On every dimension – elections, legislation, and in the states as well as in Washington - government increasingly fails to play its role in finding pragmatic solutions to known problems. Democracy is pulled and paralyzed by money, partisanship, and by the culture of the permanent campaign. Our institutions are not up to the challenge. The Political Reform program of New America seeks to develop new strategies and innovations to repair the dysfunction of government, restore trust, and rebuild the promise of American democracy.
An open, fair democratic process, with equitable opportunities for full participation, is essential to restoring dynamism and growth to the American economy and society. As economic inequality crosses over into the space of democracy, it creates a self-reinforcing oligopoly of power that forecloses innovation. The role of money in elections is only one vector by which economic power crosses over into the democratic sector, but it is one that has become much more significant in recent years, as spending has grown exponentially and the flimsy post-Watergate regulatory structure has collapsed. Economic power is also reinforced by the role of lobbyists and lobbyists’ control of information; regulatory processes in which certain industries are able to bring unmatched technical capacity and clout to the table; the changing nature of communication about politics and issues, the nature of parties and organizational affiliations; and the use of deep social divisions to exacerbate partisan polarization and obstruct change.
The program situates issues of money in politics, lobbying and information, participation and election rules in the context of the market for power, in order to develop and build consensus around new solutions that will be compelling to a wide constituency. This perspective on democracy as a dynamic system shaped by regulation as well as culture, by supply and demand, by the number and identity of participants can broaden the discussion beyond the narrow conflict between regulation and free expression. In addition to advancing specific policy solutions, such as programs to encourage small donors, the program supports journalism, academic research, and convenings in order to more accurately and persuasively define the nature of the problem, sharpen the proposed solutions, and bring new voices to the conversation.
We also aim to develop a more comprehensive vision of a democracy agenda, linking issues of the market for power to reform visions such as instant-runoff voting and proportional representation, nonpartisan primaries, congressional reforms, a constitutional guarantee of the right to vote, open internet and related communications projects, experiments in deliberative democracy, and other changes that promise to expand participation or ameliorate polarization.
New America’s program on Political Reform was launched at the beginning of 2014 and is led by Mark Schmitt, a noted expert on money in politics and electoral reform who was previously the editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at New America from 2005 to 2008. Some of our partners include The Brennan Center for Justice, The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Every Voice, The Century Foundation, and the R Street Institute.