Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NOT ONE DIME....Tired of wimpy proposals for cleaning up the corruption mess in Congress? In the March issue of the Washington Monthly, James Carville and Paul Begala offer up their red-meat version of campaign finance reform:

First, we raise congressional pay big time. Pay 'em what we pay the president: $400,000....In return, we get a simple piece of legislation that says members of Congress cannot take anything of value from anyone other than a family member. No lunches, no taxi rides. No charter flights. No golf games. No ski trips. No nothing.

And when it is campaign time, incumbents would be under a complete ban on raising money. You read that right. No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period.

Challengers, on the other hand, would be allowed to raise money in any amount from any individual American citizen or political action committee. No limits, just as the free-market conservatives have always wanted....The day after you disclose [a contribution], the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent's campaign account with a comparable sum say 80 percent of the contribution to the challenger to take into account the cost of all the canaps and Chardonnay the challenger had to buy to raise his funds as well as the incumbent's advantage.

There are more details, so read the whole thing before you raise technical objections of which there are plenty. However, Carville and Begala think that it may be possible to bulldoze through these problems simply because modern fundraising is such a degrading, soul-destroying pursuit for members of Congress. "You should never underestimate how much these folks hate spending half their time or more sniveling for money."

I don't know if their plan would work, but I'd sure like to see congressional Dems put something like this on the table. It's going to be hard to get any serious attention from anything less, and practical or not, at least it gets us talking about the core issue instead of arguing over minutiae like toothless travel bans and meaningless extensions of "cooling down" periods.

So let's talk. What do you think?

POSTSCRIPT: This proposal is from Taking It Back, Carville and Begala's new book. You can order it here.

Kevin Drum 1:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (225)

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Comments

It violates free speech, blah blah blah.

That's what they'll say when they ignore another great idea.

You know, back in 1994, term limits were all the rage. How about bringing them back?

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 18, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Shout it from the rooftops.

Dare the opponents to argue against it. Why is their scheme better?

Posted by: JB (not John Bolton) on January 18, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds good so far.

I still like my plan better though: members of Congress are selected the same way jurors are. It's representative, and term limits are built in.

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I quite like those ideas. Pale Rider is right thought, "It violates Free Speech" somehow.

Plus, the "members of Congress cannot take anything of value from anyone other than a family member" legislation they'd like in return for raising the salaries of congressmen/senators - my cynical mind immediately thought, "then those individuals with the most corrupt/corruptible families will be the ones on top." I mean, it's a pretty tight loophole, but a loophole just the same.

That said, I wouldn't oppose it myself. It would go quite some distance in fixing the current system.

As long as "members of congress" includes their staffers and other people who work for them who make real, important-to-the-country decisions as well...

Posted by: Adam Piontek on January 18, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting, but there's no way in hell that congressional incumbents are going to make it HARDER for them to win.

Posted by: praktike on January 18, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Not bad, buy why conflate the public financing of campaigns and lobbyist gifts? Why not start with a complete gift ban for all elected officials and staff? There is no need for any member of Congress to get presents, none.

Posted by: Doctor Gonzo on January 18, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I've never understood why members of Congress, if they hate begging for money so much, haven't already passed some sort of public-financing law. Can anyone explain that to me?

Term limits: bad idea. It's good to have experienced legislators. We should be fixing the law so that incumbents can be beaten when they deserve to be, not just kicking out all incumbents.

Posted by: InsaneTrollLogic on January 18, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Back to the drawing board!

I find the proposal to hike the salaries of representatives by more than 2.5X during a time when many workers are facing lay-offs, loss of benefits, etc, and when the govt is cutting back essential programmes unconscionable. If these people want to make out like bandits, why don't they focus on making $ in the private sector?

There's also the issue of the ripple effect - e.g. the precedent for other elected offices.

Posted by: Aidan on January 18, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Gonzo asks, "why conflate the public financing of campaigns and lobbyist gifts?"

Answer: because both are legal ways of bribing elected officials that should be illegal.

See today's WaPo for a story on a loophole in the current Republican lobbying-reform bill that further ties the two together.

Posted by: InsaneTrollLogic on January 18, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

what I'm unclear on is what happens in a three way race? does the incumbent get money matching both challengers, or just one? which one? Is this applicable for the primaries as well, and exploratory committees? I think it needs some work, although it is certainly interesting.

