Look Whos Poisoning Politics

 

The American Family Gazette

 

Volume II, 1005

 

It seems almost impossible to dispute that most Americans are not happy with either politics, politicians or government of late. Backing this statement is the recent Pew Research Center public opinion poll finding a historically low 22% of Americans trusting government!  Opinion about elected officials is likewise in the dumps:  Just 25% have a favorable opinion of Congress; 65% an unfavorable view—the lowest favorable ratings in more than two decades of Pew surveys. A subsequent (May) WST/NBC News poll finds—Timber!!—72% disapproving! After briefly considering the circumstances around this whole issue, I want to suggest, in some detail, how America might reach down, grab its bootstraps, pull hard and reverse this despondence about how it is being governed.  Is this possible?  We’ll see.

            First of all, are things really as bad as people believe?  Well, we might dispute the point, but it seems useless to argue with what people think about the situation. This leads us to ask three questions: Why is this collapse in the faith of government occurring?  Whose fault is it?  What, if anything, can be done about it?  Are these overly simplistic or naive questions about a complex situation? Yes probably, to some degree. But when all the smoke is cleared away and the excuses considered, there does seem to be some simple, credible, even compelling explanations (or answers) to all three questions.

            Why the loss of faith?  The basic or underlying reason would seem to be two-fold:   Questionable national priorities set by government, and an apparent inability (or reluctance) of our elected representatives to tackle, solve, or resolve other than mostly trivial or secondary issues facing America.  The first is primarily a matter of national strategy (goals and objectives); the second a matter of the on-going operations of our country (how we govern to reach those goals and objectives). Americans, generally, would simply sum this up as America seems headed in the wrong direction; and that little seems to get done.

            Politically there may, in fact, be some broad or general agreement about just what our goals and objectives are, or should be, by both major parties that between them have been responsible for governing for well over a hundred years now. But because of the ideological differences between them, what defines a certain goal or objective for one may well differ from the understanding and objective for the other (consider the issue of immigration policy). While ideology has always defined the two parties, it seems that the gulf between them in attempting to govern is expanding and this trend is deleterious. Recent experience demonstrates that compromise—what some call bipartisanship— in any meaningful manner by either side is, or at least to outsiders appears, very rare.  The outcome:  Stalemate; very little of significance or importance for those national goals and objectives is accomplished. After a sustained period of such example, who wouldn’t begin to lose faith in those responsible?

            Whose fault is this? To call a spade a spade, it’s politics that is to blame. The first and most obvious answer (from the above) is, “the ideological Parties.” And in the direct sense, this is the case. But it would be a mistake not to look beyond just “the Parties.” To some degree fault is shared here among many, including the voters themselves.

            In a society as large and as diverse as ours, there are many (many) demands and pressures upon government and those who govern, and politicians must listen to these demands. We all want something, or something in some particular manner, and the resources of government are not unlimited.  But this is a generalization almost any government—and the governed— is going to have to live with: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  And in fact, I believe most rational Americans buy this.  So while everyone’s expectations may not be fully met, and they may to a degree blame government for this, we can’t put a majority of the blame for their loss of confidence in government on the governed, generally.

            Eliminating the governed in general, that still leaves us with segments of the governed in particular: Th
ose sections of American society that, as a group, exert or attempt to exert pressure on government to favor their particular agendas.  Generally we refer to these as interest-groups. Examples we recognize are unions, business groups, the elderly, professional groups, the disadvantaged, and the patriotic.  This enumeration does not by any means exhaust the list, but it is indicative.  In concept, there’s nothing either illegal or immoral about their desire to promote the interests of their members. But in practice, as we will see, theory and reality are not always in sync. So here, we have a “suspect” in our search for finding fault aside from the two ideological parties.

            Eliminating the governed, generally, while reserving judgment on interest-groups, specifically, for the loss of faith in government, leaves just two groups to consider:  the government proper, or the politicians responsible for producing government. Is there any difference?  In our political system, yes and no.  But as elected government is the result of the political process, and as the bureaucracy of government is responsible to the political leadership of government, we can for our purposes here consider one synonymous with the other.

            A major contributor—but not the cause itself— of our issue with government is that our two political parties have become so engrossed in the political battles between them they have placed—and continue it seems to place—the priority of governing the country for the good of all behind the priority of battling their political opposition to win elections and control the apparatus of government for their own ideological ends. While, admittedly, the objective of any political party is to convince the voters to support it and its agenda for the country, these two parties today appear to have no cohesive or strategic plan to offer voters, aside from their more ideological supporters. And that is not where the majority of Americans are positioned, politically. Furthermore, when it is the individual as opposed to the party that is leading the way (as is so often the case in national politics today), it is primarily that individual’s platform—whatever it takes to win— not the Party’s responsibility that is being offered voters.  In that sense, the Party may not feel a strong obligation to back or support it, aside from accommodating sounding rhetoric with a goal of winning elections. Thus governing becomes ad hoc for primarily this purpose.

