Hi Reddit! I’m Bob Edgar.

Thanks for answering, everybody! I've got to get back to my day job, but it's been fun! If you want updates on the work we’re doing, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow me at @BobEdgarCC Peace... Bob

You’ve probably noticed, our democracy is a mess. Citizens United triggered a tsunami of corporate political spending that threatens our democracy. Meanwhile, the Wall Street titans who crashed our economy are getting richer than ever and still enjoying Washington galas, while Aaron Swartz was aggressively prosecuted for trying to share public documents with the public. Our government is for sale to the highest bidders.

Right after Watergate, I was elected to Congress and spent 12 years there pushing back against establishment politicians who cared about their special interest donors more than the people they represented. When I was in Washington, there were problems, but we could make things work. Today, the system is so badly broken we can’t seem to make any progress.

I became president of Common Cause in 2007 so we could get Washington working again for regular people like you and me. Common Cause is a nonpartisan nonprofit org that’s been around for 40 years fighting for the public interest.

Here’s some of the work we do at Common Cause:

  • Money in politics is one of the biggest problems our democracy faces. That’s why we’re trying to overturn the awful Citizens United decision with a constitutional amendment that says corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. In 2012, we passed resolutions saying this in Montana and Colorado, and we’re already working to do the same thing in Arkansas in 2014.

  • We’re also working to stop the ridiculous abuse of the filibuster we’ve seen in the Senate. When you need a supermajority to even debate an issue, it’s no wonder the 112nd has been the least productive Congress in years. That’s why we’ve sued the Senate to abolish the 60-vote rule and pushing for common sense reform.

  • Election 2012 saw an unprecedented war on voters, with restrictive photo ID laws especially affecting students, low-income folks, people of color, and the elderly. We teamed with civil rights groups, mobilizing volunteers to register as many eligible voters as we could. On Election Day, we showed up in person to ensure ballot bullies didn’t try to intimidate voters.

  • Common Cause fights for the free flow of information. We were among many organizations to stand against SOPA and we joined transparency advocates worldwide in mourning Aaron Swartz. In the months ahead, we will be fighting media consolidation and working to preserve network neutrality.

Here’s some more cool stuff I’d love to talk about:

  • I hold five honorary degrees and I’ve been arrested five times for civil disobedience, guess which fact I’m more proud of?

  • I wrote the book “Middle Church” which calls upon progressive people of faith to take back the moral high ground from religious extremists like the Westboro Baptist Church.

  • I hear you Redditors LOVE corny puns, which is good news, because so do I. Hit me with your best stuff and I’ll try and keep up.

That’s about it, ask away! I’ll start answering questions around 1 EST. Common Cause staff will also be answering questions on the account Common_Cause

Peace,

Bob

Comments: 1983 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

Salacious-837 karma

The legal foundation of Citizens United is that people are individually allowed to use speech, so groups of people (unions, corporations, etc.) have the same right. Do you disagree with the basic legal premise of the decision? Or do you believe (as I do) that the corrupting influence of campaign donations is sufficiently important to disallow this type of speech? If the latter, how would you design an effective campaign finance mechanism that doesn't rely on private donations, but is still fair to both parties as well as 3rd party candidates?

BobEdgarCC522 karma

Your question gets at the heart of why this is such a tough issue. Of course groups of people have free speech rights – Common Cause is just such a group. And we’re not trying to silence anyone, corporations or individuals.

But we believe that it’s possible to regulate the volume of political speech, amplified by money, in a way that preserves the first amendment and allows everyone to be heard. We believe the people and corporations that put big money into our campaigns are investors; like all investors, they want and expect a return on their money. We’ve seen in past eras how uncontrolled political money corrupts the people – candidates and officeholders – who benefit from it.

Common Cause supports fair elections legislation, which has been implemented in Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona, among other places. In these states, candidates who agree to refuse corporate and union gifts and limit the amount they take from any individual, receive grants of public funds that allow them to run competitive campaigns. The Fair Elections Now Act, which has been introduced in the last several Congresses, would put such a system in place in Congressional elections.

Salacious-149 karma

Thanks for the answer. I like the idea of the fair elections now act.

Another big problem is 3rd party campaign donations. One thing that really blew me away in 2012 was the pledge that Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren both took, in which they disavowed 3rd party support. If a 3rd party group spent money on their behalf, then the candidate vowed to donate that amount of money to a charity of their opponent's choosing. This promise pretty much completely eliminated outside spending in that race.