Posted by: northzax on January 18, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see how the pay hike is a necessary companion to the ban on lobbyist gifts. Do they really bring in over $100,000 each on gifts?

Posted by: Preston on January 18, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see how the pay hike is a necessary companion to the ban on lobbyist gifts.

There's good logic behind it--raise their pay and they'll be less greedy and not feel compelled to steal.

Wait a minute...

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 18, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

A time frame for campaigning would be nice perhaps 90 days.

Posted by: apeman on January 18, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

So a Party puts up a strawman against the incumbent in a primary. The strawman rakes in the graft, the incumbent doles out the favors,

The Treasury doubles the strawman's take, and all the money is used to sell the incumbent's message, right up until November.

Incumbents wind up with a Treasury-doubled warchest to use against the real challenger from the other Party

Posted by: yesh on January 18, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

As I said before, why not jsut enforce the laws already on the books. Kos agrees. Do what the Republicans do, just call for the enforcement of existing laws. It's easy. Otherwise we get sucked into a GOP trap. Win the 2006 elections first and then clean up congress.

Posted by: Sean-Paul Kelley on January 18, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure there are kinks I haven't figured out yet, but at the very least, this proposal would be worth debating; if we can't have our elections publicly financed, this is at least a good way of getting PART of the elections publicly financed.

Whether any sitting Congressman would vote for it is, of course, a whole different question. Will $400k per year be enough to buy his vote? Some of them have been bought for a lot less.

Posted by: PCashwell on January 18, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Preston--

They fly on corporate jets. Do you have idea how much that costs? It's probably true that the average congressman doesn't 200K in gifts and treats, but 100K doesn't seem unlikely to me.

My favorite example is Bob Dole. He grew up lower middle class, spent his entire life in public service, and retired from the senate a very rich man. Liddy was part of that--but women with Liddy's money only marry rich men.

I've lived under such rules when contracting with state government, and it is simply silly in some ways. You do get friendly with people, and it's normal human intercourse to pick up a bar tab or give someone a book that you think would interest them. But the big problem now is that there is no working definition of a bribe. This proposal would make it very clear.

As for their salaries, one of the things that is profoundly irritating is how cheaply these guys sell taxpayer dollars. The ratios are sometimes 10,000 to 1.

Posted by: JayAckroyd on January 18, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

The proposal is good. Seriously, sign it into law.

Not allowing sitting officeholders to run for higher office is a bad idea, however. It would serve to make things safer for incumbents because it would cut down on challenges. Somebody in the state legislature would not run for the national legislature because they would be quitting a sure thing for an improbable thing.

Posted by: reino on January 18, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK


How many congressmen actually do it for the gov't salary anyway? Most are already wealthy, and/or could earn far more in the private sector. Many DO earn more after their terms are expired as lobbyists, speakers, consultants, board members, etc.

I work with businesses all the time where the management is prevented from accepting any form of gifts or meals from vendors. Why should congress be any different or held to a lesser standard?

Posted by: tinfoil on January 18, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

What's the point of passing new legislation when the Repugs are going to break it anyway? Aren't they breaking the law now? Why will that change?

The only way to clean up Washington is to boot the lying, incompetent Republican criminal scum out of office.

Posted by: grytpype on January 18, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

While we're at it, isn't there a proposal out there somewhere to increase the size of the House to about 1,000 members? So that each member represents a much smaller number of constituents than before.

There was some sound, pro-democracy type reasoning behind it.

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, a challenger has to raise his money out there in the field, while the incumbent just sits there in his office and waits for the taxpayer check to arrive.

For an incumbent, what's not to like? If he wins, the challenger has to do it all over again, while the incumbent just waits for the next check.

You people are supposed to be reality-based. Get a clue. As long as the government has enormous control over how business is done in this country, business will find a way to influence it, either out of corruption or sheer self-defense.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I do have a question.

If I raise money donations and start running advertising for whatever candidate I feel like, what are the implications?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the time, it's a benefit to the public to have its leaders away from Washington. What would these characters do with all the free time on their hands if rules like these were imposed? They seem to have plenty of time as it is to pass a bunch of crap about which they should be embarrassed. Maybe if they spent the time they have now better I could get behind this proposal. Surely, it would be nice thinking our congressmen weren't owned. But if they've got to give up the fundraising, couldn't we give 'em some busy work to take their minds off the task at hand? Please?

Posted by: Dave Spelvin on January 18, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

This proposal is going nowhere.
So why bloviate?

