We probably should
have made this first on our list, but the terrible economy kind of distracted us, and
then the health care debate came up. So, first things first; we need to push our members of Congress and
our Senators to pass a health insurance reform bill, but then we have to take care of a
major problem that's made this reform more difficult than it should have been,
and is destined to make banking and securities reform, which have to come next, ten times
more difficult, as well.
It's way past time for lobbying and campaign finance reform.
With all of the crap I've been forced to listen to during this debate, the most irritating has to be
the constant repetition of the size of donations from health care companies to
individual lawmakers. That's not to say that everyone who got big money is
going to side with the health insurance companies on this, but for Chrissakes,
isn't it about time we removed that possibility from the equation?
This is a democracy,
in which everyone is supposed to be equal under the law. But when it comes to
our political process, a system of legalized bribery has cropped up that is
absolutely unconscionable, and absolutely unacceptable.
Take Max Baucus.
Max Baucus is a Democrat, representing one of the most Republican
states in the union, Montana. He has also received more money from health
insurance companies than any other Democratic Senator. Coincidentally or not, last week, he came out with his own
alternative health care reform bill, which many of us rightfully labeled as a pile of crap. It contained some of the same provisions
as the other four reform bills floating through Congress, but it included many
proposals that would have limited the negative effect on the insurance
industry, and it basically gave the
insurance companies a lot more money with a lot less oversight than the other proposals.It also killed competition, which any follower of capitalism knows is a necessary element in any healthy market.
Now, I am nothing if not fair; I'm a little more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is from Montana, after all. But the fact of the matter is, there's a question to be asked here. Did he put together that bill to make the conservative base at home
happy, or was he kowtowing to insurance companies because he felt obligated?
I know what most of
you think, and I agree. He just won re-election, so he's not up for another run until 2014, and the junior Democratic senator from Montana, Jon Tester, has the same constituents and isn't going nearly as far to kill health insurance reform. But even giving him the benefit of the doubt, the
problem is, we don't know. In a democracy, playing to a conservative base is a valid reason for what he's done; he represents
Montanans first,after all. But the other reason shouldn't even be a
possibility. It used to be called bribery, and we used to throw politicians in
jail for it. Now, we re-elect them in droves, because they're able to drown out competition.
Lobbyists have been
a huge problem for a long time, and needs reform, but even more troubling is
the bastardization of the campaign finance system. Democracy has been compromised, and we have
to fix it, and pronto. I don't give a damn if the politician is Max
Baucus, Eric Cantor or Russ Feingold, and I don't give a damn if the donor is a
health insurance company or a labor union. There is no reason why a group of
people with a lot of money should have more clout within the system than a single individual struggling to make ends meet. We must take patronage out of politics,
But I'm not just a
whiner. I don't sit back and complain, and let someone else come up with
solutions. I have solutions to both problems.In fact, I've been suggesting these solutions for a long time. It's just that the country has been run by Republicans for so long, ya know? Now, with more Democrats and progressives in office, maybe we can make some headway. If not, we oust them in favor of some more progressives. Sounds good to me…
Let's start with
First off, every
lobbyist is already registered, which is cool. But if they're just going to register
them and then let them do whatever they
want, what's the point of registration? The reason someone or something is
registered is so that you can regulate and control it. We have this database; let's put it to good
First off, there should be a five year waiting period before any ex-politician becomes a lobbyist. If they want to instruct lobbyists, fine. But parlaying their friendship with other Congresspeople into big bucks for some huge corporation is just wrong.
Also no more
than several lobbyist per group or company inside the Capitol at one time. And can we all agree that the whole idea of
"industry" lobbyists is a joke? If we're supposed to be a capitalist
system, and we're supposed to be nurturing
a competitive system, why would everyone in an "industry" get
together to do anything? They used to call that "collusion," as I
recall, and it used to be a bad thing. Pardon me, but it makes me nervous to think that every timber company is on the same page with regard to forest management, and given that oil is an effective monopoly already, the concept of an oil "industry" makes me shudder. For standard lobbying, in which
a lobbyist is trying to get Congresspersons to support a bill, or to write a
bill for them, no more than one lobbyist per company or group should be
necessary. If an exception is necessary, they should petition and ask for permission from the panel. (What panel, you ask? I'm getting to that.)
