The Democracy Initiative

This might disappoint Breitbartians who believe every left-of-center writer receives daily instructions from The Cabal, but I knew nothing about the big meeting of “top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics” that Andy Kroll discusses at MoJo today. It apparently convened at NEA headquarters in December, and put together something attendees call The Democracy Initiative:

At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues—potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails.

While these three goals (with the exception of filibuster reform, where I think we are all about to be disappointed) aren’t terribly relevant to the immediate, day-to-day challenges of progressive politics, they obviously address three huge structural problems that give conservatives and the GOP power all out of proportion to their popular support.

Voting rights issues are clearly the most amenable to (and dependent on) the kind of multi-faceted national campaign this Democracy Initiative contemplates, insofar as it involves pitched battles in state capitals around the country and a subject-matter most Americans basically understand. Building external support for the inside baseball of filibuster reform is trickier, particularly since we’re talking about something very immediate:

Liberal groups in the Democracy Initiative want to fix [filibuster abuses], and they used the December meeting to plan a coordinated push to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rewrite the rules. Democrats have until January 22, when the window closes on easy rules changes, to get the reforms they want.

That’s less than two weeks from now, so let’s hope the money is already flowing freely.

The third goal of reducing the role of money in politics is obviously the most daunting, not only because of Citizens United but the older position of the Supreme Court dating back to Buckley v. Valeo that identifies political money with constitutionally protected political speech. Here’s the short-term strategy, as reported by Kroll:

On money in politics, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, a pro-campaign finance reform advocacy group, singled out Kentucky, New York, and North Carolina as potential targets for campaign finance fights. In a recent interview, Nyhart said the Kentucky battle would likely involve trying to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), public enemy number one for campaign finance reform, who faces reelection in 2014. In New York, Nyhart said, activists are pressuring state lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to pass a statewide public financing bill in 2013. And in North Carolina, the fight is more about countering the influence of a single powerful donor, the conservative millionaire Art Pope, whose largesse helped install a Republican governor and turn the state legislature entirely red.

Kroll also mentions plans for some guerrilla warfare against corporate supporters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and ALEC.

This is all encouraging, but we’ve heard it before. Even though the filibuster reform campaign is a true longshot, it will be instructive to see if the Democracy Institute participants are able to get anything going before the deal goes down.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.