THE PROBLEM WE’RE ADDRESSING
Trust in government and voter participation in the United States stands at an all-time low. In 2016, less than 15% of 18-25 year olds voted. While there are many reasons for this downturn, the pervading influence of “dark” or undisclosed money in politics rises to the top. Young Americans simply don’t believe their votes matter.
Americans’ freedom to support candidates and causes financially is fundamental to the political process and the First Amendment right to speech. But the growing presence of undisclosed and unlimited contributions into our political system has begun to erode the very integrity of our democracy. Since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, more than $800MM has poured into undisclosed campaign spending. This kind of “pay-to-play” system obliterates trust in our democracy and keeps people at home on election day.
This “dark money” underpins the government’s inability or unwillingness to address the problems that most frustrate us—the most expensive healthcare system in the world, feeble environmental protection, ineffective school systems, rising gun violence, ever-increasing drug prices, and crushing public debt. According to a 2014 Princeton study, government does not produce solutions that everyday voters seek. There is no statistical correlation between government policy and their interests. But elected officials do act to serve up policy for special interests. Interests that—legally and secretly—spend millions on elections and lobbying. In the process they secure very large returns on their investments, often causing great harm to ordinary people.
THE SOLUTIONS WE SEEK
Since action at the Federal level is not tractable, we seek to secure ground-breaking, state-level constitutional rights and laws that give voters a right to know the influence behind elections and lobbying. While there are many means by which we can move democracy back toward working for the people, a clear and consistent system of political money transparency is a winnable catalyst.
We’re planning for the long-game, working to secure new transparency rights, laws, and enforcement, but also to support the defense of disclosure in the courts. This is needed to resist the growing attack by interests that enjoy the benefits of dark money networks.
In January, we formed a 501(c)(3) project designed to set the table to secure reform. In order to maximize expected value, we evaluate opportunities on several dimensions: the highest evidence-based benefit to public interest, likelihood of winning, and signal effect—at the lowest cost. Currently we’re pursuing reform in at least three states in advance of the 2018 election. We’ll continue to respond to the fluid landscape, assessing new opportunities against those criteria.
VRTK is supported by concerned citizens across the country to address this existential threat to our democracy. We’re now seeking to engage with partners that can assist with funding, ideas, feedback, and contacts we need to execute this vision. Our ongoing work supports four objectives:
1. Build Evidence. Create the research needed to guide transparency policy that works and can stand up in court. This is first-of-its-kind normative and cognitive research using large samples.
2. Create Policy. Develop model policy based on this evidence, partnering with some of the nation’s top political and constitutional attorneys.
3. Win. Lead or catalyze state policy reforms—ranging from legislative projects to citizen enacted ballot initiatives—optimized to achieve the most meaningful reforms with the highest probability of victory and best cost.
4. Advocate. Work alongside partners to raise the visibility within mainstream consciousness and position transparency as perhaps the most immediate and fundamental solution that we can unleash to move democracy back to the people.
Download our complete Fall 2017 Brief as a PDF.
View the document produced by MapLight and Voters’ Right To Know: Illuminating Dark Digital Politics