Opinion: Campaign finance reform is key to ending NRA hold on Congress

Money in politics is the reason why there have been practically zero useful gun laws at the federal level for 25 years

Original posted in The Mercury News

The devastation still reverberates throughout our community, and while we are thinking about solutions to stopping these tragedies, we are also rightfully skeptical that change is realistic in Washington.

In the last three weeks, we’ve witnessed an unfathomable rise in gun violence in this country. More than 100 people were shot and 37 were killed, including two young children in Gilroy. Bodies were riddled with bullets in seconds by high-capacity assault weapons. Because it hits so close to home for us, it has been difficult to think about anything else.

Why has there been little-to-no response after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, when 20 babies and six adults were killed, and after the 2,000 mass shootings that have occurred since?

The NRA and the campaign finance system are the biggest barriers in the fight to end gun violence.

Money in politics is the reason why there have been practically zero useful gun laws at the federal level for 25 years. Contributions funnel through the NRA and line the pockets of members of Congress and the lobbyists surrounding them – not just in red states, but even here in California.

It’s crystal clear why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to even bring legislation before the Senate for a vote. Just this year alone, the NRA spent $1.6 million lobbying Congress, and from 1998-2016, more than $13 million was given to candidates, parties and political action committees.

The gun lobby narrowed the federal background check system, for example, to only gun dealers, and not resellers at gun shows or other places, allowing a 19-year-old to buy an assault weapon and kill in Gilroy.

The shocking truth is that it has become more about political power – than saving lives.

In Santa Clara County, we are lucky because leaders like San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardohave stepped up and are making a difference. County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian and Supervisor Susan Ellenberg are co-sponsoring a resolution, urging Congress to pass legislation banning assault weapons.

We must amplify the voices of activists, parents and students, and ramp up pressure on Congress. Campaign finance – and silence – threaten our democracy and a safer future. It’s time to:

• Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

• Require universal background checks.

• Support smart gun buy-back programs.

• Establish a nationwide gun license registry.

• Support red flag laws to get guns out of the hands of violent abusers.

• Require gun lockers in homes and cars to curb stolen guns.

• Continue to ensure our first responders have adequate funding, resources and training.

Campaign Finance Reform

Before running for state office, I was the lead campaign finance watchdog both at the state and federal level. As Gov. Jerry Brown’s chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, I saw the Koch Brothers invading elections in California and led the only fight ever to stop them – and succeeded.

President Obama saw this success and appointed me to chair the Federal Elections Commission. But at the FEC, I quickly understood political gridlock emanates from special interests.

I saw how entrenched these special interests – like the NRA, oil industry, pharmaceutical companies and others – undermine policies that are meant to protect Americans. Sadly, we’re seeing it now in local elections.

Campaign finance is the root cause of why we continue to see the devastating horror of mass shootings and violent crime – and we must do everything in our power to hold these industries accountable and fight for real reform. Everyone needs to speak out to their elected representatives to make sure they’re really representing the voice of the people.

Ann Ravel is the former Santa Clara County Counsel and former chair of the Federal Elections Commission and Fair Political Practices Commission. She is currently the director of digital deception at Maplight Foundation. She is a candidate to represent District 15 in the California state Senate.

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