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Jennifer Lawrence discusses how to ‘Unrig the System’

Academy Award winner stars at summit on political solutions

February 5, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Actress Jennifer Lawrence interviews Trevor Potter about the ways mega-donors flout campaign finance laws. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas

The current political system in which Democrats and Republicans fight like cats and dogs and nothing gets done can be changed, but only if Americans are willing to roll up their sleeves and work on a grass-roots level to make those changes.

That was the takeaway from a unique three-day conference called the “Unrig the System Summit” that was sponsored by the organization Represent.Us and brought hundreds of political activists from communities across the country to New Orleans to talk about opening up the political process by changing campaign finance laws and making it easier for people to run for public office.

The summit, which took place at Tulane University, featured a variety of speakers, including Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and Fox News Channel personality Steve Hilton.

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There were also panel discussions on topics such as “How to Launch a Local Group or Campaign” and “Putting Small Donors in Charge,” as well as workshops focusing on building political coalitions across race and class lines.

The idea of the conference, according to Kulpreet Rana, chairman of the Board of Directors of Represent.Us, was to encourage change from the grass-roots level.

It won’t be easy, but with patience and hard work, it can be done, Rana told the audience at the summit’s opening event. “There’s no silver bullet that’s going to fix the system,” he said. “A coordinated effort has been missing. We need to do a better job of working together. This conference is a great place to start.”

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Reaching out and engaging the public is key, according to Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “We will never win if we don’t have people join us. We need donors and funders to support our work. We can learn some lessons from the far right,” she said, adding that the reform movement doesn’t yet have a solid infrastructure in place.

Hobert Flynn pointed to the example of the billionaire Koch brothers who, she said, put serious money behind right wing think tanks and other political causes to move their agenda forward.

“We need to break out of our echo chambers. It isn’t just progressives that support this work,” she said.

Lawrence, who is a member of the Board of Directors of Represent.Us, appeared at the opening event and found an entertaining way to shed light on the need to change country’s byzantine campaign finance laws.

Lawrence got her point across by conducting a comical interview onstage with Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) who often appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” after the comedian launched a political action committee (PAC).

After jokingly deriding herself as a member of “the Hollywood elite,” Lawrence listened as Potter explained how the FEC limits the amount of money donors can give to individual candidates but allows unlimited amounts of cash to flow to PACs.

Lawrence pointed out that the system could, hypothetically, allow her to buy off politicians. “So, can I just get you a Rolex and pay for your daughter’s wedding?” she asked Potter.

It was a reference to former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who was convicted of accepting bribes from a rich donor and who was later cleared when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the conviction.

“It’s not a bribe if it’s in the service of a constituent,” Potter told Lawrence.

The conversation turned serious.

“This is all really disturbing. Are we at a tipping point?” Lawrence asked Potter.

“The good news is, it’s not too late,” Potter answered.

Roemer, who served as governor from 1988 to 1992 and who ran for president in 2012, also talked about the corrosive effect of big money on politics. “I never took PAC money in any of these races. And I never took contributions of more than $100. Money works against honesty. To keep your job, you don’t follow your values. You follow the money,” he said.

Another speaker, Renaldo Pearson, senior adviser to faculty deans at Harvard University, discussed how many of the problems in politics stem from how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn, a process that gives lawmakers the chance to draw maps putting voters of their party together into certain districts to ensure re-election.

“It is the process of politicians picking their voters,” Pearson said, adding that it should be the other way around.

The New Orleans get-together marked the first time Represent.Us organized an “Unrig the System Summit.”

Participants were encouraged to return to their communities and get to work.

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