There should be a complete
and total ban on gifts of any kind, and all lobbying activities should take
place nowhere else but inside the Capitol building or an individual Congressperson's office. No
lunches, no dinner dates, no nothing. I
know of companies (some of which pay lobbyists huge money, by the way) who
won't allow their employees to accept keychains from vendors.Yet, we "allow" Congresspeople to accept all kinds of things for free. It's absurd. What ever happened to handing them a nice brochure, printed at Kinko's? They need information, not a bribe.
Sometimes, fact-finding missions are indeed necessary. To that end, a lobbying review panel should be set up. The panel should be independent of Congress,
and no one should serve on this panel for more than 2-4 years. The lobbyist
should have to submit an idea for a junket or a fact-finding mission to the
panel, who will review all of the
details and approve or deny it. The GOVERNMENT shall pay all expenses for the
Congressperson's part of the junket or fact-finding mission, NOT the lobbyist
or the group sponsoring the lobbyist. If
the government's paying for it, then there can be no question as to whether or
not a lobbyist or lobbying group is influencing an elected official.
See, there's nothing
wrong with lobbying. Some of my favorite people are lobbyists, and a few of them even lobby for companies I hate. But lobbyists
should be limited to providing a politician with information. If they can't convince
enough elected officials of the rightness of their cause without spending $100
for lunch at Oceanaire and/or two tickets to a Broadway show at the Kennedy
Center, then perhaps they're working for the wrong cause. And while a case could be made for sending politicians to Las Vegas or Florida for
a fact-finding mission on a certain issue, the stay should be short, and
nothing should be comp'ed, period.
That's how you fix
lobbying. Wasn't that easy?
Campaign finance is
even easier, because we already have the basics in place.
This may surprise a
lot of people, but I am dead-set against public financing of political
campaigns. If Barack Obama's performance proved anything last year, it proved
that we don't need one. We can have a
system supported by the "public" without having the government run
it. I'm simply not comfortable with the
government running a system in which they benefit from its administration. For instance, in a public system, what's to
prevent Congress from passing riders and amendments to bills that slowly morph the system into something that
favors incumbents and major parties? And the problem isn't that politicians raise hundreds of billions of dollars every election cycle; it's HOW they collect it. The problem isn't the million people donating $100 each. It's the 100 people donating $1 million each.
Better to leave the
current framework in place, and just tweak it.
First, make the
maximum contribution $1,000 per election cycle.
But that's not just $1,000 per individual; that $1,000 is the limit for
any entity, be it individual, company, etc to any campaign. That would include labor unions and PACs. If a PAC wants to raise a few million dollars, and give $1,000 to 2,000 different candidates or issues, more power to them. But NO SINGLE ENTITY should have a
greater voice in the system than any individual, period, and that includes organization on the right or the left.
All donations should
be made directly to the candidate or issue, thus making bundling illegal. I'm sorry, but bundling is just plain evil. No
one should be able to go door to door, or among employees or others, and ask
for (demand? coerce?) a check for a donation
to a politician, and then act as if they've done something "patriotic." No longer should we be faced with the specter of some fat,
bloated "captain of industry" handing a politician a package of checks
worth $1 million, and implying that he or she
alone was responsible for raising that money (wink wink nudge nudge).If Joe Dokes wants to give to President Obama's re-election campaign, he can give his donation to President Obama's campaign; there should be no need for a middleman.
In fact, I would go even farther with this idea. All donations should go to a central
independent clearinghouse. The clearinghouse could then monitor donations, and make sure limits are adhered to, and then the clearinghouse can disburse the money to the
candidates. This way, candidates would have no way of knowing where the money
originated, thus eliminating any possibility of influence of any kind.
These limits should
also extend to "self-financing" of campaigns. A campaign should be
seen as different from the individual campaigning, and the candidate should not
be able to donate more than $1,000 to his own campaign. Likewise, the only loans
that should be made to campaigns should be by legal financial institutions,
under the same lending laws that everyone else has to follow.
There you go. Two
modest proposals that only require the creation of, at most, two relatively
small bureaucracies, and we can eliminate the system of legalized bribery
that's popped up over the years. The biggest barrier to health insurance reform
has been the constant lobbying and influence peddling that's undermining the system. It's impossible to tell whether or not the people debating these bills are
doing so honestly or not. We must work to eliminate all doubt, and that
means taking bribery and extortion out of the equation.