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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lisa Brown: To change Congress, we need to change who we send to Congress

Lisa Brown

Whether I’m at a town hall in Deer Park, a meet-and-greet in Medical Lake or knocking on doors in the Logan neighborhood of Spokane, I hear from people in every part of Eastern Washington that they’re frustrated with a dysfunctional Congress and don’t feel like their leaders are working for them.

It’s the same sentiment across the country. As of May, only 17 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to Gallup.

My opponent, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has stated that she wants to restore trust and accountability in government, and I agree that is a worthy goal. But before we can accomplish that, we have to understand why people have lost confidence in the first place, and why many are skeptical that a 14-year incumbent can lead the charge to restore trust in D.C.

I believe this erosion of trust is due to the widespread perception that Congress has become a pay-to-play system in which large donors and special interests take priority over the things that matter to most families.

And when you look at the track record of our current congressional leadership and what they’ve accomplished, it’s not hard to understand why people feel that way.

Despite it being the No. 1 issue facing families in Eastern Washington, Congress hasn’t taken meaningful steps to reduce prescription drug prices and lower the cost of health care. Instead, they passed a tax law in which 83 percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Congress managed to bail out our largest banks and financial institutions but hasn’t provided debt relief for college students. And just the other week, Congress let net neutrality rules expire, even though the vast majority of Americans support them.

On many of these issues and more that matter to voters, congressional leadership hasn’t allowed bipartisan bills to come forward for a vote. So you have to ask, who is calling the shots?

How can we know, when dark-money PACs and the absence of transparency means voters don’t even get to know where the money comes from that supports the attack ads that you’ll soon begin seeing nonstop until November?

I’m running for Congress to change that, as are many other candidates across the country, and am proposing actions – not just words – to actually restore trust and transparency in government. I’ll work to overturn Citizens United and to help end the influence of big money and outside spending from special interests. According to a recent Washington Post poll, an astounding 96 percent of voters blame money in politics as the biggest reason for the dysfunction of our current Congress, but under the leadership of Paul Ryan and my opponent the bill to overturn Citizens United won’t see the light of day.

I’ll also support the DISCLOSE Act, which would help draw back the curtain on dark-money donations so we know exactly who funds campaigns and pays to have their interests reflected.

But I’m not waiting for Congress to do things differently.

I’m beginning the reform by running a transparent campaign, and I’ve been endorsed by End Citizens United because I pledged to not accept any contributions from corporate PACs, instead relying on grassroots support from thousands of individual donors. Almost 90 percent of the individuals who have contributed to my campaign live in Washington state, and we’ve received donations from every county in Eastern Washington.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t listen to concerns from businesses about their industries or employees, but I took the End Citizens United pledge to make it clear to people in the 5th District that PAC money won’t determine who gets in the door.

Meanwhile, my opponent was placed on End Citizens United’s “Big Money 20” list of current members of Congress who receive the most financial support from corporate PACs and special-interest donors and then vote in their favor instead of their constituents’. And the last time the House voted on a DISCLOSE Act, she voted against it.

Voters in Eastern Washington want action, not talking points, and the corruptive influence of special interests in our government is what’s clearly blocking progress on issues that matter to families and communities in the 5th District. Overturning Citizens United and passing the DISCLOSE Act would go a long way in fixing the broken system.

Merely talking about restoring trust in government doesn’t make it happen, and we’re not going to get different results by doing the same thing.

It’s clear that if we want to change Congress, we need to change who we send to Congress – because only then can we change the rules that give special interests a stranglehold over our country.

That’s the power of the ballot – the power that’s in your hands this year.

Lisa Brown, former WSU Spokane chancellor and former Washington state Senate majority leader, is a candidate for the 5th Congressional District of Washington.

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