The Other Half of Our Democracy We Must Fix

by Brian Johnson

April 12, 2016

All eyes are on the Presidential race, and that's good. But the fight to #fixdemocracy relies just as much on how we change Congress — and it starts with every one of us.

Democracy Awakening

Activist holds a sign reading "Claim Your Democracy" in front of the U.S. Capitol building during the Democracy Awakening march on April 18.

With the recent activity around money in politics and the presidential election, it’s easy to forget that the Campaign to #FixDemocracy has another important part: Congress.

Why? For one, Congressional races are where dirty and dark money is flowing now that Republicans have failed to stop Trump. That includes the Koch brothers, with their almost $900 million locked and loaded for the election cycle.

That flow of money isn’t just dark and dirty–much of it is also out-of-state. In fact, data compiled by Open Secrets shows that even House members who rank in the top 10 for amount of money taken from in their state still receive an average of 1 out of every $3 from out of their state. When looking at senators, the best ten still get 2 out of every $5 from out of state.

That matters, because we elect our congressional candidates in both the Senate and the House to represent our state and local interests. A Congress member’s ability to do that is compromised when out-of-state money enters the picture. Money also makes it harder to access your Congress member.

One study found that your Congress member is 4 times more likely to meet with you if you have money to donate than if you don’t.

Congress Also Holds the Keys to Issues You Care About

To be sure, the next president will have a lot of important powers, from stopping fossil fuel extraction on public lands, to seeing through President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. But for all the power the next president will have, the collective power of Congress matters just as much.

It will be Congress that will approve future UN climate treaties. It will be Congress that will pass federal climate legislation. And it will be Congress that will work with administrative actions like the Clean Power Plan. Today’s Congress hasn’t come near that kind of functionality, and fossil fuel money–both in-state and out-of-state–hasn’t helped.

The issues go beyond climate and the environment, since all progressive campaigns–from voting rights to women’s rights to immigration rights–depend on an uncorrupted and functioning Congress. Just ask Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court has been blocked by Congress members working under the Koch network.

What You Can Do

There may be 535 members of Congress, but your Senators and House member should be uniquely beholden to you. And while money from industries like fossil fuel corporations has been getting in the way, politicians know they can’t ignore pressure from voters.

What can you do?


Want to engage all of Congress? Join the Democracy Awakening, April 16-18, for a rally, lobby day, and non-violent direct action at the Capitol. Details on how to get there and where to stay included.

Already, ten House and Senate candidates have signed the pledge, including:

  • Jamie Raskin (MD-08)
  • Zephyr Teachout (NY-19)
  • Kevin Stine (Senate, OR)
  • Ana Sol-Gutierrez (MD-08)
  • Jeff Jones (MD-08)
  • Joe DeMare (Senate, OH)
  • George Gluck (MD-06)
  • Alan Grayson (Senate, FL)
  • Von Hougo (Senate, CA)
  • David McDevitt (WA-03)

It’s a cause that can go farther than you may think. Just ask Ananya Singh of New Jersey, a volunteer with Greenpeace’s National Activist Network, whose campaign on local Congressman Leonard Lance to sign the #fixdemocracy pledge was recently covered by her town paper. You can be sure Congressman Lance’s local staff read the article!

Democrat or Republican, environmentalist or not, cleaning up our democracy matters to all of us. The movement to #fixdemocracy is already heating up around the presidential race. Let’s bring the heat to our Congressional candidates too.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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