            Not only are the ideological battles between the two Parties, they are within each of them. The Parties today not only attack their political opposition, they attack themselves. The Press talks of a civil war among republicans: (WSJ 4/23/10): “The party is splitting between reformers running on principles and tough issues and the GOP “old guard” that still finds it politically expedient to duck or demagogue issues.” (WSJ 4/23/10). Or,” there is a GOP reluctance to embrace hard issues, like health-care reform, when it controlled Washington—one result is Obamacare.”

            In the up-coming national elections this year, senate republicans are anything but united as a party: We see Jim DeMint of South Carolina deploying his “Senate Conservatives Fund” as a counterweight to John Cornyn’s “National Republican Senatorial Committee” choice of nominees and candidates. The Rubio vs. Crist contest in Florida is an example. Some might describe these frictions as the tail trying to wag the dog.

            Then there are RINOS, which may best describe the recently elected Senator Brown from Massachusetts who doesn’t consider himself “wooable” by either party: “I don’t owe anyone anything,” he said. Is Brown a republican a democrat or something else? One may reasonably perceive him as a conservative who must never forget he is dependent upon the voters of a pretty liberal state. That doesn’t make him a “centrist”, or even a moderate, just a cautious politician, maybe a maverick, watching out for himself. Centrists, like artificially produced elements, only appear briefly, usually around election time, and then disappear.

            The now seemingly passé concept of the big tent political party is evident here.  There is at once both little and excessive party control or discipline. This would seem a contradiction, but it isn’t. There is excessive control of how individual party (congressional) members toe the line when it comes to opposing the other party, but seemingly little leadership within the Parties as to tolerating political disagreement or views on issues or developing consensus  among the intra-party factions. It no longer appears, at least to an outsider, that the three major subdivisions in the Republican Party, the moderates, the conservatives and the reactionaries, can come together or be controlled to meld their differences into a cohesive platform to present on issues or to a broad spectrum of voters.

            The democrats appear no less divided. They have their own DINOS in the appearance of Blue Dog democrats. Like Republicans, Democrats are really at least three divisions deep:  liberals, progressives and socialists. So when you vote for a Democrat today, like for a Republican, you are primarily choosing the individual, not strictly a responsible party.  And with that, my fellow Americans, we are getting very close to the heart of a major consideration with government: The Parties that voters used to look to for at least a broad idea of how the country would be governed—moderately—is largely of the past, since at least the election of John F. Kennedy.

            We have at least six sub-ideologies, or shades of ideology, running for office under just two labels, democrat or republican! And when campaigning, all will assume as much of a “centrist” mantle as their parties will allow.  Why? Because as mentioned, most American voters are not highly ideological. American politics are traditionally played between the forty-yard lines, to use the football analogy.  It’s a truism today that neither political party can win a national election looking just to their own base.  Today, either major party can count on no more than about 30% of voters registering as supporters.  Yes, there are a lot of so called independents who “lean” conservatively or liberally, but they can’t be counted on unless you can appeal to those mostly moderate voters “between the forty-yard lines,” where most Independents appear to be, politically.  And recent history demonstrates that voter dependence upon candidate campaign rhetoric from the individual is not too good at predicting just what sort of government you are going to end up with.

            Consider what America got, or is getting, since 2000: A “compassionate-conservative” most would probably agree now was considerably (much) further to the “right” than most expected and of late a reformist sounding liberal—“change you can believe in”— that most would now describe as considerably more to the “left” than expected; but still, not far enough to the left as some progressives had assumed (Just pick up any recent copy of The Nation magazine in this connection).   Just which of the six ideologies here did America believe it was getting when it went to the polls? When you primarily vote the candidate, as opposed to the party, it’s difficult to anticipate just what you will get. What you are liable to end up with is a winner that everyone else—including many purportedly within his own party—will oppose to a greater or lesser degree.  How is one to govern under such conditions? This is a sure sign of the lack of strong, ongoing party leadership and discipline, either electorally or governmentally. But, if truth be known, it is not an altogether new phenomenon.

