Smith: Dark money, voter suppression, turnout threaten our democracy


In the midst of an outrageous election year dominated by rhetoric that overwhelms real news, it’s clear that our “democracy” has been stolen. Two threats to our democratic values demand our attention: restrictions on the right to vote and campaign finance laws that threaten the integrity of that vote.

To fight back against these threats and to demand a democracy that works for everyone, not just corporations and the wealthy, a dozen groups are hosting a rally at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the southwest corner of the Capitol, followed by a march down Congress Avenue and the creation of a living “dark money” sign on the Capitol walk. These activities are part of a national event called Democracy Awakening, in which thousands of Americans will gather at the nation’s capital to demand democracy reforms.

Our system for financing election campaigns has allowed billionaires and corporations to spend unlimited amounts of cash to influence our elections, threatening the fundamental ideal of our democracy. “One person, one vote” has been replaced by a new paradigm: “one dollar, one vote.”

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions, there is no limit to the amount of money that individuals or corporations can contribute to a super PAC or nonprofit organization to spending on behalf of or against a candidate. The Center for Responsive Politics has tracked $434,042,168 in donations to single-candidate super PACs so far in the 2016 election cycle. The identity of the donors of many of the millions being spent through nonprofit groups is kept hidden from disclosure. Such unlimited and often secret war chests create — at a minimum — the appearance of corruption, destroying the integrity of our elections.

At the same time, access to the ballot box is being curtailed. Twenty-one states have restrictive voting laws since 2010. According to reports in The Washington Post, “Texas has the most stringent voter-identification law in the nation … and one that could cut deeply into the turnout of minority voters and young people.”

Texas has 600,000 registered voters who don’t have the kind of photo ID needed to vote. Proponents argue such restrictions are necessary to counteract voting fraud, yet no evidence of widespread fraud exists. Critics contend they are designed to suppress participation in elections.

The Supreme Court has played a critical role in shaping the current state of democracy. Their decisions cleared the way for the massive amount of spending we now see flooding our elections. Thus, filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court has become critical for our democracy, especially as Texas has some very important cases pending before this court. The Congress must permit hearings on a replacement nominee to fill out the court so it can move forward and do its work.

Locally the issue of corporately funded elections is threatening our city’s right to require fingerprints from those who offer rides for money.

Nationally, more than 260 organizations will host teach-ins and a rally and march this weekend in Washington, D.C. as part of “Democracy Awakening.” Many will lobby members of Congress, urging them to support voting rights and money-in-politics reform measures.

More than 19 states and 650 cities have passed resolutions asking Congress to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United – and Texans are coming together Sunday to demonstrate our support for these reforms. Threats to the right to and integrity of the vote – because of the corrupting influence of big money – demand action. The “Democracy Awakening” rally is a wake-up call to engage in our democracy as a first step toward fundamental reform. Attend and fulfill both the obligation and promise of citizenship. Learn more at bit.ly/DemAwakeningAustin.

Tom “Smitty” Smith is the director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, a national consumer and environmental group active in issues concerning energy, environment, ethics and campaign-finance reforms.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: July 28, 2017
Letters to the editor: July 28, 2017

Re: July 23 article, “Hutto City Council replaces entire development board amid criticism.” Kudos to the Hutto City Council for replacing the entire board of directors for the town’s economic development corporation after discovering the lavish spending by the corporation on hotel rooms. It has too long been customary for many of...
Collins: Wow, Trump can’t terminate
Collins: Wow, Trump can’t terminate

Pick your favorite irony: 1) Donald Trump turns out to be terrible at firing people. 2) The White House celebrates its “American Heroes Week” by banning transgender volunteers from serving in the military. 3) Thanks to the president’s harangues, we are actually starting to feel sympathy for Jeff Sessions. I can definitely understand...
Milbank: The United States of Anarchy
Milbank: The United States of Anarchy

WASHINGTON — Welcome to the United States of Anarchy. Health care legislation languishes without presidential leadership. The Senate fails to pass a measure crafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fails to pass an outright repeal and even fails to pass a proposal to go back to the drawing board. Huge majorities in Congress, declining to bless...
Two Views: Smith dodges criticism behind cold comfort of a telephone
Two Views: Smith dodges criticism behind cold comfort of a telephone

A representative is elected to represent us. But how can U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith do this when he will not meet with us or listen to us? Where is Lamar Smith? He does not hold town meetings. He does not let us know when he is in Austin. We are his constituents. Yet he routinely votes against our expressed interests. Is he not interested in knowing what...
Two Views: Constituents OK with tele-town meetings, says Lamar Smith
Two Views: Constituents OK with tele-town meetings, says Lamar Smith

I am interested in the thoughts and ideas of all residents of Texas’ 21st Congressional District. I regularly meet with constituents who share or oppose my views. Fortunately, it’s more often the former! The 21st District covers 10 counties, including Travis. I make regular visits to Austin. Last year, the number of days I spent in Travis...
More Stories