Do you think that such a promise would work on a national level?

BobEdgarCC98 karma

The People's Pledge in Massachusetts was very effective and we should seek to replicate it throughout the country, but we must also realize its limitations.

The People's Pledge worked so well in Massachusetts because both candidates bought into it wholeheartedly, and the high profile nature of the race made it political suicide to bow out once the agreement had been made. Without these circumstances, the Pledge may have seen a very different fate.

That shouldn't stop us from petitioning future candidates to follow suit, but we can't let that pursuit take our eyes off the prize either. We need a constitutional amendment so we can place legal, not voluntary, limits on political spending by outside groups.

Xileee166 karma

[deleted]

NotTheEndToday43 karma

If campaigns are funded through the government then I have to pay to support ideas I don't agree with.

BobEdgarCC150 karma

I'd argue that you already do pay to support ideas/services/policies/laws that you disagree with. If we had publicly funded campaigns, members of Congress would be much more likely to look out for the best interest of regular people than their special interest campaign donors. That would translate into things like lower prescription drug costs, better clean air laws and tighter regulations on the people who ran our economy into the ground.

BobEdgarCC129 karma

you already do pay to support ideas you don't agree with. Most members of Congress take office beholden to special interest donors who want -- and often get -- something in return. Think of Congress passing a Medicare drug bill a few years ago that essentially kept drug prices higher than they needed to be. If we used public dollars to fund elections, elected officials would take office beholden only to constituents and you'd be more likely to see policies like better clean air laws and tighter restrictions on the people who ran our economy into the ground.

Common_Cause65 karma

Hi there! Steve from Common Cause here. Thanks for your question! We disagree strongly with the legal "reasoning" in Citizens United that corporations are entitled to First Amendment rights to spend their general treasury funds on political campaigns. We give corporations lots of privileges - limited liability, perpetual life, etc., - which are intended to spur economic growth. But they shouldn't be allowed to use those privileges to influence our elections. Corruption and the appearance of corruption justifies prohibitions on corporate spending in politics. One effective campaign finance mechanism would be public financing. And good news! Just late last night, three congressional public financing bills were introduced to put our elections back in the hands of grassroots individuals. Here is more information! http://www.commoncause.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4773613&ct=12741291

waterlesscloud57 karma

Why are unions different?

BobEdgarCC108 karma

We want the same rules for Unions and Corporations. DIRTY MONEY IS DIRTY MONEY...

There are two key differences though: corporations spend much more on politics than unions do, so the distortion is much greater, and more importantly, unions are already required to disclose their spending.

MoOdYo281 karma

Can I intern with you this summer?

saute148 karma

Problems with our single-member-district electoral system (which include but are not limited to gerrymandering) effectively disenfranchise way more voters than most voter supression tactics. Republicans are even bragging about their success at getting a Republican majority in Congress this year despite getting fewer votes than Democrats did.

Why is this not one of the (if not the) top priorities for electoral reformers, what can and should we do to change that, and what options are available to us from a legal perspective (e.g. challenging intentional gerrymandering as unconstitutional)?

BobEdgarCC160 karma

You're absolutely right. That's why redistricting reform is a major Common Cause priority. We were the driving force behind California’s adoption of a non-partisan redistricting commission, which in 2011 drew new districts that have been widely recognized as free from partisan taint. We’re working to create similar commissions in other states too!

Dear_Occupant116 karma

I've been doing this kind of work for years now (I got instant runoff voting passed in my town, for example) and when I worked on the Hill, I was astonished at how much support there was for it, as well as other reforms, among both Members and staff. It's my opinion, however, that things are such a mess at every level that we just need to push the reset button on the whole system, from top to bottom. Not only do we need majority rule in the Senate, we need ballot reform across all 50 states, we need to do away with the electoral college (i.e. National Popular Vote), and we need to take every single electronic voting machine in the country and dump them all in the river.

There are two problems I run in to as a reformer. First, the sheer volume of reforms needed is overwhelming, and every fight is an uphill battle. Second, and much more pernicious, is a sort of chicken-and-egg problem: while I think we desperately need a constitutional convention, I have no faith whatsoever in anyone from the current stock of, ahem, "statesmen" who might be empaneled on such a committee. We're quite a few elections away from any point where I would feel secure in tinkering around with the Constitution, and we will always be a few elections away from that point because the current system perpetually keeps the wrong people in power.