            A brief digression here about the significance of political independents today: First of all, there are lots of them—a plurality, actually, of America’s voters.  What do they really represent? The quick and dirty answer is that they are basically conservatives disillusioned with the party that purportedly represents the political views of conservatives, and liberals who likewise must be disillusioned with the party that claims to represent liberal political objectives. For these Independents, the Parties must in some way or ways fall short of their expectations. This description would certainly be consistent with our earlier view of how voters feel about America’s situation today (America is headed in the wrong direction, and little seems to get done)

            What the presence of all these political apostates documents is a fact that few apparently realize and even fewer are willing to acknowledge:  The supply of political choice in our political arena no longer satisfies the demand for political options.  Independents represent, if only unconsciously, the truth that a plurality (at least) of voters yearn for another political option.  It isn’t a matter of conservatives vs. liberals; it’s a matter of Republicans vs. Democrats. vs. America.  They are rejecting what the political arena is offering them today:  Democrat or Republican, which translates for conservatives, generally, and liberals, generally, into “our way or the highway.”

            Okay, hopefully by now, the point has been reasonably and clearly made that our primary problem with government—or our view of it— is politics.  I don’t believe this comes as “news” to most Americans. But, unfortunately, the Parties and their behavior is only half of our problem. The other half has to do with those “interest-groups” we touched on briefly, although you might say that the latter are more of a principal cause of the problem with the former.  But either way, interest-groups do represent a problem. They seem, or at least some of them seem, to be exerting, or trying to exert influence on politicians and politics in a manner such that the consideration of the individual voter, generally, has less and less significance  on their political representatives. This is not a new concept, and politicians are the first to deny it, obviously. But the trend of history seems to belie their denial.  And the cause of this shift of the importance, or influence, of interest groups to politicians as opposed to individual voters seems itself to be two-fold: The increasing influence of group social, economic and political activity in our society and money, or more correctly, the high cost of politics today.

            While a case can be made against interest groups’ serious—and many would say negative—influence on politics, business groups appears to be causing a disproportionately large concern. Everyone recognizes money is power in American politics.  Business appears to have the money, and has demonstrated it is willing to spend it on politics (more on this below).

            This brief review of at least some of the principal factors contributing to the trend of falling confidence in government and opinion of elected politicians leads us to ask our last and most important question:  What can we do about it? There are no end of proposals, it seems, but most simply attack the competition or target the symptoms as opposed to the basic problem.  Some apparently believe there is nothing we can do in this connection.

            One such doubter is the well known journalist James Fallows. In the January/February issue of The Atlantic magazine Fallows concluded in his article, “How America Can rise Again,” that there is nothing we can do about it except to continue muddling on as we have so far. This he advocates—for a government he suggests is “a joke”—would be “the bravest and best choice for us now; to work within the system with its flaws and limits.” His reasoning is that, somehow, the very strength and vitality of our cultural and society will see us through, politically.  This may be a comforting assumption, but it seems questionable; it puts us in a dilemma, for Fallows also makes clear that “eventually, a collapsing public life (polity) brings the private sector (society) down with it.” The logical effect of doing nothing now to correct, or at least try to correct, the poor polity is that it will, by Mr. Fallows’ own argument, weaken our society which he supposes to have the wherewithal to correct our polity.  Does anyone else else see a problem with this prescription?

            Granted that, given his alternative of simply giving up on government, Mr. Fallows’ advice may in fact be sensible, and even good, at least short term.  On this we may agree.  But while his recommendation may be accepted as a sensible one, it is not a sufficient one: it does nothing to address the problem of a loss in confidence in government and faith in our political establishment.  That problem needs to be confronted, not simply tolerated, or muddled through, as he suggests.

            So, aside from “muddling through,” what can we do to restore faith in government and elevate the opinion of the American public of politics? The simple, direct answer is solving the problem causing it.  But before diving into shallow water, e.g. into a puddle as opposed to a deep pool, we should probably ask ourselves is this trip really needed? Is such action really called for?  Does the fact that the degree of public confidence and trust in government is low —and trending lower—really mean we have to do something to raise it?  If so, why so? Is this lack of confidence primarily ideological: one party is in so the one that isn’t proclaims low faith in its ability to govern? Some might say that’s normal.  Is it possibly because the country is going through a difficult time in some way that makes the action government in its responsibility to manage our way through it has seen fit to make some “tough choices” that lots don’t like? And finally, do we even know just why the confidence levels are as negative as they appear?  Is it just a fickle human nature issue:  you don’t know just who to blame for your troubles, so blame government?

