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Can 'Occupy Wall Street' really get money out of politics?

While 'Occupy Wall Street' has avoided specifying demands, money in politics is a clear target. Supporters of campaign-finance reform hope the movement gives their cause momentum.

By Staff writer / October 14, 2011

An 'Occupy Seattle' protester holds a sign in support of campaign-finance reform on Wednesday.

Elaine Thompson/AP

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The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has been catching flak for its perceived lack of clear goals, but the protests have already put new energy behind one big idea: reforming the role of money in politics.

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Advocates of campaign finance reform say the protesters in New York and elsewhere have, in recent weeks, brought the question of corporate influence closer to the front burner of national discourse, adding fresh momentum to their own efforts.

"I can't tell you how thrilled I am," says Annabel Park, founder and president of Coffee Party USA, a group that promotes campaign finance reform with grass-roots support. "It's like a miracle," she says. Even though many Americans worry about the money in politics, "it's hard to get people's attention on this."

Ms. Park says she's seen synergy between her group and Occupy Wall Street, which has spawned a range of nationwide demonstrations since protesters set up camp in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17. Some Coffee Party followers have joined in Occupy rallies. And Park says she's seen a rise in public support for her own group over the past month.

Even before Occupy Wall Street began, the Coffee Party was planning an "Enough is enough" rally in Washington on Oct. 29. That event could see its ranks grow, as it now becomes part of a larger season of protest in America.

Similarly, an online petition drive called "Get Money Out" launched in late September, with the goal (shared by the Coffee Party) of amending the Constitution so that corporate money can be banned from politics. Dylan Ratigan, who hosts a news show on the MSNBC network, has spearheaded the effort, which has attracted about 190,000 signers as of Thursday.

The growing energy around this issue doesn't mean that campaign reform is a sure thing. Far from it. Because the Supreme Court upheld corporate campaign donations as a form of free speech, many backers of reform say their best way forward is through an amendment to the Constitution.

And that process is difficult, ultimately requiring approval in three-quarters of US states, leading supporters to conclude that to be successful a strong nonpartisan movement including Republicans and Democrats is required.

So it seems like a long shot, to put it mildly.

But it's also an idea that's welling up lately from a lot of frustrated citizens in the US. And elsewhere. When Park was interviewed Thursday, she was speaking from an "Alter EU" conference in Brussels held by a coalition of groups that describes itself as "concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe."

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