LET'S FIX THIS MESS!
I taught freshman American Government classes for more than four decades, and I almost always told them that if we were in charge we could fix America’s problems. I was serious. Any group of reasonably intelligent people (and I had some VERY bright students) who actually understand the problems could find reasonable solutions.
Let’s fix America’s problems. My next few posts will address what I consider to be U.S.A.’s most serious problems and ways to address them.
First, a little background. American democracy is based largely on the writings of the Enlightenment writer John Locke (1632-1704). In his Second Treatise Locke argued that government exists to protect certain rights, mainly our right to life, liberty, and property. To accomplish that responsibility the government must represent the will of the majority, because the majority would never allow the forfeiting of their natural rights (we would not, for example, allow laws taking away my right to life or freedom).
And, according to Locke, legitimate government is one that governs based on “declared and reasoned” laws, and legitimate government is grounded in:
The consent of the governed. In other words, the citizens must agree to the form of government, much as Americans agree with our Constitutional framework. Of course, most Americans have never read the document, so that’s a problem. A few months ago I argued that the Constitution should be required reading throughout one’s years of formal education.
Majority rule. The “consent of the governed” cannot be accomplished except through the rule of the majority. Today we accept this as an understood truth because we require a majority (sometimes a “super majority”) to pass laws, elect officials, approve judges, and more.
If we are to retain the “consent of the governed”, we need to make some changes. The sooner the better because Americans are becoming increasingly restless, so the majority may reach the point when it no longer consents!
My students often asked what I would change first, and my answer was to take money out of politics. In 2020 alone, Americans spent $8,703,050,547 electing our representatives and senators and another $5,700,916,140 electing the president. Yes folks, those are BILLIONS. Those numbers are staggering, to say the least. Remember that we hold congressional elections every two years, so members of the House are raising and spending billions of dollars every two years.
An assumption that members of Congress are constantly raising money for their next campaign would be right on target. On average, senators raised $19,100 per day (at least three raised more than $96,600 per day) and representatives raised an average $2,400 per day unless they had a serious challenger, in which case they raised an average of $7,200 per day.
So, members of Congress are busy raising campaign money while they are supposed to be addressing America’s problems. Members of Congress constantly pour money into their war chests, campaign bank accounts, to use for upcoming campaigns. In fact, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy’s super PAC currently contains more than $61 million, money he may use to influence 2024 elections. That war chest will grow tremendously within the next two years.
And remember that these are dollars spent ONLY on national campaigns. In 2022 alone we spent an estimated $16.7 billion on all national, state ($6.6 billion), and local elections combined. To put this in perspective, at least fifteen states have annual budgets that are less than $16.7 billion, so we spent more on elections in 2022 than many states spend for their ENTIRE ANNUAL BUDGETS covering education, prisons, highways, parks, and other areas!
If money controls elections, it is almost certain Locke’s “majority rule” is dead. Politicians who are constantly raising money for reelection will necessarily be more responsive to significant donors than to you and me. For both parties, the single largest pool of campaign money comes from large individual contributors, not from small contributions, and the difference is significant (both parties get about half their money from major donors and the rest from PACs, smaller donations, and other sources). In 2018 the ten largest individual donors contributed $436 million to that year’s elections in various ways. I don’t know about you, but I’m not what would be considered a “major donor”. In fact, I’ve never contributed one penny to ANY campaign, and I will not do so until the current corrupt system is reformed.
We know that, for example, corporations spending the largest amount on campaigns tend to benefit the most from government policies. One good example is with oil companies; a fairly recent study found that members of Congress who vote against strengthening environmental policies receive larger contributions from oil and gas companies. It appears these companies at least believe they are buying political influence.
How do we fix this?
Limit the amount of money that can be spent on a campaign. This would require a constitutional amendment because, as mentioned in a previous post, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and may, therefore, spend their money on campaigns. A reminder that the first three words of the Constitution’s preamble are “We the People”, not “We the Corporations”.
Limit the amount one may contribute to a campaign. Following a 2014 Supreme Court Decision, there is no total individual campaign limit, so I may contribute as much total amount as I want (to as many campaigns as I want to support), although I am limited to $2,900 per candidate and $5,000 per Political Action Committee. However, there are additional ways to contribute, so those limits are only somewhat…limiting. Again, this would require a constitutional amendment. I’d limit individual contributions to a single campaign to maybe $100 or $200. That would also reduce the amount candidates had to spend on all those annoying commercials.
There are ways to bypass the campaign contribution limits, and those also should be addressed. If you have a strong stomach, pay attention to campaign commercials during the 2024 elections. Many of those are actually funded by groups supporting a candidate, but they are not donating directly to the campaign. They actually produce and broadcast commercials independent of the campaign itself. We need to find a way to address this.
Provide government funding for all national level campaigns, find a way to ensure all candidates receive the same amount, and hope the states follow suit and do the same for their elections. There are a number of ways to accomplish this.
Require corporations to disclose the amount spent on ALL political campaigns. It is currently possible for corporations to support “dark money” campaign committees that do not require disclosure (see #3 above). Since 2010 these dark money groups have spent about $1 billion on TV and online ads supporting candidates. If we know where corporations are spending the profits you and I help them earn by purchasing their products, we might choose to spend our money elsewhere.
These are just the most obvious solutions. Almost all developed countries limit campaign contributions, limit or ban TV advertising, and provide some government financing for campaigns, but our Supreme Court has made it virtually impossible for the U.S. to do the same without amending the Constitution. And doing that requires the Democratic and Republican parties to agree to make changes to a system that benefits them both.
And that is the reason we need more than the two current political parties. They have total control of every level of government in the United States, and that is no longer good for our country.
Breaking the current two-party system will be the topic of my next post.
The next time you wander into Home Depot to spend some $$$, remember that Home Depot co-founder, 93 year old Bernie Marcus donated $64 million to Donald Trump's campaign and stated, "people don't work any more because of socialism!" We need to start asking companies if and how much they are influencing/controlling our government with exorbitant contributions.
And, the majority of these campaign dollars are spent to move a small percentage of the electorate. The party base is already in the pocket of the politician so the dollars are spent to sway the more independent thinkers. Or, should I say the Fiercely Independent thinkers? :)