            These are necessary questions.  And we can reasonably assume that at least some of the apparent lack of confidence may be attributable to any one or all of the above possibilities.  But, as this issue seems to be not only hanging on between administrations, and following a negative trend over time, we can also reasonably assume there is something more than just ideological differences, hard choices during tough times or scapegoating at the root of it.  As there is so much “smoke,” apparent, we can reasonably assume there is a fire that needs attending to someplace here.

            If we define the “fire” as poor or disappointing government, the factors fueling it, as identified, are politics and interest-groups. The match that starts the fire is the high cost of politics.  Let’s see just how this works. From this point on, we will set the issue with political parties themselves aside and concentrate on the issue and problems related to interest-group involvement; what I refer to in writings elsewhere as the propriety (or impropriety) of special-interest influences on government. Let me say at the outset here, this appears a major—if not the major—cause leading to imbalance in society which in turn results in the professed lack of faith in government and politicians.

            This is an issue that has perplexed government, in one form or another, almost since its inception. It’s an issue covered by James Madison in The Federalist Papers #10 wherein he advocates a republican form of government over a pure democracy. It’s the issue of faction, which he defines as, “…a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest…” Today we call this a special-interest group. Madison goes on to point out that due to human nature the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects. To paraphrase his language, you can’t stop people from wanting certain (self) advantages over others, so you must limit or control their ability to gain such advantage to the detriment of others. This is a key consideration today.

            This issue of the proper or improper influence of interest-groups is a political hot potato.  The political system is that segment of society which draws together or integrates all the others. Within the political system decisions are made which are binding upon the whole of society. The question h
ere is, who controls, or who should legitimately control, the political system, and how? Addressing it is basic to attempts to make a difference in outcome in government.  The “who” question we will come back to, but first let’s look at the “how” question. “How,” it turns out, is, the issue of the demand for money in politics, generally, and of how we finance our elections, specifically. In no uncertain terms, this is a most difficult issue to deal with. But also in no uncertain terms it is the most critical that must be dealt with in the pursuit of reestablishing confidence and faith in government and a more favorable opinion of politics by the public.

            Why is this? Because as pointed out, everyone recognizes money is power in American politics. Unchecked application of money equals unchecked power by those who have it to use. Ergo, if you have financial clout, you have power in our political system today, directly and indirectly. If you lack such clout, you don’t. As such, it has always had the potential, and lately that potential has been largely freed from constraint such that money in politics has become the most significant contributor to corrupting imbalance in our society today. Money has always been important in politics, and it is impractical to believe that you can take it out of politics. You can’t; you don’t have to.

            What is called for is to (1) define more clearly those who are constitutionally authorized to participate in and/or influence the nature, direction or outcomes of our electoral activities; (2) deny the relatively few among us who have lots of it (money) and are willing to spend it to achieve their special ends preferential treatment encouraging its spending in this manner; (3) reinforce the concept that elected officials are, at least so far, Constitutionally chosen by, represent and are responsible primarily to the voters of their political district first, their party second, and the voices, causes, agendas and special-interests of others third. Today, most people would probably say the inverse is largely the rule.

            Spending on elections by outside political and non-political organizations is on the rise. In all, groups on both ideological sides were expecting to spend more than $1 billion dollars to “influence” the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That’s more money than ever, and it actually exceeded that amount. Overall, the 2008 national elections cost $5.3 billion dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Compare this with the reported total expenditure of just $1.6 billion dollars ten years ago.  Of the $5.3 billion spent during the 2008 election cycle, almost fifty percent came from outside non-political groups (PACS, and such), and of this, about seventy-four percent was from business related sources. These numbers do not include money spent on lobbying.  In all, again according to the Center for Responsible Politics, federal lobbyists and their clients spent more than $3.47 billion last year (2009), an all-time high. Michael Tomasky, in an article on health care reform in the April 8th New York Review, goes into this issue of lobbying in interesting detail, and documents, for example, how just one senator involved with matters pertinent to this business sector was the beneficiary of over $660 thousand dollars in campaign contributions (to his reelection committee) from just eleven entities in this industry—directly or via their lobbyists—between January 2007 and July 2009.

            In addition, it’s worth noting that, apart from lobbying legislators and/or contributing to election campaigns, these non-political organizations spend vast sums for radio and television advertising. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce—an entity that represents primarily other entities—says it will spend $50 million on political ads this year to support pro-business candidates, compared with $25 million on the 2006 congressional elections.  If you doubted either the need for money in politics, or its potential for influence, these numbers should dispel any such doubts.  Tomasky ends his article with this pertinent observation: “It’s not a coincidence that there have been fewer and fewer pieces of large-scale economic and social legislation since big money has increasingly dominated politics from the 1980’s on.  The question that remains open is whether there is any effective way of revealing what is being bought and sold in Congress.”

