Welcome to the first installment of the Democracy Initiative's monthly newsletter. We have had an exciting start to 2014 and look forward to advancing the critical issues facing our nation: money in politics, voting rights, and Senate rules reform.
We would like to take this opportunity to update you on our recent work.
2014 Democracy Initiative Convening
On January 8, 2014, the Democracy Initiative held a follow up meeting to our first large gathering in December 2012. More than 120 people attended from more than 55 organizations including leaders from several organizations.
The group discussed immediate campaign opportunities for action around changes in Senate rules, federal legislation to amend the Voting Rights Act, as well as threats and opportunities in states around voting rights and money in politics. Participants discussed the intersection of these various issues and how to integrate democracy work into the mission of their organizations. Participants committed to follow up with similar events in one or two states, work to provide more resources for small groups, and to engage across comfort areas in new issues.
Voting Rights TeleTownhall
On January 8th following the convening, Democracy Initiative hosted a TeleTownhall on voting rights with more than 23,000 participants. Ably hosted by NAACP Interim President and CEO Lorraine C. Miller, the call featured CWA President Larry Cohen, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia, America Sustainable Business Council CEO David Levine, and U.S. Student Association President Sophia Zaman.
This was a great educational opportunity to engage our activists and involve them in the ongoing voting rights debate.
A virtual teach-in engaged thousands of Americans on January 21 as Demos, MoveOn.org, and Democracy Initiative sponsored the effort to educate Americans on the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case on the 4th anniversary of the decision. Moderated by Demos' Heather McGhee and joined by panelists Garlin Gilchrist of MoveOn.org, Liz Kennedy of Demos, George Kohl of CWA, and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) also joined to discuss his Government by the People Act.
The panel then discussed opportunities and happenings in states, what the country is like four years after Citizens United, and how people can get involved. Viewers were able to ask questions through Twitter making this an interactive digital experience.
Democracy Initiative Around Town
The Democracy Initiative's Greg Moore joined FairVote's Promote Our Vote Workshop: Act Locally, Think Nationally on January 31, bringing together voting rights advocates from across the country to connect and collaborate for a better democracy.
Greg also moderated a forum on February 4 at the America Votes State Summit in Washington, DC featuring Bob Bauer, Co-Chair of the President's Commission on Election Administration. Bauer highlighted the recently released report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration which makes some excellent recommendations for improving elections including modernizing voter registration, improving access to polls, utilizing state of the art techniques to effectively manage polling places, and reforming standards and certification for new voting technology.
CWA President Larry Cohen presented at Brennan Center for Justice’s convening The Governing Crisis & Democratic Dysfunction: Exploring Solutions, articulating the continued need to reform the Senate so Senators can do the work they were elected to do. He specifically advocated for continued efforts to reform Senate rules to ensure a talking filibuster, and have 40 votes to continue debate as well as codifying into rules the changes that went into effect for this Congress.
Government by the People Act
On February 5th, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced H.R. 20, The Government by the People Act at a press conference with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In addition, Reps. Keith Ellison, Chellie Pingree, Beto O’Rourke, John Yarmouth, Anne McLane Kuster, and the leaders of more than 20 Democracy Initiative organizations were present to show their support. In addition to the 133 congressional cosponsors signed on in support of the legislation, more than 50 pro-democracy organizations have signed a letter in support of the bill.
The Government by the People Act aims to put ordinary Americans back in charge of elections by allowing Congressional candidates to run for office by relying on small-dollar donations from constituents back home, rather than large contributions from wealthy donors and special interests. Learn more at Public Campaign's companion website: ofby.us
New York Public Finance Campaign
In the wake of Citizens United, elections have been inundated by a new wave of money: billions in increased spending by corporations and the super-wealthy. The state of New York, however, stands poised to be a national leader on reducing the influence of big money in politics. Governor Andrew Cuomo has included in the proposed state budget a voluntary public funding system for campaigns and robust disclosure of political donors. The Fair Elections coalition in New York is working with the Democracy Initiative to create a national complement to the New York campaign by engaging national organizations in the effort.
Democracy Initiative in the News
Over the last month, the Democracy Initiative has been making headlines for its hard work as part of a renewed progressive movement.
NPR (2/13/14): "Citizens United" Critics Fight Money With Money:
One of those philanthropists is Phil Radford, co-founder of the Democracy Initiative. Radford says polls show rising anger as Americans see money's influence in Washington. "I think that outrage will translate into people, district by district, asking their members of Congress: What are they doing to make sure America is a democracy again?" he says.
Mother Jones (2/12/14): Potential 2016 Contender O'Malley Supports Bill to Wean Politicians Off Big Money
What makes the Sarbanes bill stand out is breadth of support it enjoys. The bill has 130 cosponsors...including Sarbanes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And practically every progressive group under the sun has stumped for the Government By The People Act, including the Communication Workers of America, the Teamsters, Sierra Club, NAACP, Working Families, Friends of Democracy super-PAC, and more. Through efforts like the Democracy Initiative...progressives are mobilizing around the issue of money in politics, and their championing of Sarbanes' bill is a case in point.
Grist (1/28/14): Greenpeace out: Parting shots from a battle-hardened climate leader Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford:
"The other thing we've been doing as a response to the power companies have is the Democracy Initiative. I got together with Ben Jealous of NAACP, Larry Cohen from Communications Workers of America, and Mike Brune from Sierra Club to develop a shared unified campaign to get big money out of politics, get all voters to vote, and fix the Senate."
New Democracy Initiative Members
This month, Democracy Initiative welcomed four new members, ReThink Media, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Council of La Raza, and the Rural Coalition.
A unique non-profit organization, ReThink Media is focused on building the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups working toward a more constructive U.S. foreign and national security policy, the protection of human and civil rights, and strengthening our democracy.
With more than 5 million members across the country, MoveOn.org works to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn.org Civic Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, primarily focuses on education and advocacy on important national issues.
National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, and is focused on improving opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
The Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural is an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond. They aim to build a more just and sustainable food system which brings fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, establishes just and fair working conditions for farmworkers, protects the environment, and brings safe and healthy food to all consumers.
Thank you again for reading our first newsletter! We look forward to keeping you informed as we work to restore the core principle of political equality by halting the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, preventing the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and addressing other obstacles to significant reform, including the abuse of U.S. Senate rules.
And, please be sure to follow us on Twitter (@Unite4Democracy) for even more updates and ways to get involved!