Re-Setting Democracy for the Common Good

we the people

I’ve lived through many, many election cycles in my lifetime. I’ve experienced each party putting forth its vision for America and watched as these differing views take shape in a Presidential administration. I’ve also witnessed the changing of the guard in Congress and noted the attendant adjustments in legislative agenda. But I’ve never experienced the vitriol that has characterized the current campaign. I try to ignore the headlines, but a sense of unrest has permeated my soul for months. I don’t see things easing up any time soon.

Despite all this sturm und drang, there’s an even sadder reality for American voters: The will of the people has very little to do with the legislative agenda. Who controls it? Big money.

According to Professors Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University), “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule… impact on public policy.” Evidently, of the 200 most politically active companies in the past 5 years, a $5.8 billion in lobbying outlays translated into $4 trillion in taxpayer subsidies and support. Given that Congressional candidates spend most of their time fundraising to build huge campaign war chests, it’s not surprising that they welcome corporate donors and feel obliged to return the favors that are asked of them.

This nation has a lot of problems, and We The People have a huge stake in ensuring that our lawmakers follow our directives in addressing them. That’s why I’m intrigued by the grassroots efforts underway by Represent.us. They’re actively working to reform our political system state-by-state by passing anticorruption laws that will operate within each state and filter up to the federal level over time. Here are core tenets from their proposed Anti-Corruption Act:

  1. Prohibit politicians from raising funds from lobbyists
  2. Prohibit lobbyists from bundling their campaign contributions to increase their control over candidates
  3. Clamp down on the “quid pro quos” by which members of Congress and their staffs get lucrative private employment after their federal service in exchange for favorable legislative treatment while in office
  4. Prohibit Congress members from fundraising during working hours (an activity for which they apparently spend 30-70% of the time we pay them to work for us!)
  5. End secret money with full transparency
  6. End gerrymandering by establishing an independent commission that follows prescribed rules for districting
  7. Let all voters participate in open primaries; let the top 4 vote getters move forward to the general election
  8. Institute rank-ordered voting that lets voters rank candidates in order of preference
  9. Set reasonable term limits for members of Congress
  10. Simplify voter registration
  11. Increase lobbying disclosure and enforcement
  12. Strengthen investigative and prosecutorial powers

In truth, I have not done extensive due diligence on Represent.us nor have I decided to volunteer my time (or money) to support them. But I’m on board with their views on election reform and the mandate to get Congress to work in our behalf, not for big money interests.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about protecting and defending our democracy on the campaign trail. It seems to me that no matter who wins, it’s time We the People step up and let our voices be heard. That ought to be an issues that could unite us across party lines.