            This area is a major, major issue to confront, because as things are perceived to operate in the national political arena presently, it’s considered an open secret of how money is narrowing the focus of government’s attention; it’s a very visible ideological affront to the understanding of what representative democracy is supposed to deliver, e.g., the greatest good for the greatest number. To paraphrase William Greider, we should not tolerate that the quality of our democracy be a measure of the contentment of any minority, but rather how the political system meets the needs of those who lack personal advantage or political “clout”, which is usually the majority. Today, most observers would probably give those holding the political reins in government an “F” in this connection. We need a different outcome.

            But while many bemoan this issue, talk about the need to correct it—almost ad nauseam it seems—and piece-meal efforts in this direction are attempted, little ha
s been done to definitively correct matters here. And just why do you suppose that is? My guess is that it is an addiction. Like for any addict, it is difficult to “kick the habit”, and politics and politicians are addicted to money. They “have to have it” if they are to survive in office. It is a fact of political life. Money is to electoral politics what lifeblood is to the human body. Therefore, though the system as a whole may recognize the corrupting influence of the power of money, may agree that this needs to change, may agree that it puts the majority of the electorate at a disadvantage, few if any of those making up the system are willing to put their futures as elected politicians on the line by trying to “kick the habit”. And you can hardly blame them.  In today’s environment for all but a very few it could be tantamount to political suicide.

            What needs to be done in this connection that we can’t seem to get from the existing regime(s)? First of all, clearly present the problem, and then focus on the cause, not just the symptoms of it. The problem generally is one of equal political representation, or at least as equal representation as can realistically be expected in a vertical pluralistic society such as ours. There must be a demand that our government(s) represent (at least) all of the people most of the time, and most of the people all of the time.  That’s questionable the case now. That’s the general problem.

            The specific problem: a decreasing feeling on the part of office-holders of political dependency on, with a resulting attitude of a reduced sense of obligation (loyalty) to, the majority of people they purport to represent, no matter what their slogans and by-lines come election times. That seems fairly clearly presented. One can define three major causes driving the specific problem. Part of this is due to incumbency. Part of it is due to the very short term in the cases of House members who must stand for reelection every 24 months. Part of it is due to the ability of both individuals and political parties to solicit and collect money for political purpose from almost anyone, almost anywhere—practically if not legally.  But note that all three causes revolve one way or another around the issue, ultimately, of money, its availability and/or its requirement.

            Incumbents will in almost all cases be able to raise more money for political purposes than challengers simply because they are incumbents. They are already a part of the system and have access.

            In the case of House members facing an election every 24 months, this, in this day and age, is equivalent of perennially campaigning to raise funds. No matter what they are doing or involved with in Washington, they have to view it as a plus or minus for the “upcoming election”, and act accordingly.

            Where individual politicians and the parties can raise campaign funds from so many sources, both directly and indirectly, political districting has diminished meaning or significance. Many in politics raise as much if not more from non-district sources than in-district sources. One recent study found that today’s typical congressional candidate now receives more than two-thirds of all individual donations from people outside the contested district. That in 18 percent of all congressional districts, candidates receive almost all of their personal checks from beyond the boundaries of the area they are seeking to represent. So what? So follow the money. There you will locate a point(s) of obligation(s) equally as strong, if not stronger, than to the voters constitutionally represented. If nothing more, we have permitted a system here that requires a loyalty to two masters. That, as history has demonstrated, usually means one loses-out in such a struggle over loyalty. Follow the money, and as often as not, you will detect the true winners, and losers. The problem is, as those involved realize this, they make it as difficult as possible to “follow the money:” more trees for politicians to hide behind in the political forest.

            Thus we narrow the causes above down to one conclusive factor: The cost of politics. Money, the demand and need for money, is only the apparent symptom of this cause. Most Americans would not find this a startling revelation. The resulting symptom, as defined, produces the expected outcome of unequal political influence, which, as pointed out, creates the general problem of equal political representation. And unless one subscribes to the theory of might-makes-right, a virtuous goal is to minimize such unequal influence where possible. Equality, like Balance is difficult to achieve. But when it gets so obviously out of whack because of the problem (the cost of politics), it does need correcting to the degree practically possible. Areas of concern encompass both lobbying and elections. Both need attention, but here we want to address the specific case of elections.