However this is as good a time as any to affirm three things:

1) Obama better get his ass out of the Senate quick. Being in congress is the quickest way to besmirch one's good name. Congress is a cesspool.

2) If the Democrats run another Senator in 2008 they deserve to have their asses whipped.

3) Clark is the only way they can win.

Posted by: koreyel on January 18, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again. The problem is not the money per se, the problem is using the money for access.

The solution is to make the system 100 percent anonymous. You can give money to a campaign but you can't tell the candidate, so you're money won't be buying you access, it will just be supporting someone you believe in.

FEC has an account for each candidate. You send money to FEC account. FEC does not let candidate know who gave. It's a crime for you to tell candidate (or officeholder) that you gave him money, because to do so is essentially bribery--seeking his/her favor in return for your money.

Lobbyists would like it, because they couldn't be strong-armed by candidates any more. Challengers would like it, because campaign money would indicate support of their positoins, not buying of access. Would officeholders like it? Maybe not, because they couldn't use their power to extort campaign contributions. Instead they'd have to depend on the attractiveness of their ideas. And it sure looks like they are bereft of those.

Posted by: Cal Gal on January 18, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

And after that we can ban all corporate participation in politics in any way at all, a sort of immune response against parasitism.

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

This proposal like others doesn't really address the key problem: the position of congressman has become an expensive piece of property, and senatorial positions are even more expensive. It's a classic supply and demand issue. You have a limited number of items and a large demand. No matter what Rube Goldberg type law you pass, someone will find some way to circumvent it.

To cut to the core of the problem, representatives are in districts more populous than anything the founders ever envisioned. It's impossible for a congressman to truly represent any district, particularly when they're as carved up as they are now, some stretching for hundreds of miles in length. To stay in office means he has to buy tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars) worth of print and broadcast advertisement. One way or the other, they're going to get that money.

It's time to look at significantly increasing the number of congressmen, and perhaps even upping the number of Senators per state. Increase the supply and you'll reduce the price, and you'll return the representatives to some kind of human contact with their constituents. That way they won't be required to raise oodles of cash to stay in office, and they'll be more responsive to their own voters.

Posted by: Derek Copold on January 18, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to like the idea of increasing the number of Congressmen and Senators. After all, when the number of Senators was chosen, what was the average population of a state?


Would it also be a good time to look into going back to the way Senators used to be selected by the states, instead of direct election? There may have been a good reason it was originally arranged the way it was.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I like it. It needs work, but it's good.

And I think saying "money is not a problem" is, well, to be polite, completely out to lunch! It's THE problem -- in just about every issue which comes up in this and most other discussions of American society and politics.

Posted by: PW on January 18, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Increasing the number of senators to around five per state, even in states where that would be more than the number of representatives is a really practical idea.

The scale of work and responsibility a single senator has nowadays is so incredibly greater than it was in 1800 it's no mystery why government is so often so oblivious and unresponsive.

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

koreyel,

Clark/Bredesen '08 ;)

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 18, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Remember, it's not the money. It's the power. Any attempt to address the influence problem without recognizing that fact is going to be like trying to fix a leak in the bottom of a bathtub without turning the faucet off first.

Money follows the power, and it's non-partisan. Most corporate donations switch parties quite handily as power switches from one party to the other. If the Democrats were running both houses, how much cash do you think Abramoff would have been giving Republicans?

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Giving aid, comfort or money to a public official should be instant treason, both for the giver and the receiver.

Thats how you end that.

And have a low threashold for assumption of guilt.

Sovereignty resides in the people, not in the corporations or any would be usurper trying to buy influence.

Also:
Allow for spending caps. Politicians would eventually push down the caps because they don't like whoring themnselves out.

Also:
Continue with limits on contributions. In the area of free speach fair speach is just as important: No ones voice should be able to drawn out other voices.

You can lobby your government all you want. You just can't give them aid, comfort or money - just your opinions.

Posted by: E Publius on January 18, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Not a bad idea.

I'm only worried about those districts where the challengers would be money-poor, and the base salery of a congressperson would dwarf the locals.

Having come from a rather poor area of a rural state, it's not an unusual worry.

But aside from that... Seems like a good idea.

Posted by: Crissa on January 18, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

There is the first problem,How is money free speech.

Posted by: patton on January 18, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

So far, only Derek Copold has written anything here that makes any sense, and that includes Carville and Begala's proposal.

