Government of, by, and for … ?

Government of, by, and for … ?

Do you want Walmart picking our President? How about Exxon Mobil choosing your next member of Congress?

As we kick-off the 2012 election season, we are at a time of deep lack of faith in our democracy. One big reason: corporations are gaining more and more power at election time. They have long been able to hire armies of lobbyists to roam the corridors of power. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United v. FEC that “corporations are people,” unrestricted waves of corporate cash can now flood TV and radio with so-called “independent expenditures” pushing the candidates that those corporations prefer.

In New York City, we are fighting back … for a democracy of, by, and for the people (not the corporations).

Supporting a Constitutional amendment to repeal “corporate personhood”
Today, the City Council passed a resolution that I sponsored (along with colleagues in the Progressive Caucus) calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn that wrongheaded ruling by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and make clear that corporations aren’t people, and don’t have “free speech” rights to buy and sell our elections.

While only symbolic, it’s an important step. The Los Angeles City Council passed a similar resolution last month and other cities have taken stands. The movement is building to take back our elections.

Protecting our local campaign finance laws
New York City already has one of the country’s strongest campaign finance laws, including reasonable contribution limits and public matching funds (so that working people have a real chance of winning office). Our local laws bar corporate contributions, and – especially important – place strict limits on contributions from lobbyists or individuals who do business with the City. Our laws have been strengthened over the years, but not without resistance from moneyed interests.

Some good news: Just before the holidays, the United States Court of Appeals upheld the City’s campaign finance law, ruling against members of the Conservative Party who challenged it, hoping to restore the power of lobbyists and those holding or seeking City contracts to influence elections. Thanks to the court ruling, New York City’s local elections will remain some of the fairest in the country.

Back when the suit was brought in 2009 (when I was a candidate for office) I was proud to submit an amicus curiae brief in the case, along with Mark Winston Griffith, supporting the City’s Campaign Finance Law. Thanks to Jenner & Block for preparing the amicus. The Second Circuit’s decision is here.

Expanding democratic participation
Many of you have also been part of renewing local democracy in New York. Over the past few months, I’ve been working with constituents on participatory budgeting, which is allowing residents of this district to decide how money will be spent in their neighborhoods. Last fall, we held big community meetings to gather ideas and many residents volunteered to help with the research and decide what projects to put before voters. In March, you will be able vote on which projects get funding. Check out for updates on some of the projects being considered.

If we want a government that is truly of, by, and for the people – all of us – then we need to keep corporations and their lobbyists from dominating our elections. Our democracy depends on it.