Operation End Run is a nonpartisan organization created to stop influence-peddling by elected officials.
We can do it by persuading them to stop taking big contributions and doing things that have them owing favors to the rich and powerful.
We want to move their sense of duty away from serving primarily those people and instead focus it only on the public interest.
The "end run" in our name refers to the problem that the Citizens United decision and others have made it impossible to limit huge contributions to political activity by passing laws. Until the Constitution is amended to change that, we have to change things by persuasion -- citizens doing an end run around the money to produce good government.
When candidates get big campaign contributions, they feel obliged, and they do favors for their donors -- like passing laws that benefit them, often against the interests of the majority of the people. That's a distortion of democracy.
The most shocking example of this happened when the tax bill was passed in December 2017. It was widely reported that many Congressmen were openly saying that they had to get it passed or their donors were going to stop giving them money. They weren't talking about little donors. So they voted a huge tax cut for the rich, hugely increasing the deficit.
In 2017, "60 Minutes" reported that both parties were advising their members of Congress to "dial for dollars", asking affluent donors for as much money as they can get, 30 hours a week. Those members know that when those donors call them later about something, they will need to take that call. The rest of us don't have that privilege.
Americans across the political spectrum -- three- fourths of those surveyed -- oppose these practices. They need to be stopped.
The good news is, we can do it. Here's how Operation End Run will help get it done:
Step 1: We identify corrupting and anti-corrupting fundraising practices. Some practices, good and bad, are easy to spot. A bad one is dialing for dollars. A good practice is setting a low ceiling on campaign donations, as Florida governor Lawton Chiles did in two campaigns, at $100, then winning and owing no favors to anyone. Here is our list of good practices, including the opposite of bad ones:
- Refusing to dial for dollars.
- Refusing to accept individual contributions over $200.
- Refusing to encourage or communicate with PACs or big money donors to them.
- Refusing to accept any donation from a group that does not reveal all its original human donors (no dark money). (Exception: groups whose members might reasonably expect retaliation for contributing.)
Step 2: We ask each candidate which of the practices on our list he or she follows. And if they decline to answer, that gets reported as well.
Step 3: We assign a number of stars to each candidate, one for each anti-corruption practice on our list that they follow. Each star has a different color, so that, like icons, they will instantly tell the viewer which practices the candidate follows. Here they are:
Step 4: We educate the public about the dangers of influence-peddling, and the practices we have identified.
Step 5: We publish the stars for each candidate. OER members will inform each candidate seeking to represent them that the member prefers candidates with the most OER stars because they consider corrupting practices to be undemocratic and unethical.
Step 6: We monitor the election results and campaign practices, then repeat. We will examine the results and look at how campaign practices are evolving, will incorporate those things into our research and education, and will repeat Steps 1-5 above as each election approaches.
With each election, we expect that some multi-starred candidates will win. We expect that over time, the statistics will show an edge for such candidates, because we know voters do strongly prefer candidates who aren't beholden to big donors. That's no guarantee in particular elections, because sometimes voters will vote for an outright crook. But over time, we believe our plan will turn elected officials away from money and toward the public interest.
As part of that effort, OER will advance the idea at every opportunity that corrupting practices are undemocratic and unethical. In short, we want to create a new ethical norm for candidates raising campaign money.
As the movement grows, the candidates will begin to compete with each other to claim the most stars. As they see the edge candidates have with more stars, they will increasingly be afraid not to have them, shifting from reluctant cooperation to active fear of the consequences of having too few. Our goal is to have them as concerned about the information we are creating as they are of the National Rifle Association. But ethics are a good thing to be worried about.
All we have to do is get sufficient resources to do the research, and then publicize the results, and the people will do the rest. They will do it with the deadliest weapons that exist against bad politicians -- their votes.
If this movement goes viral, it could happen in a few years. More likely it will take longer. There will be strong resistance to it. Steady pressure for the long haul will be needed, and many volunteers across the country to help gather data. But if the NRA can do it, so can we.
"We" means YOU. Please become a member, or donate, or both. In any case, please spread the word!