Late last year, Josh Silver, CEO of United Republic and Director of Represent.us, asked MFour Research and Tulchin Research to conduct a poll [pdf]. The firms were able to get reliable feedback from “1,003 likely U.S. voters statistically balanced to represent the U.S. voting public” over five days in mid-November. They reported their results in early December and the lessons it reveals are both unsurprising and astonishing.
What is unsurprising is that most people believe the electoral system in America is biased in favor of candidates with the most money to spend on elections. It’s also not surprising that most people believe it’s important that “our elected leaders reduce the influence of money in political elections,” and that “our elected leaders reduce the influence of corruption in political elections.”
The astonishing part is in the numbers. More than 94% of respondents would support tough anti-corruption laws for politicians, lobbyists and Super PACs. 94%! Among those who said it was “very important” that corruption in political elections be reduced, 82% said it was “very important,” the highest rank in the poll. The icing on the cake is that most of the numbers were nearly identical for Republicans and Democrats with independents being among the most fervent on the issue of corruption.
Partisans in agreement? Passionate independents? What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? In a word: corruption. That is to say, fear and loathing of corruption in government, on K Street and in campaign finance. The Supreme Court may have limited the definition of corruption to the very narrow instances of obvious quid pro quo. But people aren’t stupid about the role money plays in corrupting the process.
So what’s so special about this poll and how is it useful to the movement to amend the constitution to abolish corporate civil rights and money as speech? When the words “campaign finance reform” are replaced by the words “reduce corruption,” the numbers go from somewhat weak and partisan to almost unanimously impassioned. People hear “campaign finance reform” and they think another Washington gimmick seemingly designed to deflect criticism without really doing anything to improve the situation. People hear “reduce corruption” and they instantaneously understand what that means and how important it is to achieve.
When we frame our arguments about supporting the amendment movement, we often fall back on partisan issues that we know attract one constituency or another. Liberals talk about the environment, conservatives talk about unions and libertarians talk about sovereignty. But all of us are really talking about the same thing: corruption.
Most of us aren’t afraid of an honest debate on the merits of our preferred ideologies. We believe in the solutions we offer and, most of all, believe in actually finding solutions. The people who benefit the most from corruption are not just disinclined to offer real solutions, they’re reliant upon a never-ending stream of divisive problems to maintain the status quo. That is true of both major parties in Congress and hundreds of professional advocacy organizations (of all stripes) that spend more time on fundraising and divisive rhetoric than they do on problem-solving.
For organizers and advocates in the amendment movement, the lesson is this: frame your support for an amendment as a desire to reduce corruption. Explain that most of the problems we confront in America are glued together by corruption and let your listeners assimilate that into their chosen ideologies as makes most sense to them. Let liberals understand it as corporate corruption. Let conservatives understand it as union corruption. And let libertarians understand it as government corruption. In the end, they’re all correct, because real corruption at any level, in any institution, is a detriment to the constituencies those institutions serve and, ultimately, to all of us. Framing this as an issue of corruption isn’t just smart activism, it’s also an easy sell because it’s true. We may not agree on what to fight for but we can all agree to fight against corruption.