A CALL FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
A CALL FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
Washington plods from crisis to crisis- the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling (this one they kicked down the road a few months), funding the government- all situations Congress and the president created through their own ineptitude. The American people grow increasingly frustrated and disgusted, while the only winners are the 24-hour cable news shows, because it gives them something to talk about. The federal government has reached this pitiful state primarily due to the exorbitant sums of money required to get elected and stay in office. Politicians loudly proclaim their support for the middle class and the poor, but the reality is the wealthy and large corporations put them where they are. Thus, the agendas of the big donors are invariably taken care of first, while the overall good of the nation is a secondary concern.
Examples abound: 2009 stimulus package and $750 billion bank bail-out; 2010 Obama Care- the idea was to reduce health costs, but the monopolistic health care industry is already raising rates on existing customers and will soon have millions of uninsured to add to their rolls; 2013 HSBC, the bank found guilty of money-laundering and with possible ties to drug cartels and terror groups pays a fine, but the government deems its executives too important to prosecute; 2013 tap on the wrist fines given to other major banks for their illegal foreclosure proceedings, which booted millions of people out of their homes. If you divided the total amount of the fines equally among all those defrauded, the pay-out is about $850 per homeowner (whoopee!). They are not getting their homes back, but could perhaps afford one month’s rent on a very tiny apartment with the settlement amount. A feeble outcry was raised against the injustice, as the banks keep going on their merry way.
Why Washington so beholden to Big Business? The following disturbing facts provide the answer: 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign spending-$750 million, a new record; 2012 Barack Obama over $1 billion, another new record. Some of the top congressional leaders: Nancy Pelosi- $14 million war chest, her last opponent- $2 million; John Boehner- $22 million, last opponent, $0 (that’s right-0- according to congressional records); Harry Reid- $25 million, his opponent- $28 million (a concerted effort by the Republicans to unseat Reid, which obviously backfired); Mitch McConnell- $20 million, opponent- $10 million. Given the disparity in money available, except for the Reid anomaly, it is no wonder incumbents are so hard to unseat. Re-election rates for incumbents in Congressional races are over 90%. Another disheartening statistic- members of Congress spend almost 80% of their time in fund-raising activities, leaving scant energy for conducting the country’s business. Not surprisingly, politicians hide behind ideology to cover their lack of real knowledge on major issues, which they do not have the time to learn about.
Is there a solution or are we doomed to endless gridlock in Washington? Previous electoral reforms, which reduced contribution amounts for individuals and corporations, have proven ineffectual, as PAC’s and Super PAC’s popped up to fill the void. Ways around more restrictions would almost inevitably be found. A more permanent step is needed, one which ends all private donations to campaigns: a constitutional amendment that requires public funding for all federal elections. Such a move would obviously face fierce opposition from the politicians themselves, as their gravy train will be de-railed. Just imagine, they would have to be re-elected on their record, instead of their bank roll. Lobbyists and special-interest groups would also raise a storm as their nefarious influence will be greatly diminished. The overall culture in Washington might need a dramatic overhaul as well.
It is arguable that the fund-raising system helps fuel the atmosphere of reckless spending that permeates the capital. Inconceivable sums of money are used to get people elected; that figure is just multiplied a hundred-fold or a thousand-fold for the amount of money the government spends. What’s a couple of trillion among friends? Politicians and the cable news outlets lead us to believe that the excessive time required to campaign is necessary. More time means more cash. Does a run for the White House really have to stretch two full years? In this hyper-information age, people can learn everything there is possibly to know (and some things they probably don’t want to know) about a candidate at the click of a mouse. 3 months would be more than adequate to hold a meaningful presidential campaign (sorry FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, but I am sure you can find other things to rant about). A public fund from which people running for the same federal office may draw the same, small amount would not only level the playing field, but provide voters with another means of comparison- which candidate employed their money more effectively. Complete public funding would permit the president and Congress to concentrate fully on doing what is best for the United States, not having to hedge every action on how it will affect some special interest donor. The nation deserves so much better from its elected officials in Washington. I hope some one there will have the courage to introduce this much needed and over do reform.