is a daunting task. “I don’t know if we’re going to be successful,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing, if we don’t do anything we’re certainly not going to be.”
Update 09/03/2010: NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has recently endorsed Moveon.org’s political campaign The Other 98%.