Most weekends at this time of year, you can find me in churches, libraries and senior centers throughout central and western Massachusetts, talking with voters about the issues they care about.
I started these towns halls — I call them “Coffee with your Congressman” — because I believe that a big part of my job is listening. Call me old-fashioned, but I think democracy should actually involve sitting down and talking to one another.
And every year, there’s more and more frustration. People ask me: Why can’t we pass common-sense gun safety laws in the wake of mass shootings? How come Big Oil gets to rip people off at the pump and Big Pharma gets to charge outrageous prices for drugs that were invented 100 years ago? CEOs pay less in taxes than teachers, heartless insurance companies deny coverage, Big Tech evades regulation — all while working families get left further and further behind.
Why? Follow the money
The disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court Decision in 2010 gave billionaire corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups a green light to spend unlimited sums of money to elect candidates who will do whatever they want. They’re drowning out our voices with piles of cash. When these corporate special interests say “jump,” the politicians who cash their checks ask “how high?”
From the Supreme Court to Congress, the influence of money in politics is growing more destructive.
Take the latest GOP debt ceiling debacle: Republicans threatened to throw our economy off a cliff unless Congress cut SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a program that helps hungry Americans pay for their next meal. Then, they turned around and proposed a trillion-dollar giveaway to defense contractors. I condemned them on the House floor — and their response came fast. An advocacy group aligned with Republicans launched attack ads, coming after me by name. Special interests don’t like it when you call them out.
Or take another example. In the nearly 10 years since the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA has spent more than $100 million to help elect Republicans who will support their extreme agenda, including Donald Trump. From bump stocks to background checks, Republicans stand in the way of gun safety legislation because if they don’t, the NRA will open up the checkbook for their opponent. It doesn’t matter that our children could be caught in the crossfire. The checks just need to cash.
Now I’m angry, but I’m not naïve. This is a bipartisan problem. Big donors couldn’t care less about whether someone has a “D” or an “R” after their name. As long as politicians vote the way they want, the money keeps flowing.
It all comes back to our town hall dilemma. Is democracy about listening to each other, or just raising money for the next election? Too many candidates find themselves spending more and more time on the latter. That’s why one of the best decisions I’ve ever made was swearing off corporate PAC money. Ever since, I’ve worked hard to build a grassroots support network in Massachusetts one donor at a time — $5 from a bus driver in Worcester, $25 from a grandma in Holliston.
But I’m just one member of Congress. It’s time to take this show on the road.
Free and Fair Elections Amendment would solve the issue
So I’m introducing the Free and Fair Elections Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would ban corporate political spending, limit how much political donors can contribute or spend, and force Congress to enact public campaign financing reform — or lose our salaries.
I’m realistic about getting it done. I know it’s an uphill battle. But so is every fight worth having. And the stakes here are too high to sit on the sidelines. Our system is broken — but there is hope. Because I really do have faith that if we come together and fight for change, we can restore the voice of the people and make sure that our democracy works for everyone.
So do me a favor: Imagine a future where lawmakers aren’t beholden to special interests, and can focus on the issues that really matter: climate change, affordable housing, better schools, cleaner air and water, health care for everyone, preventing gun violence and ending hunger.
How you can get involved
And if you think that future is possible, join me in this fight for a government of, by and for the people. Read up on my amendment and ask your friends and family to do the same. If you are able, donate to and volunteer for candidates who embrace getting money out of politics. And vote like your future depends on it.
Change can’t happen unless like-minded people like us come together to demand it. Let’s get to work.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., represents Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District. He lives in Worcester.