My questions to you are:

  1. What do you think is the single most critical reform that everyone should focus on right now. (Personally, I'm not convinced that it's Citizens United, because many, many candidates won in the last cycle despite being outspent dramatically. In the race I worked, we were outspent three to one and we posted a huge win).

  2. Do you see a path by which we can work around the chicken-and-egg dilemma I described above? In other words, how can we (and the American people) ensure that we aren't making a huge mistake by empowering the current crop of troublemakers legislators to make vital changes to our republic?

  3. Are you hiring?

BobEdgarCC22 karma

Thanks for a VERY thoughtful note and for all your work on reform. I’ll tackle your questions in order:

1) Short term, it would be great to focus on fixing the filibuster. It has all but paralyzed the Senate and thus the entire Congress. I know that a lot of folks worry that filibuster reform will one day result in a lot of bad laws being passed because the minority will be unable to stop them. I think that’s a risk we have to take. We need to give the system a chance to work as the founders intended. We didn’t have a problem with excessive filibusters until relatively recently and we managed to muddle along. Long term, I think we have to pound away on a constitutional amendment; it’s a tough problem, but we’ve got to do something to get runaway political money and the corruption that accompanies it under control.

2) Common Cause has not called for a constitutional convention, so I’ve not really focused on the damage that might be done if one were called. We want to reverse Citizens United through action in Congress to pass an amendment, which of course would have to be ratified by legislatures in three-fourths (38) of the 50 states. That will take time and a lot of effort.

3) Like all good government groups, we operate on a pretty tight budget. We do have vacancies from time to time however, and they’re posted on our website. Check it regularly, and if you see something that fits your qualifications, we’d love to hear from you. And of course, remember there’s lots you can do as a volunteer. Sign up for CauseNet and we’ll send you regular updates on our work and how you can help.

Sir_Dude57 karma

Since Citizens United is already on the books, don't you think it would be more effective to go after PAC's instead?

Some food for thought, if Citizens United is overturned, what is to stop a corporation from paying me $10 Million for 'Government Consulting Services' and I donate the $10 Million to a Super PAC? This can be done anonynously, of course.

There are probably dozens of ways a corporation could funnel money to a campaign discreetly, but if PACs become restricted in the amount that they can accept on behalf of a candidate, it would make corporate personhood irrelevant. Just my opinion.

Good luck regardless!

BobEdgarCC72 karma

Thanks!

There are laws already on the books that prevent corporations from using employees or consultants to funnel money directly to candidates. We can pass similar laws to stop them from funneling money to PACs. Common Cause also backs strong campaign finance disclosure laws, like the DISCLOSE Act, that would make all political spending transparent.

More details here.

dupontcircle36 karma

The filibuster rule is certainly controversial but has survived because it doesn't necessarily favor any particular party or viewpoint. Do you fear that successfully overturning that rule could eventually work against your overall goals?

BobEdgarCC22 karma

Common Cause believes that the filibuster should be reformed NOW, but "majority rule" should be at the heart of DEMOCRACY. The founding fathers and mothers never believed that every vote should be a super-majority vote. They put seven specific issues in the Constitution for a super-majority. The Federalist Papers argue that on all other votes, they should be by majority vote. I'm not worried about which party is advantage by the Senate Rules. They should be FAIR to both. Check out Common Cause's website for more detail on our filibuster work. www.CommonCause.org

orionsshoe34 karma

A constitutional amendment requires a two thirds vote of both houses and ratification by three fourths of the states. I hate to say this but this is absolutely and totally impossible with regards to Citizens United. I feel that we should instead work in the politics of the possible. How can we still hold politicians accountable in a post-Citizens United world?

The filibuster has become a common whipping boy and has been heavily abused by the current Senate Minority. However, it is a vital tool in fighting the tyranny of the majority. In a republican government where 50.0000000000000000000000001% can control the conduct of government, the filibuster is the only protection. While I currently hate the filibuster (I am a democrat) at some point the republicans will be in charge of the Senate and I will view it as a wonderful tool to stopping creation-based science curriculum or a ban on condoms or some other crazy-ass republican idea.

edit: spelling is hard

BobEdgarCC30 karma

When the Citizens United ruling came down 3 years ago, many of us thought it was an important long term project to reverse. But, now, after seeing the torrent of cash from billionaires and corporations flood our elections, and seen intentional efforts to suppress the vote, we need to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who reminded us of the “fierce urgency of now.” Nobody can know how long it will take, but we have learned in the past three years that it need not take long.

