Common Cause Statement on the State of the Union Message

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  • Dale Eisman

President Obama has another chance tonight to embrace and advance the promise that propelled him to the White House, the promise to change Washington. We urge him to seize it.

We’re delighted at news accounts indicating that Mr. Obama will focus much of the State of the Union address on initiatives to boost economic opportunities for the millions of Americans struggling to get in or stay in the middle class. Attacking the growing economic gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us should be a top priority for him and every member of Congress.

But the President will not make much headway unless he also goes after political inequality, the gap between the influence and access enjoyed by the nation’s political elites — major corporations and their lobbyists, secretive, top-dollar campaign donors – and everyone else.

The political and economic gaps have grown in concert during Mr. Obama’s presidency, and not by coincidence. As the richest Americans have gotten more wealthy, a string of court decisions has permitted them to direct more of their money – often secretly – to elect candidates and shape policies to their liking. They have responded, opening their checkbooks with gusto.

While he has worked hard throughout his presidency to promote an economic recovery that reaches every American, Mr. Obama has done little to challenge big money’s grab for political power.

Indeed, in his own campaigns, the President has grabbed for big money along with small contributions, making himself the most successful fund raiser in American political history. He’s reneged on his promise to propose reforms to the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He’s spoken in support of the DISCLOSE Act while refusing to spend political capital on its behalf and he’s backed away from a proposed executive order that would have mandated better disclosure of political spending by government contractors. He’s been agonizingly slow to fill vacancies on the Federal Election Commission. He’s barely lifted a finger to promote the admittedly-uphill struggle for a constitutional amendment that would reverse Citizens United and allow Congress and state legislatures to restore sensible limits on political spending.

None of this is to minimize the difficulties the President would have encountered had he taken on these fights. His adversaries in Congress seem almost pathologically opposed to anything Mr. Obama supports and many of his usual supporters there have been beneficiaries of big money’s political clout or are wary of the risks in challenging it.

Still, the President promised that fixing Washington would be atop his agenda and was elected largely on that commitment. There’s no better time than the State of the Union for him to get serious about honoring it.