The Scoop: Americans of many political backgrounds feel that their elected officials don’t represent them or their interests. That’s why RepresentUs, a non-partisan advocacy group fighting corruption in the political process, aims to change that perspective. With dozens of chapters across the country, RepresentUs strives to reform campaigning, voting, and elections to remove special interests from the process. The ultimate goal is to bring about transparency and fairness that affect important issues, including women’s rights and gender equality.
In 2010, Josh Silver was working to protect net neutrality, but he found that, whenever his organization made progress, special interest groups that wanted to eliminate net neutrality would find a way to stop it.
Frustrated by the outsize influence of big money and special interest groups, Josh partnered with Joshua Graham Lynn to create RepresentUs, a non-partisan advocacy group that aims to eliminate political corruption and fix unfair elections.
“Special interest groups and big business halted progress for every issue he cared about,” said Ellen Moorhouse, the Grassroots Communications Manager for RepresentUs.
The goal of RepresentUs is to fight corruption in politics, and Ellen understands that the nonprofit’s mission is a tall order. However, Ellen said the issues are worth the fight, and eliminating corruption can affect public policies for everything from internet access to women’s rights and gender equality.
“Many people don’t know where to start or how to tackle corruption in politics,” she told us. “But they can change the broken system by changing the structure of how politicians are elected — and holding them accountable once they get in office.”
RepresentUs helps average Americans take back the political control they feel they’ve lost. The organization encourages its chapters across the United States to advocate for changes to local laws. Then, they work to translate those statewide changes into federal reform.
Ellen shared a story of grassroots activism in action. In 2018, a group called the Badass Grandmas wanted to create an ethics commission in their home state of North Dakota. The group was led by two women, a Democrat and a Republican, and spurred locals to enact an initiative creating a 13-member ethics committee to regulate the state and hear complaints.
The Badass Grandmas were successful, and the group paved the political path for more groups to form around the state.
“It’s not just about the victory itself, but also the implementation and defense of those policies. That committee will have an incredible ripple effect on how business is done in North Dakota,” Ellen said.
Fighting Corruption Across the Political Spectrum
A video featuring actress Jennifer Lawrence describes how political dissatisfaction crosses the Republican and Democratic aisles. She notes that only 4% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in Congress and that America isn’t even considered a full democracy anymore.
For example, if there’s a political issue that 100% of Americans support, there would still only be a 30% chance that Congress would pass a law to fix the issue. Popular support appears to have little impact on elected officials. This figure indicates that Congressional representatives don’t represent the people, which is their purpose.
One of the reasons RepresentUs suggests that congressional officials don’t represent the people is because these officials must raise exorbitant amounts of money to finance their campaigns. As such, they mostly have to address the laws that special interest groups and wealthy donors want them to if they’re going to stay in office.
“Every issue we care about is stymied by big business and special interests,” Ellen said. “Our policies and laws are no longer determined by evidence-based lawmaking. They’re made by special interest groups and big spenders.”
Constitutional scholars suggest that if we could stop political bribery and corruption, then elected officials wouldn’t be beholden to big money and instead could focus on the needs of the people.
In New Jersey, for example, many cities have passed anti-corruption resolutions that have influenced state-wide policies. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that would force political candidates to disclose information about their campaign donors.
Soon after, a special interest group sued the state, but RepresentUs members were at the courthouse to fight back. These activists held a rally, called the local press, and connected with partner groups in the state.
“That’s just one state’s example of what it takes to make real change across the country,” Ellen said.
Understanding the Importance of Grassroots Campaigns
To fix the broken political system, RepresentUs focuses on several key issues.
“We focus on a suite of policies that include ethics laws, campaign finance reform, lobbying transparency, and fixing our broken election system,” Ellen said.
The first issue is gerrymandering, an often-political way of drawing voting districts to influence elections. RepresentUs believes that independent bodies should create voting lines.
Next is ranked choice voting (RCV), a system of voting that would allow independent and third-party candidates to have a chance to win elections. With RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference, rather than just voting for one person. Minneapolis, for example, already uses RCV in elections, and New York City will soon.
Another law to improve the fairness of elections is Automatic Voter Registration. In most states, voters have to register themselves, but, in this case, everyone would be automatically registered to vote. In connection, RepresentUs supports voting from home, so ballots are mailed to voters.
Each RepresentUs chapter works to change the system in its state, and they have already begun to see some positive results. One way interested people can get involved with RepresentUs is by attending events hosted by local chapters.
“Events have become such a priority to our members. They’re a huge mix of people across ages, demographics, and political affiliations,” Ellen said.
Others may get involved by obtaining signatures for ballot initiatives in the 26 states where they’re allowed. A ballot initiative doesn’t mean that a law is enacted. It only means that the state’s population can vote on it in an upcoming election.
The number of signatures necessary is typically quite significant and vary by state, so RepresentUs volunteers often mobilize to ask for ballot initiative signatures.
RepresentUs: Encouraging Change at the Local, State, and Federal Levels
RepresentUs wants to empower the American public to have a louder voice in the political process, and, while we always hear about the political divide in America, it may be surprising that 47% of Americans identify as independent.
That’s why the organization looks to enact policies that benefit all American families, not just one faction of voters. Then, RepresentUs and its chapters aim to find ways to identify which policies already have broad popular support.
“We’re always asking ourselves, ‘What states have already implemented these policies, and what can we learn from them?’ It’s not enough to pass these laws. We need to always remain on the cutting edge,” Ellen said.
RepresentUs finds that many voters don’t know where to turn for accurate political information. With constant confusing rhetoric on the news and in politics, voters may have trouble figuring out which policies could benefit them most.
According to Ellen, that’s one of the biggest draws of RepresentUs. Regular Americans lead grassroots initiatives that get people talking about the issues that matter to them.
“Politics are more relatable if you can connect them to your real life, and we’re beginning to see a real shift in these policy issues that matter to us,” she told us. “We continue to find real hope in empowering people and movements across the country.”