PARSONSFIELD — Over its 122-year history, the Sierra Club has been a major advocate for environmental conservation, reducing pollution and, more recently, promoting clean energy and combating climate disruption.
Today, at its largest size ever, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationally, the organization has another initiative: restoring and protecting our representative democracy. Why, after all of these years fighting for the clean air and water we all enjoy, has the Sierra Club turned its attention to a seemingly unrelated objective?
As it turns out, the answer is simple. A healthy environment is intimately tied to a healthy democracy – and we will not achieve the former without first achieving the latter.
But in this day and age, our democracy is far from healthy. Disastrous Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United, McCutcheon and Buckley have unleashed a flood of big money in our elections and put our democracy on life support. Some claim that money in politics is equal to free speech, but the truth is that when it takes big bucks to grab the attention of our elected officials, the voices of average Americans get drowned out.
This corrupted process is only exacerbating problems for democracy, as campaign spending is continuing to run rampant. In Maine, $6.6 million in candidate fundraising has already been poured into the 2014 U.S. Senate election; about $7 million total was spent in 2012.
Many of the worst offenders abusing the campaign finance system are big-time polluters. Take the oil baron Koch brothers, for example: The Kochs are estimated to have spent over $400 million in the 2012 election cycle alone in the hopes of advancing their dirty fuel agenda.
Money in politics obstructs a functioning democracy by corrupting our government’s priorities, efficacy and proper representation. Considering that the interests of these big-money donors often run counter to the interests of average Americans, campaign finance is one of the leading social – and environmental – issues in modern politics.
A recent report by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International shows that while polluting industries have been spending money in politics for decades, their political spending footprint has only grown, leading the 113th Congress to be deemed the “most anti-environmental” in history. It is “We the People” who have to nurse our democracy back to strength.
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, has introduced a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. This amendment, which is co-sponsored by independent Maine Sen. Angus King along with 47 other U.S. senators, would give Congress and the states the authority to regulate money in political campaigns. When the Senate takes its first vote on the amendment Sept. 8, Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins should vote in support with Sen. King.
Also on the federal level, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, co-sponsored the Government By the People Act, a bill aimed at giving everyday Americans a better chance to participate in elections by democratizing the financial side of campaigns.
At the state level, Mainers have introduced a new citizen initiative in response to the unfortunate hits that the landmark Clean Election Act took from Citizens United and McCutcheon. This effort is aimed at strengthening Clean Elections, thereby increasing transparency and accountability in campaigns. By supporting Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, thousands have already chosen to stand with the people of Maine over big-money polluters and campaign donors.
Campaign spending, both on the statewide and national level, has rapidly degenerated into an anti-democratic process that gives big money donors a leg up on average Americans in the political arena. This threatens the ability of our government to be truly representative and address the issues we care about most – everything from education to the economy to health care to climate disruption.
Just as the Sierra Club stands with Sen. Udall in Congress, we stand for the efforts of Mainers to reinstate democracy so that all the issues we care about and all our voices are heard by our elected officials. It’s time that we stand up to big money and big polluters – let’s get big money out of politics.
— Special to the Press Herald