The U.S. Supreme Court has left American democracy struggling under the weight of dirty maps and dirty money, so it's up to Congress and a loud, loud public to fix it. The court this month punted on the often-absurd “gerrymandering” that leads to ...and more »
The U.S. Supreme Court has left American democracy struggling under the weight of dirty maps and dirty money, so it’s up to Congress and a loud, loud public to fix it.
The court this month punted on the often-absurd “gerrymandering” that leads to unfair legislative and congressional district maps in many states. It’s what happens when politicians draw maps to benefit themselves or their friends by artificially concentrating one party’s voters in one district, either to cement their hold there or to make all the surrounding districts safer. Both parties do it, but it’s still wrong, warping our right to fair and effective representation.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)The court basically sidestepped a pair of cases challenging Wisconsin’s and Maryland’s maps, choosing not to decide the constitutionality of partisan district lines drawn to intentionally dilute voters’ influence.
And America is still reeling from the 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited independent expenditures by deep-pocketed special interests in our elections, skewing our already off-kilter system even further.
But why should we wait for courts to act on blatantly unfair and undemocratic districts, or the corrosive effect of unlimited money in elections? Why not stop poisoning ourselves, rather than treating the symptoms?
California is among several states that already have fought their way out from under partisan gerrymandering by taking line-drawing authority away from the Legislature. We passed a ballot measure in 2008 creating the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw our Assembly, state Senate and tax-board lines; we passed another measure in 2010 to give the commission authority to draw congressional lines as well.
And, though still far from perfect, California long has been a leader in requiring public disclosure of the sources of money flowing into and around our elections.
To spread this to other states would take more than just willpower. Generally these independent redistricting commissions have been created by ballot measures because state politicians won’t relinquish this power willingly. Not all states have the initiative and referendum process with which to do this, and for those that do, it’s expensive.
Congress is not helpless. We could swiftly move to pass Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s Redistricting Reform Act of 2017, requiring states to have independent redistricting commissions to draw their congressional district maps after each decennial census.
To start battling dirty money, we can strip Citizens United down to the studs by passing Rep. David Cicilline’s newly updated DISCLOSE Act, to fully expose the depth and breadth of the special-interest money swamping our system.
We should move toward a public-financed campaign system. Rep. John Sarbanes’ ’ Government By the People Act would use tax credits and federal matching funds to amplify the power of small contributions to balance super PACs’ outsized influence.
Each of these bills already have scores of co-sponsors and each would be a great start. But even if all of them are enacted, we should still amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United entirely and turn off the spigot that spews big money into our elections.
Only an energized, engaged, loud public will help Congress find the political will to act. And only such action will break the partisan-paved, money-cemented gridlock that keeps Congress from acting in areas where vast majorities of Americans agree, such as climate change, letting Dreamers remain in America and requiring background checks for all gun purchases.
I’ve learned and spoken a lot in the past year and a half about the danger of foreign adversaries’ interference in our elections. But I believe our own self-inflicted poison poses just as much of a threat, if not more, to our democracy.
Americans feel frustrated, distanced and disenfranchised from our elected government. We deserve more: a government in which we truly all have a voice.
Eric Swalwell, D-Castro Valley, represents the Bay Area’s 15th Congressional District.
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