Burlington, VT – The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) formally launched its summer outreach campaign today – Taking on Big Money in Politics – with help from Ben & Jerry’s co-founder, Ben Cohen.
VPIRG’s goal is to build broad public support for a set of proposals that will lessen the political influence of very wealthy individuals and corporations. Last summer, VPIRG canvassers gave a huge boost to the campaign to pass GMO labeling legislation in the state. The tens of thousands of petitions gathered by VPIRG canvassers and delivered to senators helped to convince them to make Vermont the first state in the nation to require GMO foods to be labeled.
This summer, the group is calling for a ban on corporate contributions, a complete prohibition on lobbyist contributions, greater transparency from Super PACs, and state incentives that will amplify and encourage small donor participation.
“Like most Americans, Vermonters are fed up with the influence of big money in our political process,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “The idea of amending the Constitution to essentially overturn Citizen’s United and controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions in this area is highly popular, but we don’t need to wait for a constitutional amendment to act.”
VPIRG announced that it would be collaborating with Ben Cohen to promote his StampStampede campaign to get money out of politics. Cohen’s campaign has drawn attention to the problem of money in politics by encouraging citizens to stamp pithy messages like, “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed” and “Not to be used for bribing politicians” on real U.S. currency.
According to the StampStampede website, each dollar bill that’s stamped reaches approximately 875 additional people while it’s in circulation. If a single person were to stamp five dollars a day for an entire year, that would lead to well over one million people seeing those bills.
Though Cohen is one who believes the ultimate solution to the problem of money in politics will require a constitutional amendment, he noted that state action in the meantime is essential. “We’re proud to support a local group like VPIRG that’s fighting Supreme Court absurdity with actual solutions.”
One of the leaders of VPIRG’s summer outreach team also spoke at the event. Rebecca White said that the reaction she and her fellow canvassers are finding at doors around the state has been extraordinarily positive. “We don’t have to convince people that there’s a problem with money in politics,” she said. “They get it. And they like the idea that somebody’s working to rein in the lobbyists, ban corporate contributions and demand more transparency from Super PACs.”
White added that young people are particularly concerned about dysfunctional government and the influence of monied interests. “We want affordable health care. We want clean water. And we want to see action on climate change. Our future depends on these things, but too often, good ideas are blocked by special interests backed by big bucks.”
Vermont experienced an unprecedented rise in outside spending on campaigns in 2012, with one individual funneling over $1 million through her own Super PAC. Yet earlier this year, state legislators passed a campaign finance law that greatly increased the amount of money that wealthy individuals and corporations can give to statewide candidates and political parties. Instead of taking money out of the process, the new law will likely add to the problem. VPIRG had no option but to ultimately oppose the legislation.
But with the support of VPIRG members in towns throughout Vermont, Burns said he’s hopeful that policy makers will act on VPIRG’s proposals to reduce the problem of money in politics. “With the election heating up, there is no better time to be talking about real solutions to this problem.”