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Citizen Reformers

Michael Deal

Inspiring stories of ordinary citizens making democracy work to effect positive change


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Top 10 Citizen Reformers Episodes

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Vicki Barnes

Vicki Barnes is the Minnesota State Coordinator for American Promise, a cross-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advocates for the 28th amendment to the U.S. constitution. By overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, the 28th amendment would ensure free and fair elections by empowering voters to control the increasing influence of big money in American politics.

As a new grandmother, Vicki realized that unless ordinary citizens demanded change to limit runaway spending by the wealthy, big corporations, and special interests, her grandchildren would not inherit the country they deserved. Since moving to Minnesota in 2016, and before that in Wisconsin, Vicki has been a volunteer activist educating citizens and organizing them to engage their legislators on resolutions calling for Congress to act.

In this podcast, Vicki explains why money in politics is the key issue to be addressed. If citizens press for common sense limits on election spending and lobbyists, she believes many long-standing issues affecting the public interest will get solved. Vicki describes the challenges of bridging the partisan divide and gaining support in rural areas and among conservatives. She found that opposition to huge out-of-state election spending is something all sides agree on.

As a lifelong volunteer on civic issues, Vicki explains her journey to seek training and learn how to organize from the ground up. The American Promise chapter in Minnesota now has over 200 members, with a core group of 40 activists who have successfully gained approval for 4 local resolutions in support of the 28th Amendment, with 5 more in the works.


06/23/20 • 50 min

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06/17/20 • 62 min

Michael Monetta

Podcast Notes:

Join us for a conversation with Michael Monetta, National Director of Wolf-PAC, a non-partisan, non-profit reform organization working for free and fair elections. Concerned about the corrosive influence of Big Money in politics, Wolf-PAC’s network of volunteers active in all 50 states are advocating for an Article V Limited Amendments convention to propose campaign finance reform.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, and several related decisions, unleashed a torrent of undisclosed election spending. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—are in favor of placing limits on campaign spending by wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interests. Given Congress’ failure to address this issue, Michael Monetta explains how an Article V Limited Amendments convention empowers states and citizens in calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn misguided Supreme Court rulings.

In this podcast, we ask Michael about the fear of a “runaway convention’, how Wolf-PAC coordinates with other grassroots reform organizations concerned about Big Money in politics, and the challenges Wolf-PAC volunteers face. Our listeners will be interested to learn how Wolf-PAC offers its volunteers training in how to engage with their state legislators, how to have a constructive conversation – many for the first time.


06/17/20 • 62 min

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Ellen Greene Bush Marie HenselderKimmel Robbi Duda

Disheartened treating patients struggling to pay for their medicine and insurance premiums, hit by surprise payments they can’t afford, or encouraged to undergo unneeded procedures, health-care professionals see first-hand the consequences of unlimited political spending by industry giants. The harmful influence of political spending on policies over decades, they believe, has weakened our health-care system and thereby worsened the impact on America of the Covid-19 pandemic.

How did three health-care professionals from different parts of the country come together to submit testimony to Congress calling for a constitutional amendment to limit Big Money in politics? Last Fall they met at a national conference of non-partisan civic volunteers concerned about the dramatic rise in outside spending in our elections and on lobbying our legislators. They compared notes on their careers – Ellen Greene Bush, an Ohio clinical psychologist; Marie HenselderKimmel, a New Jersey OB-GYN doctor; and Robbi Duda, a Michigan registered nurse – and realized how similar their experiences were regarding the harmful effects of big pharmaceutical and insurance companies on the quality of care and well-being of their patients. Today, faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, these three ‘citizen lobbyists’ are taking action to limit political spending so that the American public can have the quality health-care system they deserve

Read the full story on here.


05/01/20 • 49 min

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David Denham is the head of the Represent Roanoke Valley/the Clean Money Squad

Inspired by its activist role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, David Denham joined the United Church of Christ because he wanted to become a “troublemaking minister”. After more than 40 years leading congregations up and down the Mid-Atlantic States region, Denham and his wife Anne remain fervent troublemakers – proudly recalling their civil disobedience in standing up against corruption.

Twice the Denhams were arrested on the National Capitol steps along with 1,400 other protestors in a 2016 Democracy Spring anti-corruption rally. They were arrested yet again in the Roanoke office of their Congressman, in an attempt to pressure Rep. Goodlatte to release a bundle of draft reform bills (campaign finance, government ethics, and voting rights) he was sitting on as then Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

These draft bills were eventually released and were later passed in 2019 by the full House of Representatives as the “For the People Act” (HR – 1). Based on this experience, Denham is convinced that civil disobedience is one critical path to effect change. He credits the mass jailings of the Democracy Spring rally with generating national headlines that spurred Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md) to pressure Goodlatte to release the bills. Denham’s work is not done, however, as the Senate has deep-sixed its version of the “For the People Act”.

