Saturday, March 17, 2007
Author: Lauren Strayer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 15, 2006
Contact: Lauren Strayer, 212-490-0001, firstname.lastname@example.org
PROGRESSIVE GROUPS UNVEIL "DEMOCRACY PROTECTION ACT"
Mark Green, Miles Rapoport, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Michael Waldman to hold press conference today call to discuss plan to “expose and repair the quiet crisis of democracy.”
New York City – Four leading progressive institutions are today publishing “The Democracy Protection Act: 40 Ways Toward A More Perfect Union” and are holding a press conference call at 12 noon EST today, March 15, 2007. “America is threatened by a group of ‘new authoritarians’ – in the executive branch, congress, the clergy and corporations – who show enormous contempt for the value of democracy,” says the Introduction to the publication. “Our country needs its own pro-democracy movement ‘to form a more perfect union.’”
Mark Green of the New Democracy Project, Miles Rapoport of Demos, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine, and Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law jointly pledged to make democracy a major theme in their work over the next two years because "democracy transcends all other issues – indeed it is a prerequisite to nearly all other reforms."
Among the proposals advanced in the “Democracy Protection Act” are: enacting “democracy funding” in federal campaigns, creating national voting standards, making electronic voting secure, strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, making CEOs more accountable for excessive corporate compensation, and restricting presidential signing statements. (See below for an executive summary of the 40 proposals.)
In a "Declaration for Democracy," the heads of the four organizations expressed their premise and goal:
"America's two century advance toward a better democracy – with more voters, greater fidelity to the rule of law, and more transparency and accountability – is threatened by powerful people and interests who believe more in top-down rule than the ethic of debate and participation. Trampling on the values represented by the flag far more than the couple of fools a year who actually burn one, this trend poses a clear and present danger to our constitutional traditions.
"While palpable and visible crises such as Iraq, health care and income inequality assault us daily, there is a quiet crisis of democracy that is as urgent as it is ignored.
"We have too much money and too few voters in our electoral process. Too much corruption. Too high barriers blocking access to civil justice. Too much contempt for the Rule of Law.
"At a colloquium we organized last January in New York City, Bill Moyers said that what America needs most is 'a different story' than the prevailing conservative narrative of private=good, public=bad. That story is democracy.
"The ‘Democracy Protection Act,’ therefore, is designed to be a trumpet heralding that, in the words of Al Smith, the cure to the problem of democracy is more democracy. So we are dedicated to injecting the value of democracy and the Rx of a ‘Democracy Protection Act’ into the public conversation of '07-'08. That means a renewed dedication to expanding the franchise, accountability, transparency and the rule of law."
According to Miles Rapoport, president of Demos: “There's no single policy that will fix our democracy to meet the great opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century. But a broad and sustained effort to stop the growth of plutocracy, maintain our liberties, and find ways to bring more people into the process can, taken together, make a real difference. At Demos, we are dedicated to making our democracy as vibrant and inclusive as it possibly can be. The ideas here are a terrific addition to the public debate.”
According to Mark Green, who is also the new president of Air America Radio, “Public interest and progressive groups have long each worked separately on their particular issue – poverty, pollution, reckless wars, economic injustice – with the larger issue of democracy often ignored. But so long as powerful interests dominate our broken democracy, government can never solve these problems. Because of a new atmosphere for reform after the November mid-term elections, we believe that our ‘Democracy Protection Act’ can help make it a primary issue for candidates, constituencies, the media and advocacy groups. Here's a simple question to ask all candidates – are you for more democracy or against it? For a Democracy Protection Act or against it?”
According to Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, “Offering ideas to repair our precious – and imperiled – democracy is perfectly in keeping with the spirit that guides all four of the groups releasing this report. We don't exist just to curse the political darkness, but to craft solutions to make America ‘a more perfect union.’ We’ve been doing that at The Nation every single week for 142 years – and will make a special effort to restore our democracy over the next years as well.”
According to Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center: “This menu of proposals represents diverse views and approaches to the central challenge of restoring our government and its connection to the people. No one will agree with everything in here. But taken together, these proposals reflect the creative ferment among citizens who know something is wrong, and who have vivid ideas for how to make things right. We all recognize that if we don’t fix our systems, we won’t solve our problems. We have a chance to put democracy at the center of our politics where it belongs.”
To join the press conference call at 12 noon EST , today, Thursday, March 15:
Please call 1-877-915-2770.
When prompted, please enter code: 1134733.
Executive Summary of “The Democracy Protection Act”
A. A Democracy With Too Few Voters:
- Enforce National Voting Standards - Create national standards to assure a more professional, trained, non-partisan staff to implement election day.
- Make Electronic Voting Secure - Use electronic voting machines with paper trails (as ATMs do) to deter or detect fraud.
- Establish Voting by Mail - Follow Oregon’s example and send ballots by mail to all eligible voters, a form of universal “no excuse” absentee balloting.
- Enact Election Day Registration - Make it easier to vote by keeping voter registration open until and on Election Day and merge Veterans Day into Election Day to create a national holiday called “Democracy Day.”
