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Beyond Campaign Finance Reform And More

Putting Citizens in Charge of Democracy

People across the country aren't waiting for action from politicians and judges. Here are the hot spots where activists are getting corporations out of government and elections.

Capitol Hill
Funding Elections
Since Maine citizens passed the first law providing public funding for elections in 1996, six other states have followed suit. Clean elections remove big corporate money from politics by providing public funding for candidates who demonstrate popular support by gathering a certain number of small qualifying contributions. With help from Public Campaign, activists are working to pass new or improved Clean Elections laws in more than 40 states. Recognizing the public commitment to change, members of both houses of Congress have also introduced public campaign financing bills.

Protecting Internet Access
The Internet has provided an unprecedented platform for citizen activists, who have used it for political organizing, fundraising, and to provide news and opinion not available in the major media. But telephone and cable companies control virtually all broadband Internet access and are threatening to enclose the commons of cyberspace. A coalition of public interest groups is pushing for a series of measures that would protect net neutrality and keep technology platforms away from corporate control. For more information go to www.savetheinternet.com and publicknowledge.org.

Reclaiming the Ballot
For years, activists have raised significant concerns about the integrity of electronic voting machines. Both failures and vulnerabilities have been reported by election officials and computer scientists who have successfully “hacked” these machines. Observers say it would probably be prohibitively expensive to immediately sever these corporations' contracts. Meanwhile, members of Congress have proposed legislation that would improve the integrity of next year's elections by mandating an auditable paper trail, already a requirement in 28 states.

Pushing for Accountability
The Center for Political Accountability, an organization started by shareholder activists in 2003, uses shareholder pressure to force corporations to disclose their soft money contributions and their donations to trade associations for political purposes. CPA and its allies filed 44 shareholder resolutions related to political disclosure during the 2007 proxy season. Thirty-one large companies adopted some kind of political disclosure and accountability policies as a result.

Increasing Voting Options
Across the country, millions of voters are already using the more democratic instant runoff voting (IRV) method in local, county or state elections. Under IRV rules, voters can pick just one candidate or rank several of them. If no candidate wins a majority of first choices, the top two candidates advance to an instant runoff. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, the ballot is counted for whichever one of the top two candidates the voter ranked higher. IRV eliminates the “spoiler candidacy” defect in our current election system, making third-party candidates viable, which counters the oversized corporate influence in the two-party system. More than a dozen cities, counties, and states (for overseas voters) have adopted IRV. For more information see Fair Vote, www.fairvote.org.

Localizing Politics
From Pennsylvania to California, cities and counties are banning corporations from local politics and challenging corporate personhood and constitutional rights. For more on these movements, see stories in this section.

Deepening Democracy
Liberty Tree FDR, the Alliance for Democracy, Students for a Democratic Society and a variety of other groups converged in Atlanta at the end of June for the “Democracy Track” at the U.S. Social Forum—six days of strategizing, discussion, and exploration of “new ways to democratize all of our struggles.”


Charlie Cray is director of the Center for Corporate Policy and a member of the Strategic Corporate Initiative.

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