Denham is not just a troublemaker, he is also an organizer for social justice with a long track record of building strong alliances and effecting real change. As the head of the cross-partisan Represent Roanoke Valley/the Clean Money Squad, he has been a strong advocate for anti-corruption reform in Virginia for the past 6 years.

His latest achievement involved supporting a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering. In partnership with the OneVirginia2021 organization, Denham reached out to the national headquarters of RepresentUS for help. Their response proved pivotal in mobilizing volunteers nationwide to contact citizens through their phone/text banks. These volunteers contacted over 70,000 Virginia voters urging them to contact their legislators and demand that they vote in favor of the amendment, and delivered petition signatures to legislators from over 3,400 RepresentUs members representing all 50 states

Denham and members of Represent Roanoke Valley and other grassroots organizations active in Virginia also joined in a lobby day in Richmond to underscore how important ending gerrymandering was to voters across the state. The amendment successfully passed in the Virginia House of Delegates and will now be placed on the ballot in November as the final step in the process. Denham explained that this effort was a huge success for the anti-corruption movement and reinforced the impact of collaboration and teamwork among the various organizations involved.

Since 2014, Denham has been a real trailblazer in raising support for anti-corruption action, initially in Roanoke and Southwestern Virginia, then expanding statewide. Starting with helping to form the first RepresentUS chapter in Virginia, Denham engaged with voters to encourage their support for model legislation called The American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA). Visiting businesses, arranging voter education tables at festivals and a range of public venues, and going door-to-door, Denham and other volunteers found that voters were very receptive to their message. Corruption concerned them and they wanted to take action. Signing pledges in support of the American Anti-Corruption Act made sense to them, given its emphasis on stopping political bribery, ending secret money, and fixing our broken elections.

Of course, having Delegate Sam Rasoul as a champion in fighting corruption had certain advantages as well. In 2014, Delegate Rasoul was the first elected Virginia official (representing the 11th District including parts of the City of Roanoke) to make a public anti-corruption commitment by signing onto the AACA. The next year, the Roanoke City Council passed an Anti-Corruption Resolution, the first jurisdiction to do so, followed by Vinton and Blacksburg.

Then in 2017, with Delegate Rasoul’s encouragement, Denham established the Clean Money Squad, a public website showcasing political leaders running in Virginia making anti-corruption commitments. During every election year, the Clean Money Squad asks candidates to pledge to sign the American Anti-Corruption Act and, initially, not to accept PAC money.

This past year 26 candidates took the pledge and 3 were elected. When asked whether not accepting PAC money hurt candidates running against opponents who did, Denham explained that candidates were indeed disadvantaged. After ...


03/24/20 • 40 min

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Shruti Shah – President and CEO of the Coalition for Integrity

The Coalition for Integrity’s S.W.A.M.P. Index casts spotlight on state’s poor record fighting corruption.

For decades, Transparency International has rated governments worldwide on their ethics, transparency, and anti-corruption regimes. Shruti Shah, the President and CEO of the Coalition for Integrity (formerly known as Transparency International – USA) said her organization would flag countries like Nigeria or India for not having laws in place and say that was terrible. But when they analyzed U.S. results, Shah stated “it was ironic, we were actually quite shocked at what we found. States didn’t do very well at all...and Virginia in particular.”

While Shah didn’t expect Virginia to come out really strong on ethics, especially after having witnessed former Governor Robert McDonnell’s prosecution on corruption charges, she was surprised to learn that Virginia scored so poorly – only 35 out of one hundred, ranking in the bottom 10 percent of all states, the lowest category possible.

The Coalition for Integrity released the S.W.A.M.P. (States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public Officials) Index in 2018, ranking all 50 states and the District of Columbia on laws regarding the establishment and scope of ethicsagencies, the powers of those agencies, acceptance and disclosure of gifts by public officials, transparency of funding independent expenditures and client disclosure by legislators.

Virginia is one of only four states with no limits on campaign contributions and no restrictions on politicians or their relatives spending funds from political action committees for personal expenses.

One key Virginia finding in the S.W.A.M.P. Index was that the state’s three ethics agencies had no enforcement powers. Virginia improved its ethics laws with respect to gifts following the troubles of Governor Robert McDonnell but has done nothing to address the lack of enforcement power of its ethics agencies. Shah stressed how important it is for state ethics agencies to have the power to independently investigate, hold public hearings, and issue subpoenas, reprimands, and fines. She said “a toothless ethics agency cannot serve the public well and will be unable to effectively carry out its mission.”

