Earlier this month, I was arrested, along with more than 1,300 others from across the political spectrum, in a sit-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to get big money out of politics and protect voting rights.
We decided to take this dramatic step — the largest act of civil disobedience this century — because we believe our democracy is in crisis. In recent decades, running for elected office has become an increasingly costly endeavor. Recent Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC, which created the super PAC and struck down campaign contribution limits, have only exacerbated this dire problem.
The results are now painfully obvious. It is estimated that by November, $10 billion will have been spent on this election cycle, making it the most expensive in history. This flood of cash has a corrosive effect on how representative our government is of the people who elect it.
Politicians now spend up to 70 percent of their time fundraising, which means that they are in constant conversation with corporations, lobbyists and our country’s most wealthy. Being dependent on such a minuscule sliver of the population to keep their jobs consciously or subconsciously skews what issues politicians prioritize or even consider.
Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page recently concluded that the preferences of the average American appear to have a “near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” This means that our system is fundamentally broken. It responds only to the interests of the economic elite — the banks, oil and gas companies and the pharmaceutical industry, to name a few. Needless to say, this is bad news for almost all of us, regardless of your political orientation.
Polls show that this reality is not lost on most, including business leaders, who see the dominant role of money in Washington as a core cause of its paralyzing dysfunction. Most in Congress also despise the amount of time they are forced to spend begging the rich for campaign contributions.
Thankfully, we can address this corruption. The Democracy Spring campaign that organized the sit-in is calling for the passage of four already-introduced bills — including the Democracy for All Amendment and the Government By the People Act — that would effectively overturn Citizen’s United and create a public financing system for elections.
Despite the widespread consensus on the need for such reforms, these laws will never be passed without a mass movement that pressures politicians to stand up against the select few who benefit from the status quo. That’s why I was arrested and why all of us must get involved to save our democracy.