You're right that constitutional amendments are difficult to pass, and with good reason. Something being difficult doesn't make it any less right thought! Even if it's ultimately unsuccessful, the movement we've seen build against Citizens United in the past few years has energized and educated tons of people!

wagwagwag29 karma

What opposition have you seen/ do you see as being the biggest hurdle in this battle?

BobEdgarCC49 karma

Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle is big money. our campaign finance system is badly broken.

Running for elected office at all levels of government is so expensive that candidates need to rely on big donors and special interests to fund their campaigns and get them elected.

That makes they take office beholden to donors. Citizens United made a bad situation worse.

The good news is that we're working to fix this problem, here's a statement we just released on three bills before Congress right now.

sgtsand27 karma

[deleted]

BobEdgarCC25 karma

Lawyers (and non-lawyers too!) --

Take a look at www.commoncause.org/whatnow

You can sign up to learn more about what we are doing - and areas you can get engaged.

But for starters, consider asking your favorite legislator, local, state or federal, to sponsor a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment to address the Citizens United flawed ruling that corporations are people and money is speech.

Oh, and get in touch with our Staff Counsel @SpauldingCC on twitter!

SebayaKeto24 karma

Not to be a downer, but what is Plan B if things don't work out?

Also, for someone who hasn't read your book (yet) what are some suggestions for helping make it so people stop seeing Christian = Lunatic in politics?

Any advice for someone who wants to get into politics locally?

BobEdgarCC40 karma

My book was written to go after the radical religious right and try to inspire the progressive interfaith community to be more courageous. While the book is titled MIDDLE CHURCH, it should really be Middle Church, Middle Synagouge and Middle Mosque.

If you want to engage in politics, I suggest that you "think globally, but get involved locally.

its_boVice23 karma

Do you feel there is an actual distinction between Democrats and Republicans? It seems that both parties are essentially doing the same thing, i.e. spending money like drunken sailors and protecting party interests, rather than representing the people.

Also, how are you viewed by your peers with this type approach?

BobEdgarCC43 karma

You are exactly right. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are guilty of putting their campaign funders and fundraisers ahead of the interests of regular people because they need these donors/lobbyists to win re-election.

I believe elected officials on both sides of the aisle take office for the most part with the best intentions to represent voters. But we have a broken campaign finance system that nearly forces them to choose donors over constituents.

I think many members of Congress know in their hearts that this is true, and this is the situation. Unfortunately, many are reluctant to change the system because they have already mastered it.

dtouger15 karma

Do you think you will be successful?

BobEdgarCC14 karma

Yes! It's only been three years since Citizens United, and the popular movement against it has breathed new life into the movement for campaign finance reform. Like I mentioned, we passed amendment resolutions in places from Massachusettes and Montana in 2012, and we're already making plans for 2014!

kylelibra13 karma

What do you think of Lawrence Lessig's work with Root Strikers? Have you read his book Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It?

BobEdgarCC11 karma

Lawrence Lessig is a friend and ally. We agree that we have to get all the dirty money out of politics.

In fact, our North Carolina State Chapter helped organize a policy forum with him recently: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2012/06/05/join-us-june-12th-for-a-crucial-conversation-with-prof-lawrence-lessig/

EastVegas13 karma

How is Congress different from when you served? What do you think really is happening that has dramatically changed our campaign financial law?

BobEdgarCC8 karma

I was elected in the Watergate Baby class of 1974 and served until January of 1987. The major difference was that "special interest" lobbyed first with their TALKING POINTS, not their CHECKBOOKS. Now the checkbooks. Money was regulated and controled and fully transparent. Now, even conservative Senators blocks full disclosure legislation by use of the 60-vote filibuster rule. In my day, most Republicans were fiscally conservative, but pro-envirnment, pro-human rights, etc. Finally, once elected, both parties worked together in Conference Committees to find common ground.

Cozmo2310 karma

Are you allied with the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics?

BobEdgarCC10 karma

Great question! And yes, we partner with both of those groups on campaign finance and disclosure work.