Democracy's Red-Flag Alert

TODAY, our nation faces a crisis in the way we govern ourselves. The crisis is different from Watergate. But it, too, is profoundly threatening to our institutions of government and our representative system. Our nation's capital is addicted to special-interest influence money. Members of Congress are living professionally and personally off these funds. Washington has become an ethics swamp....

The system of institutionalized corruption in Washington involves a further problem. The voices of our elected leaders are being silenced. So many of them are participating in this system that even those who want to change it are often silent and unwilling to speak out publicly. Not only are their voices being silenced, but their ability to provide vitally needed leadership for our country is being severely undermined....

The American people are moving beyond outrage to a state of deep cynicism. They are reaching a state of ``no expectations'' about our government leaders. And in a democracy, that's a red-flag alert....

Although it's early in the 101st Congress, there are some encouraging signs:

President Bush recently proposed a comprehensive and wide-ranging legislative ethics package. While he ducked a key issue - the proposal to ban congressional honoraria - the package addresses a number of important areas and will help force Congress to deal with a broad range of ethics issues.

The leaders of both parties in the House of Representatives have called for passage of a campaign reform bill - in this Congress. They've created a bipartisan task force with a mandate to come up with a comprehensive campaign reform proposal.

And for the first time, a majority of House members is now on public record in support of an end to the corrupt honoraria fee system....

This fight is not just a battle over ethics and campaign finance legislation. It is a fight over our nation's values - what we stand for, what we're all about.

It's a fight we must win.

Excerpted from remarks by Common Cause president Fred Wertheimer to the group's National Governing Board May 6.

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