            To correct the problem, consider the following three-prong approach:

 

A.         Redefine the terms of House members from the present two–years to four–years.

 

B.         If you are not constitutionally entitled to vote, you are not legally entitled to have a say

in or influence either the issues or the electoral process itself, directly or indirectly.

 

C.         Reduce the cost of politics through revising election ground rules. Here a three-step approach covering (1) Primary elections; (2) General Elections and (3) political party funds & funding is recommended.

 

            The basic argument for extending the term limit of presently two–year elected Representatives has been spelled out.

            The question of who is constitutionally sanctioned to vote is not generally in dispute. The issue of just who is entitled to have a say in or influence either the issues or the electoral process itself apparently is. Natural persons of a certain age, who hold citizenship in the United States, are properly registered for voting purposes and are (most often) not convicted felons, are eligible voters. Artificial entities authorized under state or federal charter and created for legal convenience, sometimes referred to as corporate persons, are not sanctioned to vote. By extension, natural persons, and we would selectively included groups and/or associations of natural persons, are eligible to have a say in or influence the issues and/or the electoral process itself through their direct and indirect active participation in it. And also be extension, artificial entities, their subsidiaries and affiliates as well as their employees, officers and/or directors, acting directly or indirectly on behalf of such entities, are not.

            While this constitutional description of the right to vote continues to this day, the reality of the political arena is somewhat different from the technical presentation. The economic—and hence political—power of corporations as well as the necessary functions of the State has grown beyond anything imaginable by our founding fathers. In reality, the single separate citizen, while retaining his narrow and technical advantage of casting a ballot, no longer has the power and independence envisioned in the populace when the allocation and protection of rights and checks & balances of the Constitution were being considered. Gradually, our society has evolved largely into one of organization(s); its conflicts are largely between organizations and between organizations and individuals collectively, not between separate individuals. In this sense, of course, government is an organization. In an example noted in the Wall Street Journal—“Why airlines are picking a fight with business jets”, we have the Air Transport Association in conflict with the National Business Aviation Association over $10 billion a year in taxes and fees. Both protagonists are artificial entities that themselves represent primarily other artificial entities, arguing (lobbying) for the other(s) to assume more of the cost. It would appear that, if only unconsciously, to compensate for this rearrangement in the de-facto power in the political arena, these artificial persons are increasingly being offered the powers and protections originally envisioned for natural persons exclusively.

            Over the years there has been an increasing tendency to convey upon artificial (corporate) entities certain constitutional rights conferred upon or reserved for natural persons. These include Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, equal protection under the law; Protection under the Fifth Amendment (Self-incrimination); Seventh Amendment rights to a jury trial; Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure; First Amendment rights of free speech, or free expression. Are these proper conveyances? Well, if such artificial entities, created for legal convenience, are to have any value in their creation in facing the courts in cases of law that concern their purpose and/or operation, they probably are. But, what are their limitations, if any? Where do the boundaries exist such that we recognize these legal entities for what they are, not necessarily for what they want? Pushing their boundaries further and further out has been, in the mind of this voter, a major contributor to imbalance in our country as a whole and created, or at least exacerbated, the view that Government is not governing for (at least) all of the people most of the time, or most of the people all of the time, unless of course you recognize these artificial entities as “citizens”.

            Political lip service, at least, continues to be paid to the above proposition.  Our current president-in-residence has referenced the need to protect the fundamental rights of individuals because, “in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.” (A-5, WST 5/12/10)

            Acknowledging that organizations are increasingly important participants (currently treated as denizens, in the British sense perhaps, but not, I emphasize, as citizens—as clearly highlighted in Section 1 of the XIV Amendment!) in American society and as such are by their power attempting to manipulate the political arena to their particular benefit, what is to be done here to restore some semblance of confidence in the process of political government? That seems to be a must, but at what level? Individual citizens must continue to have a meaningful place at the political table. Why? Because this and in reality this alone, translates into attention to their particular needs, rights and freedoms in the halls of government, which is a very, very extensive and busy organization itself in this day and age. And that should come as no surprise to anyone. But obviously, we can’t, nor should we want to, simply ignore organizations politically. But again, if the concept of necessary Balance within our society—the greatest good for the greatest number— has any validity, the collective influence of these organizations needs to be counter-balanced and for just those reasons Madison spelled out long ago in Federalist #10.

