Lately, in the drive for campaign finance reform, Vermont is really earning its progressive stripes.
For one thing, our most senior senator, Patrick Leahy, has just brought a proposal to amend the Constitution out of committee, headed for a full Senate hearing.
That new constitutional amendment would establish campaign finance limits that have been gutted in recent Supreme Court decisions.
For its own part, Vermont is leading the way in this initiative, having become the first state to pass a resolution calling for a new constitutional convention.
It’s still a long way from bringing about change. Even if the convention were to actually take place, passing a constitutional amendment requires the assent of thirty-eight states: a tall order even in less divisive times.
Nevertheless, this is movement in the right direction at last; and that deserves a round of applause.
“Our country has flourished because we have worked hard to ensure that more, not fewer, Americans can take part in the democratic process,” Leahy said in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “That is why common sense campaign finance laws are so vital in protecting our democratic institutions.”
There are those who suggest that Sen. Leahy should consider retiring, but this is a pretty good example of why we shouldn’t hope for that any time soon.
It has taken many, many years for Leahy to reach the level of seniority and influence he currently exerts on Vermont’s behalf in Washington.
We are a teenie-tiny state with bold, progressive ideas. We have benefited from the luxury of far more influence on the national debate by virtue of the Senator’s honed skills and seniority than we are likely to have anytime soon, once he retires.
At no time has that influence potential been more critical to maintain than in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.
And that’s not all we’ve got going for us…
As the Senate’s only bona fide independent senator, Bernie Sanders has license to follow his own instincts. He may not enjoy the enviable access to Capitol Hill’s inside track that Pat Leahy does, but his frankly populist touch rallies a much broader progressive audience; one that hasn’t felt at home with party politics.
The Senator is currently focusing on an effort to expose and counter the inordinate influence enjoyed by the infamous Koch brothers, whose extremism reaches so far beyond legitimately “conservative” views that they beg a new label.
Closer to home, Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor Dean Corren, having successfully struck his own blow for campaign finance reform by qualifying under state law for public matching funds, has adopted my own favorite answer to Citizens United, and is advocating for universal public financing of elections.
Meanwhile, we’ll know very soon if Americans will simply follow the glut of money in casting their 2016 ballots.
I’ve got a feeling we may be pleasantly surprised.
We’ve certainly seen it happen time and time again in Vermont: a super wealthy candidate tries to sweep an election with an avalanche of media buys, but only succeeds in irritating the electorate and gets soundly trounced at the polls.
Can you imagine how sick and tired swing state voters are going to be of Koch-financed media blitzes. Could Republicans be in for a rude shock if burnt-out GOP voters simply don’t show up on the big day? One can only hope.