As I referenced in another policy position here, congress has been writing and repealing laws with a primary goal of enriching their donors, not helping us. This isn’t my opinion. This has been proven.
Back in 2014, Princeton University’s Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page published a study entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” The two professors studied and reviewed answers to 1,779 survey questions regarding public policy between 1981 and 2002, then broke the responses down by income level and determined how often certain income levels and special-interest groups got what they wanted from our elected government.
Here’s a brief summary of what they discovered:
Between 1981 and 2002, proposed policy changes with low (20%) support among the very wealthy was adopted only 18% of the time. If the policy change had high (80%) support, it was adopted 45% of the time.
But here’s the kicker: When a majority of the people (us) disagreed with the economic elites and/or special-interest groups, the people generally lost. On top of that, even if the elites didn’t get their way, the people usually didn’t either, even when a fairly large majority of the people supported a particular policy change.
They concluded: “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”
In other words, this isn’t a representative democracy anymore. It’s an oligarchy, which is defined as: A form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
As I said, that study spanned 1981-2002. Do you think it’s gotten better or worse in the last 15 years?
I’d bet everything I have – which, admittedly, isn’t that much – that it’s gotten much worse. After all, we didn’t get the disastrous “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” ruling until 2010.
That ruling essentially declared corporations to have the same constitutional rights as people, which is asinine at face value since we can’t put corporations in prison, and they can live forever, among other things. This decision led to truly unlimited corporate political donations through Super PACs (Political Action Committees), with the caveat being that the PACs cannot communicate or coordinate with the campaigns or candidates they’re supporting in any way. Problem is, that part of the ruling is almost impossible to enforce. In the Podesta Wikileaks that came out in 2016, the emails revealed a multitude of times that John Podesta or other members of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign illegally coordinated and communicated with PACs supporting her candidacy, and nothing was done about it.
Put those two numbers together, and it’s easy to see that less than 1% of our people determine over 90% of our elected representation. We need to do something before that last 10% disappears, too, because at that point, it will be too late for us to fix it through civil means.
Our elected representatives shouldn’t be determined by how much money they have, or can raise; they should be determined by ideas, ideals and principles. The best ideas should win! That’s the only way a representative democracy can work.
The first thing we can do to address this problem is move to publicly funded elections. There are a variety of ideas and ways to do this, but the crux of the idea is to give each campaign the same amount of money, or credits, to be spent in promotion of their candidacy; or to give the same amount of money, or credits, to every eligible voter to be spent on the candidates of their choice. The latter option has been shown to increase turnout at the polls, which is always good. As it sits, 40% of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day in 2016.
This is going to sound crazy to some people coming from a congressional candidate, but I support staying home on Election Day if you don’t like your options; or, at least, abstaining from voting in the races where you don’t support any of the candidates. The way the two parties have things set up, they push us to choose between “the lesser of two evils” in every election, and over the course of time, that’s how we ended up with the two worst presidential candidates history. If more people would stay home or refuse to cast a vote for either one, under these conditions, I believe it becomes power in reserve. If you can imagine a scenario where 60% of the country didn’t vote for either presidential candidate, that 60% of the voting public represents the possible support of a worthy candidate, or candidates, in the following election. Even splitting that 60% between two candidates will beat the other two candidates who share the remaining 40%.
A representative democracy only works when people are voting for candidates they want, not just voting against candidates they don’t.
Public funding of elections will level the playing field considerably by itself, but these big-money interests still want the government to do what they want it to do, and as long as they can put their money behind a candidate, bill, or proposition, they will. And it will still swing elections against the will of the people as a whole, as it’s been doing for decades now.
So, the next step is going to be to overturn the disastrous Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court decision. That means we’re going to have to amend the US Constitution. We need to propose a 28th Amendment outlawing political spending by corporations and severely limiting the spending of individuals. It will have to be proposed by a 2/3 vote of congress, or 2/3 of the states (33) can call a National Constitutional Convention to propose the amendment. Then the amendment must be ratified by 3/4ths of the state legislatures.
This might sound impossible, but we’re already halfway there, believe it or not, as 19 states have passed resolutions to overturn Citizens United. That’s only 14 away from the 2/3 needed to call a Constitutional Convention, and halfway to the 38 states (75%) needed to approve the amendment.
We live in the richest country in the history of the world, and the people running the government control trillions of dollars. Money is power, power is money, and we got a taste of how little the Democratic Party really values “fair election practices” during the 2016 presidential primaries. Ultimately, the establishment will do whatever it takes to run this country as they want it run. That’s why I believe we need to move back to paper ballots, nationwide, immediately, for all of our elections.
The paper ballots can be treated as a backup to voting machines, or as the primary voting source, but we need paper records. I don’t believe Russia “hacked our elections” as the media’s narrative goes (at the time of my writing this, in July of 2017), but our voting machines are incredibly easy to hack. That means that, foreign adversaries aside, even if we manage to move to public funding of elections, and overturn Citizens United, the oligarchy can still install their preferred politicians just by rigging the elections through the voting machines.
Nobody ever wants to believe that their government is crooked, but this is a tale as old as democracy itself. Historically, the only people who want a fair election are the people whom a fair election favors. While Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, if you think he wouldn’t have cheated to win, or that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have cheated to win, I don’t think you understand these kinds of people. To them, it’s not about serving us, it’s about power. As Joseph Stalin once said: “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
While voter fraud is probably not that big of a problem, I’d bet election fraud is already happening. I don’t know where, when, or to what extent, but that’s the danger of this type of threat: At the point that we go to the polls, cast our votes, and go home, there’s very little we can say or do to insure our vote was actually counted. A move back to paper ballots can put us back in front of this problem. And those ballots should be stored forever in a place safe enough to store any of our government’s most crucial infrastructure. We also need to do more to allow citizens to oversee the elections and vote-counting processes.
Running a country is a lot of work, and in a country that’s meant to be “of, by and for the people,” that means we all have to increase the amount of effort we’re willing expend in order to insure that our country is run properly. The final thing that I believe needs to happen has very little to do with me at all. It’s not something I can do as a legislator. It’s your job, and mine, as citizens.
As John F. Kennedy said a couple weeks after taking office in 1961, “No one has a right to feel that, having entrusted the tasks of government to new leaders in Washington, he can continue to pursue his private comforts unconcerned with America's challenges and dangers. For, if freedom is to survive and prosper, it will require the sacrifice, the effort and the thoughtful attention of every citizen.”
Running this country is everybody’s job, and even if I manage to help achieve everything I outlined above as your representative in congress, none of it will matter if you, the American Citizen, don’t do your part.