- Create Universal Youth Voter Registration - Based on high school enrollment, automatically register all 18 year-olds to vote.
- Criminalize Voter Intimidation - Make it a felony to knowingly try to stop others from voting.
Bar “Voter Identification” Rules that Suppress Voting - Stop states from requiring expensive forms of ID that are tantamount to a new poll tax.
- Restore the Vote to People with Felony Convictions - Enfranchise ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society.
- Give the Vote to D.C. Residents - As America was founded on the principal of “no taxation without representation,” give residents of our capital city representation in Congress.
- Ensure Responsible Redistricting - Establish a non-partisan system of former judges to oversee the drawing of the legislative lines.
- Elect the President by National Popular Vote - Organize states that together comprise a majority of the Electoral College to agree to cast their electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote.
- Try Proportional Voting - Instead of winner-take all elections, use proportional voting to allow similar-minded groups to gain seats in closer proportion to their share of the population.
Implement Instant Runoff Voting - Instead of plurality-wins in multiple candidate races, implement “instant runoff voting” by ranking favored candidates until someone gets an absolute majority.
B. Democratizing Congress:
- Tighten Lobbying Laws - Enact bans on lobbyists’ bundling, gifts, meals and travel and create an independent Office of Public Integrity that could investigate and report on congressional transgressions.
- Enact “Democracy Funding” in Campaigns - Establish a federal system of public matching funds for qualifying candidates so that small donors diminish the sway of big interests.
- Guarantee Free Air Time for Qualifying Candidates - Provide guaranteed TV/radio time for qualifying federal candidates as a condition of holding lucrative Federal Communications Commission licenses.
- Require Congressional Oversight Hearings - To spur oversight hearing when a congressional majority covers up for an administration, allow hearings when at least a third of a panel’s members request one.
C. Rule of Law:
- Restrict Presidential Signing Statements - Establish rules limiting how these “statements” can become unilateral declarations of law.
- End Torture, not Habeas Corpus – Rewrite the recent Military Commissions Act to make it clear that the United States will not condone torture and will continue to recognize Habeas Corpus petitions.
- Ban Federal Funding for Programs that Proselytize - To comport with the “Establishment Clause,” stop funds going to religious-based public programs that proselytize clients.
- Teach Science-based Science in Classrooms - Do not permit creationism or “intelligent design” to be taught in science classes.
- Stop Discrimination by Sexual Orientation at Work - Bar workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual workers.
- Establish a Civil Right to Counsel - Provide counsel to the indigent in major civil cases as provided in criminal cases under Gideon v. Wainwright.
- Create a Real Civil Liberties Protection Office - Especially given proven abuses in the “war on terror,” fund and empower an office to investigate and expose civil liberties violations.
D. Secrecy and Democracy:
- Strengthen the Freedom of Information Act - Establish the presumption that all federal agencies should release reasonably requested information under the Freedom of Information Act (i.e., there’s a “right to know,” not the requirement of proving a “need to know”).
- Publish Budgets for Every Government Agency – Give taxpayers a right to know how their monies are being spent, subject to very narrow national security exceptions.
- Reduce Media Concentration - Enact cross-media ownership rules prohibiting one corporate owner from largely monopolizing print and electronic news in a defined population area.
- Restore the Office of Technology Assessment - Restore the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to provide authoritative and objective analysis of complex scientific issues.
- Subject Government Contracts to Open Bidding - Make government contracts transparent, subject to public disclosure and open to intense competition, contrary to nearly half of $329 billion spent on no-bid contracts in 2004.
- Strengthen Whistleblower Protections for Federal Employees - Restore the weakened Whistleblower Protection Act and expand protections to employees in the intelligence and security communities.
E. The Economics of Democracy:
- Create a Living Wage – Raise the minimum wage to a living wage indexed to inflation and reviewed biennially.
- Establish a Child Savings Fund – Provide every child at birth a savings account that, with compounding interest, can be withdrawn at 18 for investment – a Keogh for kids.
- Tax All Income Equally - To stop AMT from soaking the middle class, either index it to inflation or ideally stop taxing income from work at higher rates than income form capital.
- Restore Consumer Class Actions - Stop blocking access to court for consumers who have been bilked in bulk.
- Assure Net Neutrality - Assure universal access to the internet so we don’t divide Americans into the information-rich and information-poor.
- Bridge the Digital Divide - Invest in broadband so that universal access becomes a reality.
- Review Corporate Compensation - Require that only independent directors on the Board can vote for increases in pay, subject to shareholders’ approval.
- Enact a Borrower’s Security Act - Establish a “Borrower’s Security Act” to bring fair credit practices to an industry that now routinely exploits credulous and confused customers.
- Expand the Right to Organize at Work - Allow employees to organize if a majority signs union recognition cards and impose penalties on employers who use intimidation and firings to discourage organizing.
- Create Citizen Utility Boards - Create consumer advocacy offices to fight for fair utility rates and practices in legislative and regulatory proceedings.
Losing our Democracy - by Mark Green, President of Air America Radio