A broad coalition of organizations staged a "citizens revolt" on October 26 on the east steps of the national Capitol to stop the "crimes against democracy" that are resulting from campaign finance corruption.
Following the outdoor rally, nine of the protesters were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda when they unfurled a 30-foot banner reading "Stop Crimes Against Democracy: End Campaign Finance Corruption Now," as nearly 100 tourists and 20 Capitol Police officers watched.
The action was designed to call attention to the Congress' failure to clean up the system. The groups cited the Senate's recent filibustering of two proposed reform bills as an example of Congress' 20 years of inaction on this issue. The new coalition aims to stage "in your face" actions until Congress wakes ups to citizen demands.
The coalition groups are united behind a reform measure -- full public financing for all federal campaigns -- that will most fully address the ills of our campaign finance system. Among the protesters were dozens of eight-graders from the National Cathedral School, carrying signs with the slogan "Public Funding for Public Elections."
Roll Call newspaper reported on the rally and quoted Sen. Paul Wellstone's vow to "keep bringing to the floor of the United States Senate an amendment that says we're going to deal with campaign finance reform."
The legislation would allow states to apply clean-money initiatives like the ones passed in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont to federal races. A federal judge encouraged supporters of public financing on Nov. 5 when he upheld Maine's law, which offers candidates for state offices public money to finance their campaigns if they agree to limit private contributions.
The groups also set up a small table where they were asking citizens to sign a "Voter's Pledge" encouraging voters to consider voting against any candidate who fails to endorse or support public funding of federal elections.
The nine protesters who were arrested after the noon rally Those arrested were: Chuck Collins, co-director of United for A Fair Economy, of Boston, Mass.; Frances Crowe, 81, long-time peace and justice activist, of Northampton, Mass.; Ronnie Dugger, co-chair of Alliance for Democracy, of Sommerville, Mass.; Patricia Hammann of Orrtanna, Penn.; Randy Kehler, co-founder of Working Group on Electoral Democracy, of Colrain, Mass.; Harry Kiely of Silver Spring, Md.; Steve Shafarman of Washington, D.C.; Harold Stokes of Redford, Mich.; and M.A. Swedlund of Deerfield, Mass. They were processed at the Capitol Police station and released that same evening.
"Here in the Capitol every day Congress is committing crimes against democracy. Bribery. Theft. Despoliation. Criminal neglect of the sick and dying. Congress is selling, and Congress is killing, the ideal that has been cherished for centuries in Western Civilization: democracy," said Dugger, whose Alliance for Democracy sponsored the rally along with Public Campaign. United for a Fair Economy, also a co-sponsor, also seeks to advance social, economic, and political justice.
The October 26 rally kicked off a year-long series of public events that are supported by this coalition of numerous and varied reform organizations. The rallies are designed to build a groundswell of support for public financing. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed some campaign reform efforts, has joined the public financing campaign. (For more information about the Alliance for Democracy, call 781-894-1179; Public Campaign, call 202-293-0222; United for a Fair Economy call 617-423-2148.)
GOVERNMENT BACKS ATM FEES. Voters in San Francisco and Santa Monica, California, on Nov. 2 approved bans on ATM surcharges, but the federal government supports the banks in their lawsuit to overturn the initiatives. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, filed a friend-of-the-court brief that supports the banks' argument that local governments cannot bar ATM fees levied by nationally chartered banks. Millions of dollars of revenue are at stake. If the court rules in favor of the banks, the surcharge bans would apply only to a handful of cash machines owned by state-chartered banks, thrifts and credit unions. The Comptroller filed similar briefs in court cases challenging ATM fee bans in Iowa and Connecticut.
In other election news, Maine voters by a 2 to 1 margin approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Maine joins Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington -- all of which legalized medical marijuana in referenda. Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana in 1998, but must approve it again in 2000 for it to go into effect. District of Columbia voters also approved medical marijuana, but the results were suppressed by Congress. Federal officials have said they would continue to prosecute marijuana possession, regardless of state laws.