The Anti-Corruption Pledge

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The following includes notes taken during a morning and afternoon breakout group on the pledge at the Money Out of Politics conference held on April 14, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Notes from Rootstrikers meetups and organizing calls are also included. Please feel free to add or edit as necessary.

About

The Anti-Corruption Pledge is a voluntary pledge which can be taken by any candidate for political office, incumbent representative, and/or citizen. By taking the pledge, candidates, representatives, and citizens signal that they are working to fight against the corrupting influence of money in politics.

As a general matter, both the morning and afternoon breakout group strongly supported developing separate pledges for citizens and representatives so that the pledge could be customized for the representative similar to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, and allow for the network building needs of a citizen pledge.

Text (Substance)

Proposed Pledge Text:

Overarching Theme:

I hereby pledge to do whatever it takes to end the corrupting influence of money in our government.
Morning Breakout Feedback: (1) strong opposition to "to do whatever it takes"; (2) the group reached consensus to simply delete the phrase and allow the prefatory clause to read: "I hereby pledge to end the corrupting influence of money in our government by:" Rather, the "whatever it takes" would be defined by the specific commitments that followed.
Afternoon Breakout Feedback: (1) "whatever it takes" is too vague and could be sub'd out for "dedicate my term" (which would allow for a timeframe of accountability) or a pledge to a specific group (similar to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge: "voters in ______ district"); (2) some concerns that "corrupting" was too vague and might be sub'd out for "distorting";

Specific Commitments:

(1) Provide that public elections are publicly funded.
general principle: public financing
4/19/12 Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Feedback: Too general? Alt: voter-owned elections
(2) Limit, and make transparent, independent political expenditures.
general principle: campaign finance limits and transparency
4 Apr 2012 Meeting Feedback:

Libertarians might prefer "Make independent political expenditures transparent."

4/19/12 Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Feedback: Should there be a more direct connection made to Citizens United? Can keep the language the same, but make better use of the ? buttons to further explain/define terms, such as independent political expenditures.
(3) Close the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
general principle: lobbying bans
4 Apr 2012 Meeting Feedback:

Some people might not understand the "revolving door" metaphor and "K-Street" metonym. Alternative versions include: "Prevent Congress members from working as lobbyists immediately after leaving office" or "Forbid Congress members from working as lobbyists until at least X years after out of office" (intentionally vague number of years).

4/19/12 Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Feedback: 1) Do you think of term limits w/ this point? 2) If we take the money out, K street won't be the same. Fix $ problem, and this point will be irrelevant. 3) Important to keep expertise.
(4) Reaffirm that when the Declaration of Independence spoke of entities "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," it was speaking of natural persons only.
4 Apr 2012 Meeting Feedback:

Overall attendants appreciated the sentiment: collectives, such as unions, corporations, non-profit groups, and political action committees, are different than people (humans, natural persons, etc). Collectives should therefore have different rights.
Attendants had mixed opinions about referring the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. For example, referencing "creator" might be divisive. Furthermore, people might interpret the commitment to be an intention to foundational facts (i.e. statements in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence).
Suggestions

  • Substitute “natural”: "U.S. citizen"? Right for whom? Why rights? Speech rights?
  • Incorporate the word “same”... to say corporations don’t have the “same” rights as people instead of no rights
  • Alternative versions: “artificial persons, such as corporations, under state or federal law don’t have inalienable rights.” The government creates and therefore defines corporations, PACs, etc.
4/19/12 Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Feedback: Not just talking about corporations. Includes non-profits, unions.

Possible commitments:

  • Limit time to spend the money
  • Limit money individuals can give.. what is this amount? Could be possible to do this without limiting people
  • Cap amount of money raised

Actions (How To Gain Traction)

Proposed Actions:

(1) citizen lobbying/ bird dogging
(2) block voting - clean elections coalition model from Occupy Albany/Occupy Democracy/New York Clean Elections Voting Block (Matt Edge's suggestion)
(3) gather funding for candidates that take the pledge (a la kickstarter?)
(4) use video to document direct lobbying attempts, to create video lobbying messages for your candidate, or use video to document representative taking (or refusing to take) the pledge (are there legal concerns with advocating this approach?)
(5) use simple language ("why," "how," "what") to connect with voters and allow for easy communication to candidate and others

Related Thoughts:

4/19/12 Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Feedback: The best way to talk about it: ask people what it means to them.

Goals for the Pledge

(1) Transparency: knowing quickly for whom to vote
(2) allow candidates to run a competitive campaign (give them a platform?)
(3) support specific legislation (Fair Elections Now)
(4) develop a network of activists and supportive representatives
(5) allow competitors a method by which to unilaterally disarm
(6) there was a tension over whether the pledge text ought to trend toward general or specific language

Models

(1) The Taxpayer Protection Pledge

"Taxpayer Protection Pledge I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____ district of the) state of ______ and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

Rootstrikers Meetup Organizers' Notes

4/19/12: Workshopping the Pledge

The best way to talk about it: ask people what it means to them

1st point: too general? alt: voter-owned elections

2nd point: more direct connection to Citizens United?; keep language the same, utilize ? buttons.

3rd point: do you think of term limits?; if we take the big money out, K street won’t be the same. fix $ problem -- this point will be irrelevant; keep expertise

4th point: not just talking about corporations, including non-profits, unions.

The pledge should start conversations. our job to make connections between pledge points and what we want to see more abstractly, i.e. the people w/ the best ideas should be able to run and win office, etc.

Boston Rootstrikers Meetup Notes

4/4/12

PLEDGE:

- Rubric for real direct action

- Does language of pledge make sense? Is this what people actually want?

- Can we cross-partisan organize around the pledge?

On the pledge's specific points:

- keep term limit idea in mind

- 2nd point: Libertarians would love this point but not like the word “limit”

- 3rd point: Do people know what revolving door and K Street are?

- 4th point: jargony?

  • substitutes for “natural”: U.S. citizen? Right for whom? Why rights? Speech rights?
  • Corporations are not people slogan: too bumper stickery?
  • “artificial persons, such as corporations, under state or federal law don’t have inalienable rights.”
  • incorporate the word “same”... to say corporations don’t have the “same” rights as people instead of no rights
  • “creator” = divisive?
  • are we talking about editing foundational facts? Could be dangerous to go down this road.
  • sentiment v.s. mechanism


Other ideas: Limit time to spend the money; Limit money individuals can give.. what is this amount?; Could be possible to do this without limiting people; Cap amount of money raised

To what extent are we asking a politician to take this pledge and follow through?

- How can we really hold politicians accountable?

- lessons from the Tea Party:

  • set up meetings weekly with elected officials
  • ability to disseminate information -- in an approachable way -- and grow a large grassroots contingent of voters
  • what were politicians afraid of? would publicize their commitments and what they didn’t do. keep reminding everybody if politicians don’t change their behavior.
  • Tea Party version of these 4 points: limited government → doing what Constitution tells politicians to do, to vote and represent electorate not out raising money

- Don’t just want it to be a PR move and let everyone sign it, but don’t want to scare candidates for office

- Have to brand the pledge as a brand of honor for politicians

Two-party system:

- agree with it but separate subject?

- if we address the role of money in system, it will help open up for other 3rd party candidates

Have to be really careful to not brand it as a left or right movement

Video Testimonies: record people of different political affiliations together saying we’re different but are here for the same reason, etc.

Links