The State Election That’s Starting a Movement to Fix Congress

by Brian Johnson

April 21, 2016

Greenpeace activists asked candidates for the Maryland seat of the U.S. Senate to sign the Pledge to #fixdemocracy. Here's why each one of us should ask our candidates to sign the pledge.

Claim Your Democracy

Photo by Alex Dos Santos.

Wealthy interests are crowding out our voices in Congress. The good news is, we can do something about it.

The action started in Maryland when Greenpeace called on two frontrunner candidates for the U.S. Senate, Representative Chris Van Hollen and Representative Donna Edwards, to sign the Pledge to #fixdemocracy.

The pledge commits congressional candidates to working to reverse Citizens United and protect voter rights, and to prove their commitment by refusing future donations from fossil fuel CEOs, lobbyists and PACs.

Greenpeace emailed and called the Edwards and Van Hollen campaigns, asking them to sign the pledge. The campaigns responded but wouldn’t commit, so Greenpeace activists approached the candidates in person. Here’s what each candidate had to say:



Long story short, neither candidate has taken the pledge. Each candidate had their own explanation:

Edwards: “Generally, the fossil fuel industry has not been my friend.”

Van Hollen: “I’ve been very clear that we need to transition to a clean energy economy.”

The heart of the matter

Explanations like the ones from Van Hollen and Edwards aren’t untrue, but they miss the point of the pledge.

For one, the pledge would not be a huge lift for either candidate, since neither Van Hollen nor Edwards has taken money from a fossil fuel PAC or executive.

And while Edwards and Van Hollen have taken a combined $13,400 from 9 federally registered fossil fuel lobbyists, working for companies like Exxon, LNG Allies and Noble Energy, neither candidate needs that money in the context of the millions of dollars their campaigns have already raised.

But what fossil fuel money Edwards and Van Hollen have taken is still part of a larger corporate hold over our democracy. Research shows that your member of Congress is 4 times more likely to meet with you if you present yourself as a prospective donor.

The 9 fossil fuel lobbyists who donated to Van Hollen and Edwards didn’t do it just for fun. They wanted future meetings with whomever they predicted would become the next senator from Maryland.

By taking the pledge, Van Hollen and Edwards would do more than clean up their donation base. They’d join a growing, bipartisan movement to take back power from one of the most damaging corporate interests in politics.

Already, 10 congressional candidates have signed the Pledge to #fixdemocracy, including two Republicans.

It’s also something each candidate can do now, today, as we wait on Congress to overturn Citizens United and restore the Voting Rights Act.

A call to act

Finally, the pledge is a call for each one of us to take action. Corporate money may be polluting our democracy, but candidates still have to earn our votes to get elected.

In the Greenpeace videos, both Edwards and Van Hollen clearly felt pressure to respond to activists when asked about the pledge. Research shows that pressure makes a difference, and that phone calls, emails and letters to members of Congress affect where they sense power in their constituencies.

When you contact your congressional candidates about the pledge, you’re not just putting them on the spot, you’re showing them that taking a stand for our democracy is key to getting your vote, and therefore key to their getting elected.

And that’s power any one of us can exercise, in any state, all the way until November 8.

Check out the Democracy Pledge website to contact your congressional candidates, and help #fixdemocracy.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

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

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