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Cleaning Up Our Statehouses

Americans are fed up with big money dominating and corrupting the political process. Voters are fed up; community organizations are fed up; even most politicians locked in the endless fundraising chase are fed up. As Joel Barkin, our Executive Director, wrote last week for New Hampshire's Union Leader, "Now is the Time to Tackle Corruption in Government."

That was also the message from over one hundred activists and state legislators who gathered in Concord, New Hampshire this past Friday at the "Cleaning Up Our Statehouses-- Legislative Strategies for Reform" conference, sponsored by the Progressive States Network and our New Hampshire and national partners: Americans for Campaign Reform, the Center for American Progress, Common Cause, Democracy for New Hampshire, MoveOn Civic Action, New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, NH PIRG, and Public Campaign.

Joel led off the conference by condemning the way corruption leaves "elected representatives distracted from the people's priorities; what we end up with is bureaucrats and legislators creating a two-tiered systems of treatment "one for the wealthy and corrupt, one for the rest of us." But he also welcomed a chance for legislators and community groups to share successful strategies that have helped curb the problem across the New England region.

As Joel noted, corruption is more than just a theoretical problem -- it is a real issue that places the priorities of the rich and powerful above the concerns of the rest of us, while limiting the discussion on every issue to those solutions favored by powerful interests. And while it is not just a theoretical problem, state activists are increasingly finding that it can be effectively tackled through real-world problem solving. A number of those strategies are outlined below -- lobbying and contracting reform, public financing of elections -- a number have been experimented with at the state and federal level -- campaign finance caps -- and others can have a huge impact while not even appearing to impact the election -- like Oregon's Vote-by-Mail system, which spreads the voting process over a few weeks and helps to diminish the power of well-funded candidates to overwhelm publicly-funded candidates in the last few days of an election.

Poll after poll shows corrupt politicians hemorrhaging public support. But the public wants something more than a simple changing of the guard: They are looking for evidence that there is a plan to prevent the cycle of corruption from once again rearing its ugly head. Look below for policies your state should consider and, as always, let us know if we can be of any assistance.