Final State of the Union Highlights Need for Money in Politics Reforms


WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his final State of the Union on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama called for reforms to reduce the influence of money in politics and protect voter access to the polls. The speech comes only one month after a coalition of organizations delivered one million petitions to the White House, urging the president to require that federal contractors disclose their political contributions.

From President Barack Obama’s Seventh State of the Union Address: 
“We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections — and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do.”    – President Barack Obama

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, politicians from both major parties have increasingly relied on contributions from mega-donors and organizations that spend undisclosed money on elections. On December 16, 2015, U.S. PIRG joined a broad coalition of organizations to deliver one million petitions to the White House, urging the President to sign an Executive Order cracking down on secret political spending by federal contractors. These disclosure requirements represent the most powerful reform President Obama could sign into law with the stroke of his pen.

“Right now, the vast majority of funds raised in our elections are coming from big donors writing checks exponentially larger than most Americans can afford. Tonight, President Obama spoke out for Americans who want to refocus our elections on ordinary voters rather than mega-donors and special interests,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG.  “As the president enters his last year in office, Americans are going to be watching to see if he backs up his call for a ‘real solution’ with real action.”

In addition to highlighting the need for campaign finance reform, Tuesday night’s State of the Union address called for protections that strengthen voter access to the polls. Currently, only 60 to 75 percent of eligible voters are registered to vote, and barriers to registration disproportionately affect young people and people of color. U.S. PIRG is currently working in states and communities across the country to ensure that everyone has their voices heard in our elections.

“Voting is a fundamental right and part of what makes our country great,” said Emma Boorboor, Election Reform Campaign Director, U.S. PIRG. “Yet in 2016, access to the polls is still inefficient and cumbersome and our voter rolls are inaccurate. Tonight, President Obama echoed what many Americans are already thinking – ‘voting should be easier, not harder.’ Over the next year we will work to modernize our elections and ensure all Americans have the opportunity to be heard.”

Next Tuesday, January 21, will mark the sixth anniversary of Citizens United.  Since the Court’s decision, outside spending and secret political contributions have increased dramatically. In the 2012 presidential race, special interest groups spent more than $300 million in secret money, a record that experts believe the 2016 elections may break.

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U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.