            The interest and motivation of this broad but narrowly focused economic special-interest group of artificial legal entities (business) is at once in common as a group (profits) and at the same time potentially if not actually at odds with the interests of the broadest interest-group, the individual (and collective) constitutionally empowered voters. Where? Almost everywhere. Specifically in wages, taxation, working conditions, commercial practices, environmental issues, safety requirements, government spending, international rules & regulations and others that don’t at the moment come readily to mind. These are potential conflicts of major proportions that in most cases are decided by government as the mediator/regulator between citizens and the economic sector. Someone once said, and I agree, that the business of the legislator is to produce harmony between public and private interests. How government (ultimately) decides these issues depends upon whom we elect to represent us in government, and we do this primarily through elections. Issues of concern and importance to all, and candidates standing for office are, as constitutionally provided, supposed to be decided by and elected by people, i.e., by citizens.

            If artificial persons continue to receive increased access to the same menu of constitutional rights and guarantees as natural persons, then do we need to recognize a new classification of citizens? Aren’t we applying the same laws to them as we do to individuals?  Do we need to allow them the right to vote as well (Kind of like super-delegates)? While this may at first appear absurd, is it really? If we now allow them, through interpreted rights provided the rest of us under the Constitution, to increasingly influence the policies of government and the politics of our democracy through the power of money and wealth, then by reason of such financial clout and power, they have largely trumped, ipso-facto, the democratic power of the ballot box reserved for people. The ultimate outcome of the direction we are moving is to a most unbalanced position.  But apparently, neither major political party believes this is the case. If they do acknowledge a problem here, apparently they do not believe it has gotten out of hand— all of us would like to believe we can control our addiction— at least not far enough out of hand to really take effective corrective as opposed to cosmetic steps. So, do we let them all the way into our political process? Understand, however, that once we do, America will no longer enjoy a true representative democracy, or as Rousseau would describe us, an elective aristocracy. America will run the risk of becoming a corporate tyranny, even if in ritual the ballot box and the Congress are not discarded. This controversy and debate over the issue of “corporate citizenship/personhood” is longstanding. And capitalism’s pockets are deep enough that they can afford to sustain their pursuit of adapting the rules to their advantage.

            No one, of course, expects the world to come to what is just described. But it could. In order to assure that it doesn’t, concrete steps must be taken. What needs to be recognized, legally, is that these entities are not “persons” for the purpose of participating in or in that which surrounds our electoral processes; that they have no inherent fundamental or “inalienable rights of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness”, as one business apologist appeared to imply, writing in Capitalism Magazine. These are special-purpose creations of the various states; their existence can be terminated, voluntarily by the entity itself or involuntarily by the state or bought or sold to others. They do not merit protection under the Constitution except in a narrow sense having to do with the purpose for which they legally exist, to engage in an enterprise.

            A key element contributing to the potential political corrosion stemming from organizations is the legal determination that money is synonymous with freedom of speech. Many would challenge this association. In spite of a recent ruling (known as Citizens United), the Supreme Court itself has not been unanimous on it. Other areas of our civic and political life do not follow this logic but are governed by the principles of fairness, due process and equality before the law. It has been pointed out, for instance, lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court are each given a half-hour to sum up their case. If money equaled speech, some have argued, they should be able to pay for more time to make their case, i.e., freedom of speech. Nonetheless, a close scrutiny of the First Amendment wording, coupled with the argument put forth for it by those who successfully challenged Buckley v Valeo arguing that virtually all meaningful political (campaign) communications in the modern setting involve the expenditure of money e.g., the cost of politics, lends support (agree with it or not) for the Court’s ruling in this manner: The recognition that the cost of politics demands the ability to spend money.

            But how much money, and from what sources? Many would argue, as does the Court, that arbitrary limits on spending might be potentially restrictive of speech under current political circumstances. But the concept that those who have more money are entitled to more speech, or can be allowed to dominate speech, is a potentially dangerous one in a liberal representative democracy. It leads invariably to catering to the priorities and desires of such sources, be they good, bad or indifferent to the system as a whole. By extension, allowing political contribution directly to candidates by out-of-district sources leads to the same results, to the detriment of those whom the representative is supposed to primarily represent. While most both recognize and acknowledge the importance of (corporate) organizations in our society today, most questionably support efforts for preferential treatment that this broad special-interest group today demands from Government through the shoveling of money, and what money buys, into the troughs of politicians, directly or indirectly to finance their cost of politics.

            As a counter to this, the following proposal for how artificial entities are authorized to participate in or influence our electoral process would be as follows. For the purpose of funding campaigns, make the process a three-step situation covering primary elections, general elections and political party funds.

