This Monday marked the 16th United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day, established to recognize the threat of corruption which undermines democratic institutions globally, including here in the United States. To highlight how our movement against big money in politics relates to anti-corruption efforts worldwide, Managing Director Leah Field wrote an op-ed published in The Hill.
Over the past decade, our nation has seen a sharp increase in corruption, in part due to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which equated money and speech, giving individuals and corporations political power based on their wealth. Studies find that the American people’s opinion of a given piece of legislation has virtually zero impact on its likelihood of passage, while elite interests’ preferences are strongly correlated with legislative outcomes.
This dilution of citizen power has resulted in the United States being downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” The UN says corruption undermines the foundation of democratic institutions in three key ways: distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law, and stunting economic development. We are seeing this in our own nation: Our electoral processes are distorted, with powerful and wealthy special interests funding the ever-escalating costs of election and reelection campaigns, and manipulation by powerful political parties undermining the competitiveness of elections; the rule of law is perverted as special interests gain increasing influence over legislation; and economic development is stunted as small and emergent businesses struggle to compete against entrenched interests that get to set the rules of the game through spending to influence policy.
This systemic issue requires a systemic solution—a constitutional amendment. This is why American Promise is working on a grassroots state-by-state strategy to pass the 28th Amendment to limit the influence of big money in our political process. The UN names two key factors that can move the needle on anti-corruption efforts: empowering and mobilizing youth to fight for a corruption-free future; and citizens taking action, becoming leaders, and holding political leaders accountable. These factors align well with our strategy. This year, we launched the Cause of Our Time program to engage young Americans in this critically important effort. Volunteers across the country are asking candidates for elected office to sign the American Promise Candidate Pledge, committing to advance the amendment if elected. More than 250 candidates have signed the pledge since 2018, including 13 current and former 2020 presidential candidates. And across the nation, thousands of citizen leaders are driving grassroots victories.
Corruption is a difficult systemic issue to address, and it’s the work of citizens to stay vigilant about protecting our representative government against it. That is exactly what citizen leaders driving success around the 28th Amendment are doing every day.