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. 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
(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."

(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) 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.

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

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."

Links