Demand to Get the Money Out of Politics: A "One Demand" for Occupy Wall Street?
Thank you for your bravery Occupy Oakland.
There is one problem with many of the excellent demands and proposals I have seen floated by those in the OWS movement, from re-instating Glass-Steagall, to ending the Federal Reserve, to enacting a jobs bill. That is, they have little chance of passing in effective form as long as Congress answers to the corporate powers which flood the system with money. If the incentives are skewed, the results will be skewed. Even if the demands are agreed to in principle, politicians beholden to money will constantly be busy finding ingenious and enterprising ways to undermine the intent of the laws.
It has been argued that Occupy Wall Street should not validate existing power relationships by making demands for change within that system. This is true. Occupy Wall Street must wisely choose its initial demands to those which fundamentally change those power relationships. Once this is done many other reforms fall into place. The majority of the population is now against the wars yet the wars continue. Bank bailouts are unpopular yet they are passed. This is because the politicians are answerable not to the voters in their districts, but to money from everywhere. When money is removed all outcomes will more accurately reflect the popular will, which politicians are fully aware of yet simply do not care.
One of the little-known and most startling facts of American politics is that, on average, 80% of congressional campaign contributions come from outside the district, and largely from outside the state. Citizens should only be allowed to give money to candidates who would represent them in Congress. Giving money to one who would not should be considered bribery. Citizens who would not be represented by a particular candidate have no business giving money which dilutes the influence of citizens in other districts on their own congressmen.
The legal definition of "bribery" is: "The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties."
When I give my local candidate for office $20 for no particular reason except that I believe her or him to be honest, dedicated, and generally supportive of many different issues which make up the sum total of my politics, I have no particular piece of legislation in mind. By no stretch of imagination can the same be said when the financial services industry or the telecommunications industry bundles vast amounts of money to go toward members of committees which design particular legislation they are interested in, who represent districts far away. In the first case my political contribution is a result of my belief in the general integrity of the person whom I hope will directly represent me in Congress, who I may even disagree with on many things, but support him or her for no other reason than I believe her to be an honest person. In the second case, a corporation's, industry's or special interests' monetary contribtions to candidates have been shown over and over to generate tangible monetary returns: bailouts, further contracting for wars. This meets the legal definition of bribery.
The US Supreme Court not only erred, but twisted the meaning of language in Buckely v. Valeo to the point where it should have been impeachable as "bad behavior," the standard for Supreme Court impeachment which is as open as "high crimes and misdemeanors" on the part of the president. Just as with the impeachment of a president, the impeachment of Supreme Court Justices was deliberately meant to be a political remedy not requiring the commission of a crime. Although spending money may indeed be an act of self-expression, my right to express myself when attempting to give an officer the many reasons why he should not give me a speeding ticket does not extend to me handing over a 100 dollar bill. It is inconceivable that the Founders, in protecting free speech, intended speech to be so interpreted.
Congress may pass laws which will force the Supreme Court to revisit Buckely v. Valeo, which equates giving unlimited amounts of money to any and all political candidates to "free speech."
I propose getting the money out of politics by setting a limit on campaign contributions to $2,000, per cycle, to come only from private individuals who are living within the district. No corporate contributions from within or outside the district, no contributions from special interests of any kind, be they union, NRA, or corporate PACs. Only people who can actually vote for a particular candidate can give money to him.
This would solve a number of problems:
1. Committee member-shopping. Special interests and corporate PACs seek out congresspeople on key committees who can influence the legislation they are interested in. Now committee members will have to look at legislation from the standpoint of the common good, and of their district’s interests. No longer will some congressmembers be princes of financial services, defense contracting, or telecommunications, as many are now, who are able in turn to support colleagues through their own PACs who are cooperative.
2. Candidates would be forced to go back to door-to-door campaigning, public meetings, and rallies, and re-establishing their connection to the people of the district.
3. Many current incumbents will decide they cannot survive by these rules and resign, thus eliminating the need for term limits for deeply-entrenched incumbents. Others will see the changes as an exciting challenge and seek to re-establish their connection to the voters, and very possibly be re-elected. The rules will weed out politicians whose hearts are not in the right place, whether they are incumbent or challenger. The congressperson will serve only those in his/her district who can vote for him. $2,000 is an amount which almost any enthusiastic supporter can save with an extra part-time job. Thus it will no longer be a rich man’s game, but an undertaking for enthusiatic local supporters of the best candidates.
As well, television and radio stations will be required to give ballot-qualified campaigns a rate equal to 50 percent of the lowest commercial rate for equivalent time slots, as a condition of renewing their broadcast license. The airwaves belong to the public and it is proper for the public to impose conditions on the leasing of frequencies for commercial purposes. This would automatically reduce the cost of most congressional campaigns by nearly half.
Of course, nothing can or should prevent any citizen from donating his or her own volunteer time to any candidate he or she likes, unpaid. If my brother is running for Congress on the opposite coast, I should be free to take time off to help him. This is many steps removed from the corrupting influence of money.
These same campaign finance rules can apply just as well to the Senate. In the case of each senate seat the “district” would consist of the entire state.
Without question these rules will meet fierce resistance as Wall Street sees its ability to bribe congressmen to grant bailouts melt away, as will defense contractors’ ability to perpetuate wars of aggression. It will meet fierce resistance from the host of special interests which subvert representative democracy. But the power taken away from organized and monied interests will be power returned to the people. Union leaderships will balk, but the rules will not prevent rank-and-file members from contributing to their own candidates who stand for union interests. Opposition will be fierce, but nothing less than taking the money out of politics will make the rest of the Occupy Wall Street demands possible.
Taking a typical, expensive US House campaign which now costs around $1 million, just 500 citizens in a typical 700,000 person district who contribute the maximum $2,000 would make up that $1 million, or 10,000 people contributing $100, or 100,000 people contributing $10 each. Thus the cost of what is considered a “modern campaign” is easily acheivable with relatively small, local contributions, should that candidate generate a modicum of sincere enthusiasm. The difference is, it will be the constituents that the congressperson must answer to at election time, not outside money which can easily bury the voice of any meritorious challenger.
I hereby submit this proposal for debate and consideration of the General Assemblies and pertinent working groups of the Sovereign People of Occupy Wall Street.
“Remote Control: U.S. House members raise 79% of campaign funds from outside their districts.” (MAPlight.org, using data from the Center for Responsive Politics)
"House Campaigns Get Most $ Outside Districts" (Hartford Courant)
"Why the Wars Roll on: Ban Campaign Money From Outside the District" (TruthOut.org)
“Challenging Buckley v. Valeo: A Legal Strategy” (Akron Law Review)