Having previously worked for over a decade with Big 4 accounting firms in the U.S., the U.K., and India, Shah’s experience is extensive, particularly in anti-bribery compliance and anti-corruption issues. A resident of Arlington, Virginia, Shah has a personal stake in the state’s ethics deficiencies. She strongly believes “addressing ethics, transparency, and anti-corruption underpins solving every issue that matters to you: whether its gun control, climate change, healthcare, or the quality of your children’s education.”

“addressing ethics, transparency, and anti-corruption underpins solving every issue that matters to you: whether its gun control, climate change, healthcare, or the quality of your children’s education.” Shruti Shah

Shah and the Coalition decided to tackle ethics issues in Virginia by launching the Virginia Integrity Challenge, asking candidates to make personal, campaign finance, and gift disclosures easily accessible on their websites, and support legislation to give enforcement power to Virginia’s ethics agencies. In 2017, 19 candidates (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) accepted the challenge and last year 25 candidates did so, 11 of whom were elected.

The next step according to Shah is to work with a champion to enact legislation giving Virginia’s ethics agencies real enforcement power. Shah is emphatic that “we will not get stronger accountability, or stronger transparency or ethics in Virginia until we demand it. I think it’s up to each constituent in Virginia to make their priorities clear to the candidates. If you haven’t engaged with your candidates, please do so.” This is particularly important given the legislature’s lack of any concrete action to date to remedy the situation. The various campaign finance bills introduced in the current session of the General Assembly (including banning donations from public service corporations like Dominion Energy) were all defeated, as were 10 such bills during the 2019 session.

“we will not get stronger accountability, or stronger transparency or ethics in Virginia until we demand it. I think it’s up to each constituent in Virginia to make their priorities clear to the candidates. If you haven’t engaged with your candidates, please do so.” Shruti Shah

The S.W.A.M.P. Index can put pressure on s...


03/10/20 • 45 min

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Campaign Manager for Maine’s Committee for Ranked Choice Voting

Kyle Bailey organized a grassroots movement to undertake ballot initiatives and twice win statewide approval for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), overcoming legislative and court challenges. RCV was successfully used in the 2018 midterm elections. In 2020, Maine will become the first state to use RCV for a Presidential election.

Read more about Kyle’s campaign in The American Leader here. Read about how Ranked Choice Voting fits into the broader context of Voting Rights and Voter Suppression in America in The American Leader here. The American Leader

The American Leader, a nonprofit, progress-oriented news and knowledge center, is committed to giving the public an unrelenting view of the systemic problems that affect our lives and the progress being made to resolve them.

Rather than report on breaking news, The American Leader gathers the best available datapoints and connects them so that the reader can stay focused on the problems that matter most. Learn more here.


02/10/20 • 56 min

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Katie Fahey established Voters Not Politicians to advocate for a ballot initiative that would amend Michigan’s Constitution

Following the 2016 election, Katie Fahey’s Facebook post started a 5,000+ volunteer grassroots movement, collecting over 425,000 signatures to support an amendment to Michigan’s constitution to establish an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to end gerrymandering. The amendment passed with 61% of the vote on November 6, 2018.

Read about Katie’s inspiring story in The American Leader here.

Read about how gerrymandering fits into the broader context of Voting Rights and Voter Suppression in America in The American Leader here.

The American Leader

The American Leader, a nonprofit, progress-oriented news and knowledge center, is committed to giving the public an unrelenting view of the systemic problems that affect our lives and the progress being made to resolve them.

Rather than report on breaking news, The American Leader gathers the best available datapoints and connects them so that the reader can stay focused on the problems that matter most. Learn more here.


01/20/20 • 51 min

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Hedrick Smith

Democracy in America is in danger. Public trust in government is at an all-time low. Ordinary citizens have a negligible effect on government policy while wealthy individuals, large corporations, and special interest groups exercise considerable political clout. Gridlock and partisan polarization are blocking measures which the majority of Americans agree are necessary. Income inequality is at its highest point in nearly a century and the American Dream is out of reach for many. How did we get here and what can be done to save our democracy?

In today’s episode we’ll hear from Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith, whose one-hour PBS documentary “The Democracy Rebellion” chronicles the rise of citizen reform movements across America working to restore fairer, cleaner elections and to limit the corrosive influence of big money in our politics. Hedrick Smith describes the grassroots movements pushing for partisan gerrymander reform, voting rights, and exposing dark money, providing compelling evidence that our democracy can be saved when ordinary citizens take action.

