Candidates win when they challenge big money's role

Story highlights

  • Voters in both parties are angry at the role big money plays in politics; challenging that is a smart move for candidates, says Donna Brazile
  • She says voters understand that big-money interests are drowning out their voices

Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for civic engagement and voter participation at the Democratic National Committee. A nationally syndicated columnist, she is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and -- much to my surprise -- Donald Trump have successfully tapped into a frustration among voters who feel left out of our political process and disillusioned with the growing influence of money in our elections and in shaping policy. Even Ted Cruz railed against the current system in his victory speech in Iowa.

Taking on this issue isn't just the right thing to do; it's good politics. A poll from the fall among likely Democratic Iowa caucusgoers found that 94% were unsatisfied or "mad as hell" about the amount of money in politics. That also held true for likely Republican caucusgoers at 91%.
If candidates want to have success in the 2016 election, the growing influence of money in politics is an undeniable issue all candidates need to address. And they need to propose real solutions -- not just commiserate about the system as they continue to benefit from it -- if they want voters to support them and turn out.
Voters increasingly understand that big moneyed interests are drowning out their voices on issues important to them. Young people in New Hampshire worry about student loan providers' lobbying and campaign contributions ultimately saddling them with massive debt by the time they graduate. Republican voters in that state are concerned that favors for special interests will lead to a bloated, wasteful government.
And voters across South Carolina worry that the big oil and gas industry will successfully push the administration to open the coast to offshore drilling for the first time, forever altering and threatening the beaches and pristine coastline they love and on which their economies depend. As a native Louisianan, I know all too well the devastation that can come from big oil using its influence to push for risky offshore drilling.
Certainly, no issue lives in isolation, but the growing influence of money in politics seems to be deeply intertwined with all others in a way no other single issue is. That's why voters of all stripes who might not agree on anything else have come together to demand solutions from the candidates to reduce the amount and influence of money in our system.
A nonpartisan group called New Hampshire Rebellion has captured this growing momentum for change -- bringing this issue to candidate forums and rallies, holding marches all over the state to demand solutions, and organizing a multiday convention in Manchester centered around reducing the influence of money in politics. The group has brought together a former state supreme court justice, a Republican small business owner trying to decide between Trump and Christie, a student supporting Bernie Sanders, and countless others.
The solutions that New Hampshire Rebellion and others want are not controversial. They want to ensure that everyone's voice is heard, everyone knows who is trying to buy influence over government, and that politicians play by commonsense rules and are held accountable. Publicly funded campaigns are already a reality in cities and states from Maine to Seattle. And there have been major victories recently to increase transparency, including a bipartisan bill in Montana.
And there's broad support across party lines for many concrete solutions that would help increase transparency and rein in the outsized influence of moneyed interests. A poll from the summer found that Republicans favored restrictions on campaign donations nearly to the same extent as Democrats, and another recent poll found that Democratic candidates who talk about their reform plans get a boost in the polls.
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The truth is we don't need to wait for the next president to take action on this issue. President Obama can take executive action right now to take us one step closer to his promise of a "better politics" by requiring federal contractors to disclose all political spending.
But this election will determine if the next president will follow through on the rhetoric and maintain and expand real change to our system or continue to operate under the status quo, in which millionaires, billionaires and corporations get more access to and influence over our elected officials.
Voter frustration is only going to continue to grow if this issue isn't addressed and soon. It's past time for candidates and elected leaders to step up and ensure these voters' cries for change are heard and answered. If they do, this year could be a major turning point for our political system.