 

PRIMARY ELECTIONS:  A. Any qualified person can run for office in the primaries. B. It is up to the individuals running in primaries to develop their own organization and raise their own funds to conduct their district primary campaigns. C. Only monies collected from approved (legal) sources originating within the candidate’s district can be accepted and spent on the campaign. Campaign funds cannot be transferred. Funds raised in one district are not transferable to other districts. D. All candidates (including judges) running for the same office under the same party banner must participate in a minimum of two (2) issues-focused publicized and publicly available debates prior to Election Day: One to cover primarily local issues, and one to cover primarily national issues. Debates for judges may be based upon other criteria. E. Political parties may certify but not endorse specific candidates nor contribute funding to Primary candidates, directly or indirectly.

 

GENERAL ELECTIONS:  A. The Primary Election winner for his/her party’s nomination becomes the party’s candidate in the General Election. B. The party may contribute funding towards its candidate’s general election campaign to the degree and amount it deems desirable, in addition to whatever funds the candidate and his local district organization have raised for his campaign from authorized donors within the candidate’s district. No outside district funds other than from the party may be accepted and used.* No single donor, or controlled group of donors, can contribute more than “X” amount per candidate (Open to suggestion as to limits). C. All candidates (including judges) running as their party’s candidate in general elections must participate in a minimum of two (2) issue-focused publicized and publicly available debates prior to election day, in the same format as indicated for Primary election purposes. In the cases of national office candidates, the two debates would (separately) cover national issues and international issues.

 

·         In the 1990’s an Oregon regulation in this connection was deemed a restriction of speech.

POLITICAL PARTY FUNDS:  The only legal sources of financing usable for political campaign purposes shall be (1) contributions raised directly or by others on the behalf of a candidate within his or her own political district and (2) funds contributed to the candidate’s campaign directly by his/her political party. No party financing shall be available to any candidate in primary elections campaigns (before, in effect, he or she is the party’s candidate). The political parties shall receive funds for campaign-financing purposes—including so called public services purposes—only from the (particular) state or federal government and on the following basis.

 

            The federal government shall contribute out of General Funds, $X per-voter voting in the primary elections, allocated to each party on the basis of voter political-party-totals for that preliminary election. If states choose to follow a similar system, each state shall determine its own per voter campaign financing amount to be allocated and the basis for such allocation,

within its boundaries for state office.

            Both state and national election funds, based upon preliminary primary election returns, shall be made available in whole or part to the Party recipients within ten (10) working days of the Primaries, and all funding due within thirty (30) days of the primary. Provided, however, that no funds, based upon this paragraph, need be disbursed to the parties sooner than 150 days prior to the scheduled general election.

            Such government provided funds must be used for direct candidate campaign spending purposes only, and the parties will make an accounting therefore within 90 days of the general elections. Unused funds, if any, to be returned to the source of the funds within thirty days from such an accounting.

            From this it is clear that there is little, if any, provision for artificial persons, aside from political parties to influence elections through the use of money, and the source of money for the parties (for campaign financing purposes) to do this is clearly indicated. While it may be both unwise and impractical to attempt to deny artificial entities access to government authority to lobby for their particular agenda(s), it is (a-la James Madison’s position) both practical and wise to restrict their future influence in our election process. If the American people truly have both the obligation as well as the privilege to clearly be responsible for the election of their representatives, then they have little legitimate claim to complain if they don’t perform in Washington as they promised they would.  Next election, this can, and should be, corrected.

            Does this, under present laws, leave open the ability of artificial entities to influence the elections through issue advocacy and/or “public service” advertising? Possibly. I would agree that it would be difficult to “plug” this loophole completely, and probably not in everyone’s’ best interest to do so. There is no doubt that from time-to-time these entities raise legitimate issues for consideration, especially as they impact their business environment. I believe our judiciary must be of a mind to control this possible back-door intervention through a pragmatic and constitutionally supportable rendering of law (The Congress, of course must give us proper laws). We already have the concept of Commercial Speech, which the courts have viewed in a more restricted light than Political Speech, and this to make our electoral system effective must be further defined. Defined such that artificial entities are recognized for what they are, not what they necessarily want.

            A funding approach where the Parties themselves are responsible for the amount available to spend on their own behalf, come election time, and that depends upon their performance and voter-support at the ball
ot box, seems a lot more probable to make both them and their candidates more responsible to the general interest as opposed to special interests. That should go far in improving the atmosphere surrounding politics, the effectiveness of voters and conditions generally conducive to greater Balance in America, trust in government and—hopefully— a more favorable view of politicians.

 

                                                                                    

                                                                                                 Thomas Richard Harry

                                                                                                            May 2010

 

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