Political corruption seen as America’s biggest problem, another poll shows
More voters see "corruption in our political system" as the country's most pressing problem than any of the other issues getting greater attention in the 2020 campaign, new polling shows.
The online survey conducted in September asked voters whether seven different issues were an "extremely serious problem" for the country, and the only one where a majority said yes was political corruption; rising health care costs came in second at 49 percent.
The poll is only the latest to declare the electorate's dire concern about the broken political system. In just the last month, two-thirds of voters told one poll they believe the country is on the "edge of a civil war" and a plurality in another poll identified the government itself as the country's biggest problem.
But the topic of democracy reform is getting hardly any mention in the presidential race. Though most of the Democratic candidates have plans for limiting money in politics, making voting easier, securing elections and restoring the balance of powers, few have emphasized these ideas on the trail. And President Trump, who four years ago ran as the candidate most interested in "draining the swamp," rarely mentions this aspiration anymore.
The new poll was released Friday by the group that commissioned it, the Campaign Legal Center. CLC advocates for tighter campaign finance rules and easier access to the polls, and so issues of the broken political system were three of the seven "biggest problems facing the country" from which to choose. And almost two-fifths of respondents labeled "unlimited, secret donations to political campaigns" and "the influence of big money from corporations and special interests in our political system" as extremely serious problems.
Across the political spectrum, majorities in the poll agreed with the notion that they're directly impacted by all the money corporations and special interests spend on elections. Three-quarters agree with the accurate statement that corporate and special-interest campaign spending has increased in the last decade.
But the agency charged with overseeing the campaign finance system has been sidelined for the foreseeable future. While 71 percent of those polled want the Federal Election Commission to take on a more active role in enforcing money-in-politics rules, since September it has been powerless to do so for lack of a quorum.
In a second poll commissioned by CLC and released Friday, an astonishingly strong and bipartisan 83 percent (85 of Democrats and 81 of Republicans) support changing the rules to require public disclosure of contributions to all organizations that spend money on elections. (Currently, politically active nonprofits may keep their donors secret, the source of the term "dark money.")
The first poll of 855 likely voters was conducted online Sept. 16-22 by ALG Research, a Democratic firm, and GS Strategy Group, a Republican firm. The two outfits also conducted the second survey of 800 likely voters contacted Oct. 3-7.
Those polled signaled the requirement should apply equally to groups on both the left and the right. About three-quarters of respondents (the range was 73 percent to 77 percent) said they backed donor disclosure by Planned Parenthood, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, which generally back Democrats, and National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association, which generally align with Republicans.
"Real transparency about who is spending big money on elections will mean more government accountability, less influence for wealthy special interests and less political corruption," said Trevor Potter, CLC's president and a Republican commissioner on the FEC two devades ago.
With enough commissioners, the FEC could address the public's call for increased transparency by creating new disclosure requirements. For the time being, though, the agency cannot create new rules.
Even before the FEC lost its quorum, it was not consistently enforcing campaign finance laws due to frequent partisan deadlocks, Potter said. And now, with only three members, the agency cannot address violations "during one of the most expensive election cycles in history," he said.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.