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The $1 Billion Gorilla in the Room

Look who's not talking about the influence of money in politics.

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

As Election Day fast approaches, the two big-party presidential campaigns are raising, and spending, money at an egregious rate; the New Yorker recently reported that the Obama and Romney campaigns are expected to spend a combined $1 billion on TV ads alone by Nov. 6.

Campaign financing is, clearly, a big deal for the two candidates—although you wouldn't know it, given how little either campaign seems to want to discuss the issue. But a coalition of activist groups wants to change that, last week producing more than 40,000 petition signatures asking that the candidates address that very matter.

The petition was delivered to PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, who will moderate the first debate between Romney and Obama, on Oct. 3. It calls on Lehrer to ask the candidates: "If elected, would you call on Congress to study and propose a Constitutional Amendment designed to reduce the influence of money in our political system?"

The signatures were collected by several national groups, including Free Speech for People (freespeechforpeople.org), which is headed by John Bonifaz, an Amherst attorney who's long been involved with voting rights and democracy reclamation efforts. Free Speech for People is working to advance a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2008 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate money in elections.

"The American people deserve answers from the candidates to this critical question facing our nation today," Bonifaz said in a press release about the petition.  "In the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, do they support a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling and reclaim our democracy?"

The announcement also referred to a recent poll by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center that showed that 83 percent of Americans favor limits on the amount of money corporations and unions can pour into campaigns. Interestingly, the poll revealed, that sentiment crosses party lines, with roughly equal percentages of Democrats, Republicans and independents saying they support such limits.

Obama and Romney, of course, aren't the only candidates running for president; other candidates vying for the job include Libertarian Gary Johnson and Massachusetts' own Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. Both Johnson and Stein would assuredly have interesting things to say about campaign finance—that is, if they were invited to participate in the debates. If you'd like the presidential debates to be more inclusive, check out Occupy the CPD (Commission on Presidential Debates) at www.occupythecpd.org. That group is putting together its own petition, this one calling for the debates to "include every candidate who is on enough ballots to win the White House and who has demonstrated a minimal level of support—meaning either 1 percent of the vote in a credible national poll, or qualification for federal matching funds, or both." (By those standards, both Stein and Johnson would qualify.)

"The presidential debates are the first opportunity for millions of voters to see the presidential contenders themselves, not just their advertising campaigns," the group notes. "These debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)—a supposedly 'nonpartisan' corporation which is a puppet of the national Democratic and Republican parties, and the big corporations that fund both of them. The CPD's criteria to be included in these debates are designed to exclude independent contenders who promote ideas that challenge those in power."

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