A Contentious Week in Congress Highlights the Need for Democracy Reform

Beginning shortly before noon on Wednesday and continuing until Thursday afternoon, Democrats in the House of Representatives occupied the House chamber floor for 26 hours in a sit-in to push for a vote on bills that would put tighter restrictions on the purchase of firearms. As one side interrupted normal procedure with an historic action, and the other brazenly moved to an early recess, the House was the very picture of the partisanship and inefficiency that has repeatedly plagued our nation’s capital. And underlying this entire spectacle was another grim reminder of the massive influence of money in subverting the wishes of the people in our politics.

85% of respondents to a new CNN/ORC poll supported “preventing people who are on the U.S. government’s Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns.” Previous polls have shown that the vast majority of gun owners support increased background checks. Despite this overwhelming support, House Republicans have declined to even schedule a vote. Now why might we see such a failure of elected representatives to follow the will of the people? There’s a simple answer: money.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is just one of many lobbying groups with deep pockets and a network of wealthy donors that are overpowering the voice of the American public with millions of dollars’ worth of ads and campaign funding. According to Open Secrets, in 2014 the NRA spent $974,152 on political contributions, $3,360,000 on lobbying and $27,024,618 on outside contributions, such as running ads directly from the NRA.

The agenda of such a powerful lobbying association is not that of the majority of the American public, but instead of the large companies that donate to the organization. Case in point, in a recent solicitation for funding from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre to gun makers themselves, Mr. LaPierre stated: “This program is geared towards your company’s corporate interests.” The interests of corporations that make guns are to sell as many guns as they possibly can. And the NRA’s increasingly corporatist agenda frustrates even the NRA’s own members. In a 2015 survey from Public Policy Polling, only 29% of gun owners said that the NRA represents their opinion on background checks and 59% said that while the NRA used to promote gun safety, it has “been overtaken by lobbyists and the interests of gun manufacturers.”There is a marked disconnect between public opinion and the efforts by the NRA, with the support of those same gun manufacturers, to oppose virtually all regulation of gun purchases. Now, more than ever, the NRA serves as a prime example that money and influence lead Congress to vote against the wishes of the American people.

The NRA is just one of hundreds of organizations that represent corporate interests and attempt to silence the voices of average citizens. So when commonsense legislation favored by the vast majority of the citizens of this country is unable to progress through Congress, elected leaders have to take a stand against business-as-usual. But while a small group of leaders showed their courage this week, new legislation is needed to ensure that the peoples’ voices are heard. That’s why Public Citizen is supporting the “We The People Act,” which would help loosen Corporate America’s stranglehold on our government by:

• Overturning Citizens United;

• Requiring disclosure of corporate political spending;

• Closing lobbying loopholes;

• Jamming the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington;

• Fixing the Federal Election Commission; and more.

The “We The People Act” aims to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision by beginning the process of establishing a constitutional amendment that would explicitly allow for Congress and the states to enforce campaign finance reforms. It also would require all organizations that are spending money in elections to disclose donors who give over $10,000 during an election cycle. And finally, it would replace the Federal Election Commission with a new, independent and more robust campaign finance enforcement agency.

These are the reforms that will deflate the power of the NRA and the other special interest groups that are pulling the strings in Washington. If you wish to join Public Citizen in limiting the outsized influence of the NRA and other powerful lobbying groups in our democratic process, sign this petition in support of the new “We The People Act” to rescue our democracy from Big Business.

– Post written by Jaimon Olmsted, advocacy intern for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

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