The “Democracy Rebellion”, available for live streaming on YouTube, provides viewers with an uplifting perspective on what is possible. Learn about other grassroots activism on Hedrick’s website: To understand how we got here and the complex challenge facing American democracy, Hedrick draws upon his analysis from his 2012 book Who Stole the American Dream? to explain the rise of economic inequality and how big money interests have captured our political system.

Join us for an enlightening conversation.



07/27/20 • 44 min

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This first appeared in an op-ed I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch


Summary. For rural Virginia counties like Middlesex and Lunenburg, the pandemic has focused attention on dead zones and the pressing need to address remote internet learning for students. Once in-person classes resume, rural counties’ long-term broadband access and affordability needs will remain. This episode explores how the digital divide developed in rural Virginia and why the “band-aid” solutions devised during the pandemic aren’t sustainable. Telecom industry campaign contributions and lobbying serve to limit competition and influence a regulatory environment in Virginia which is one of the three most onerous in the country. County officials have placed broadband at the top of their limited budgets, but recognize there are no easy answers. Major telecoms lack a financial incentive to serve many in the community. County officials find it objectionable when politicians are influenced to write the rules to favor the incumbents and preclude more cost effective and sustainable alternatives.

Lunenburg Public School Students Accessing a Hotspot for Homework at Ledbetter Christian Church

A third of Virginia’s families in rural areas lack broadband access. Since online learning became the norm during this pandemic, many Virginia students and their parents have been forced to drive to a library or church parking lot to access a hotspot so they could do their homework. An estimated 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college studentslack access to high-speed internet.

Frances Wilson, Lunenburg County PUblic Schools Director of Technology

In Lunenburg County, as with most rural school districts in Virginia, Frances Wilson, the Director of Technology for Lunenburg County Public Schools, describes how “hotspots were provided in churches, libraries, park areas, and fire and rescue departments across the was a team initiative, that’s for sure. It took everybody coming together and paying for hotspots either through CARES funding that went to localities or from their own pockets.”

Peter Gretz, Superintendent of Middlesex County Public Schools

Middlesex County Public Schools Superintendent Pete Gretz told a similar story. “We set up ‘Wireless on Wheels’ units with funding from Charlottesville-based Sun Tribe Solar, which runs renewable energy for the school district. We also procured LTE-enabled Chromebooks and iPads which essentially act as built-in hot spots using cellular networks.” He is concerned, however, that limited internet service not only affects students, but will also fuel racial discontent, restrict access to telehealth services, limit remote work opportunities, and negatively impact small businesses. “If long-term broadband solutions aren’t found soon, counties like ours will have a hard time attracting families to move here or keep others from moving away,” said Gretz.

John Koontz, Middlesex County Supervisor and Chairman of Broadband Authority with Governor Ralph Northam

“Because we’re so sparsely populated, the in-the-ground fiber is too expensive. The free market knows that, and out here we only have one fiber provider (Atlantic Broadband), so there’s no competition,” explained John Koontz, Chairman of the Middlesex County Broadband Authority. “The large telecoms have neither the motivation nor the mandate to address the public service needs of our community”.

The telecoms’ monopoly position limits local alternatives’ access to funding to reach families that the telecoms have no financial incentive to serve. Kevin Gentry, the Middlesex County IT Director, explained how the local broadband proposal to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) was restricted by a 10% rule favoring the incumbent internet provider. This rule says that no grant can overlap by more than 10% the geographic service area covered by an existing provider, even if the applicant wanted to offer far superior broadband speeds. Gentry said that “the [telecoms] went into areas where the low-hanging fruit was, and then just left these huge broadband deserts.”

Wireless on Wheels

With more than 630 lobbyists nationwide, the telecom industry spent over $100 million in 2019 to advance their business interests. In Virginia, the telecom industry counts among the largest campaign donors, totaling nearly...


02/09/21 • 33 min

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How many episodes does Citizen Reformers have?

Citizen Reformers currently has 9 episodes available.

What topics does Citizen Reformers cover?

The podcast is about News, Podcasts, Politics and Government.

What is the most popular episode on Citizen Reformers?

The episode title 'Ep. 007: Vicki Barnes — Volunteer Activist for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to Ensure Free & Fair Elections' is the most popular.

What is the average episode length on Citizen Reformers?

The average episode length on Citizen Reformers is 48 minutes.

How often are episodes of Citizen Reformers released?

Episodes of Citizen Reformers are typically released every 34 days, 1 hour.

When was the first episode of Citizen Reformers?

The first episode of Citizen Reformers was released on Jan 20, 2020.

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