How to recover our democracy

English: The western front of the United State...

English: The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted this before under the title, “Gilded Age part 2.” In order to take back our democracy from the special interests that dominate Washington, we must establish public financing of campaigns and tame the special interest lobbyists. Following is my proposal on how to accomplish both goals.

In The Gilded Age by Mark TwainCongressmen sold their votes for cash, stock and property. Corruption in the current Congress takes different forms. It is difficult to tell whether the current Congress is more or less corrupt than those of the original Gilded Age (we are living in the second Gilded Age). In Mark Twain’s day, US Senators were elected by state legislatures and therefore were more easily bought. Some on the Right want to repeal the 17th amendment that enacted the direct election of Senators by the people. That would be a bad idea, IMHO.

Corruption in Washington today is fostered by campaign contributions and the swarms of lobbyists who sometimes get their way by promising lucrative jobs after Congressional terms end. These are the five main lobbying groups that influence Congress to disregard the will of the people who elect them, listed in no particular order:

  1. Wall Street
  2. Wealthy/1%
  3. Israel supporters
  4. Military/industrial complex
  5. Big oil/gas

I believe that there are two things we can do to reduce corruption in Washington and to return the control of our legislators to the voters who elect them. First, we must get campaign cash out of the picture. I would do that with public financing of campaigns. All candidates would be required to submit petitions to be placed on the ballot, the number of signatures to be some fraction of the registered voters in the district or state. Challengers would receive more campaign funds than incumbents because incumbents usually have an advantage in name recognition. This would a good first step, but it would not be sufficient as long as Washington is overrun with lobbyists; voters lack lobbyists of their own. This is how I suggest changing that.

As a start, I would limit the number of lobbyists allowed to lobby government in Washington to 1000. I would divide that number into two parts, commercial lobbyists numbering 750 and public service lobbyists numbering 250. Each one would require a lobbying license to be heard in Congress. Public service lobbying licenses would be free and awarded by lottery. Good for one year and non-transferable, anyone could apply, but only individuals and true charities would qualify. No PACs posing as non-profits allowed.

Commercial lobbying licenses would be sold at auction to the highest bidders. Also valid for twelve months and non-transferable. If the average price of a lobbying license were $50 million, then the US Treasury would collect $37.5 billion in revenue each year from individuals and companies wanting to lobby government. Purchasers of licenses would be in the public record, and all contacts with government would also be required to be made immediately public in print and online. To prevent lobbyists from promising jobs to retiring legislators or regulators, those retiring from government would face a lifetime ban from ever owning a commercial lobbying license.

The Gilded Age part 2

English: The western front of the United State...

English: The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In The Gilded Age by Mark Twain, Congressmen sold their votes for cash, stock and property. Corruption in the current Congress takes different forms. It is difficult to tell whether the current Congress is more or less corrupt than those of the original Gilded Age (we are living in the second Gilded Age). In Mark Twain’s day, US Senators were elected by state legislatures and therefore were more easily bought. Some on the Right want to repeal the 17th amendment that enacted the direct election of Senators by the people. That would be a bad idea, IMHO.

Corruption in Washington today is fostered by campaign contributions and the swarms of lobbyists who sometimes get their way by promising lucrative jobs after Congressional terms end. These are the five main lobbying groups that influence Congress to disregard the will of the people who elect them, listed in no particular order:

  1. Wall Street
  2. Wealthy/1%
  3. Israel supporters
  4. Military/industrial complex
  5. Big oil/gas

I believe that there are two things we can do to reduce corruption in Washington and to return the control of our legislators to the voters who elect them. First, we must get campaign cash out of the picture. I would do that with public financing of campaigns. All candidates would be required to submit petitions to be placed on the ballot, the number of signatures to be some fraction of the registered voters in the district or state. Challengers would receive more campaign funds than incumbents because incumbents usually have an advantage in name recognition. This would a good first step, but it would not be sufficient as long as Washington is overrun with lobbyists; voters lack lobbyists of their own. This is how I suggest changing that.

As a start, I would limit the number of lobbyists allowed to lobby government in Washington to 1000. I would divide that number into two parts, commercial lobbyists numbering 750 and public service lobbyists numbering 250. Each one would require a lobbying license to be heard in Congress. Public service lobbying licenses would be free and awarded by lottery. Good for one year and non-transferable, anyone could apply, but only individuals and true charities would qualify. No PACs posing as non-profits allowed.

Commercial lobbying licenses would be sold at auction to the highest bidders. Also valid for twelve months and non-transferable. If the average price of a lobbying license were $50 million, then the US Treasury would collect $37.5 billion in revenue each year from individuals and companies wanting to lobby government. Purchasers of licenses would be in the public record, and all contacts with government would also be required to be made immediately public in print and online. To prevent lobbyists from promising jobs to retiring legislators or regulators, those retiring from government would face a lifetime ban from ever owning a commercial lobbying license.

Please see The Gilded Age

Jack Abramoff

Abramoff testifying before the Senate Indian A...

Image via Wikipedia

Capitol Punishment, The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist by Jack Abramoff is his life’s story to date. If you want all the seamy details about how lobbyists operate in the Washington, DC, of our time, this is as good a primer as you will find. At times, the details of how lobbyists, operate are overwhelming. At the end of the book, there is a short chapter on Jack’s suggested solutions to the problem of Washington corruption. I agree with some and am not sure about others.

Jack is a conservative Republican and his central suggestion is a smaller federal government. So much power and money is concentrated in Washington that widespread corruption is inevitable. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is at the core of his argument. Less power and less money would mean fewer temptations for corruption. I am undecided whether or not I can buy his argument. If we reduce the power of our federal government to reduce corruption, we also reduce government’s power to do good. Similar to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I do not agree that the solution to any and all problems is privatization and the free market. I would have greater faith in the apostles of small government if they advanced ideas about how to solve the nation’s problems and showed more compassion for their less fortunate fellow citizens at the same time advocating smaller government.

This is Robert Reich’s take on the subject.

Please see Washington corruption | Kabuki Democracy | Newt Gingrich

Washington corruption

{| style="width:100%; border:1px solid bl...

Image via Wikipedia

According to Jack Abramoff, the sure way to gain influence with a member of Congress is to offer the Congressman/woman’s chief of staff a high paying job after the chief of staff leaves government employ. The only way I see to stop this is a lifetime ban on former government employees working as or for lobbying firms. It would be OK for a lobbyist to work for the government, but he/she could never return to the lobbying profession. It would be a one-way street. If someone really wants to serve in government, he/she would be required to sacrifice substantial future income to do so.

Please see Kabuki Democracy