Cal Gal,

I like the proposal you discuss except for one thing- I don't think you can overcome the problems with speech restrictions. It just seems unconstitutional to me to prevent person A from telling person B that he made a donation to the fund.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

How does this do anything other than solidify a 2-party system? Furthermore, it destroys any real possibility of a competitive primary.

Elections don't always have 2 candidates, and in cases where there are more than 2 the incumbent will get a outrageously unfair advantage (the sum of all opponents fundraising?)

Clearly this needs some more thought.

Posted by: Peter Kovacs on January 18, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider said "raise their pay and they'll be less greedy and not feel compelled to steal". Was this meant to be taken seriously? If I am not mistaken, Congressman make $165,000 a year and they just decided to magnamiously vote themselves a pay raise. Just as one should not require a religious dictate to realize that it is wrong not to steal, Congressmen [and women] certainly should already be aware that it is a crime to engage in larceny. Carville and Begala thinks that it is a great idea to raise their pay to a whopping 400 grand so they can curb their supposed inherent desire to steal? There are a great many people in this country and elsewhere who wish they were making 165,500 grand a year. To claim that House members need a gigantic increase so they will not be tempted to steal is beyond ludicrous.

Posted by: Erroll on January 18, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I like the public financing aspect. I'd rather my congresswoman and Senators focus their time more on legislating and talking to real constituents than constantly asking for money.

But we should decrease the campaign season. Howard Dean was campaigning for two and a half years. The vanishing voter project suggested that compressing the primary season and shifting it's conclusion to the summer would help increase voter turnout. Plus, you won't have to spend as much money since you won't have enough time. And the govt. should make a deal with telecom companies to get discounted rates. The last presidential election used nearly a half a billion dollars just from the candidates and respective committees. That's absurd.

Term limits are bad, they prevent good, honest legislators from doing a good job. And experience and knowledge is a great quality to have. California's term limits are absurd. The first couple of terms are usually spent learning the rules and getting knowledgeable about the specifics of the issues and laws.

Posted by: gq on January 18, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

So sick of this "buying politicians is free speech" crap.

You can't bring a megaphone into church, you can't yell fire in a crowded movie house, and you can't scream that meat tacos are murder in the 7-11. So why the hell is it "free speech" for people who have money to buy a louder voice during elections?

Posted by: theorajones on January 18, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting. Two additional objections:

1. Howmuch does it cost? I might be inclined to support it if Democrats much cut spending on THEIR OWN PROGRAMS (education or Medicare or something) - no tax increases - to pay for it. In fact, we can be pretty sure that the cost will be much more than the projections. So IMMEDIATELY CUT spending equal to three times the projected cost.

2. The ban on incumbents raising money ONLY BEGINS once Democrats take control of Congress. No fair trying to screw Republican incumbents because they control Congress. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing even when Democrats control Congress.

Posted by: Al on January 18, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

If the Democrats were running both houses, how much cash do you think Abramoff would have been giving Republicans?

Clearly a GOP shill. Abramoff is a life long Republican dedicated to making the GOP the majority. He'd be giving just as much to the GOP if the Dems ran both houses. Anyone who read the slightest, teenie bit about Abramoff and the K-street project would know as much.

I guess I should expect as much from the author. I'm not even saying Dems are immune to corruption, but there is no way Abramoff would be giving to the Dems and helping them win.

Posted by: gq on January 18, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Government funding of elections is the answer. If you don't like this proposed system, you'll always have money be the true voice Congress represents.

Political donations are themselves considered "symbolic speech" and protected by the first Amendment, so you'd need an Amendment or a new Court holding.

So it isn't going to happen, although it is the only answer to keep a representative Democracy at all representative of people rather than wealth.

I actually support ARD, Aleatory Representative Democracy. That is, representatives choose at random from the citizenry. You'd have to have councils, and they couldn't just be a few people, you'd need probably 49 people in order to ensure you didn't get a group of wackjobs. Then have that group decide laws by majority rule. Let them pick a President. Make service obligatory, pay them very well, say 100 million or something so they'd have no reason to take bribes, limit them to a single term.

Posted by: Spectator Consumer on January 18, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Increasing the relative number of congressional representitives would also reduce the disproportionality of the electoral college. Increasing the relative number of senators would do the opposite.

Doubling the size of the house could be a good idea though. At a minimum it reduces the efficiency of bribery by increasing the number of people one needs to bribe. Throw in smaller districts meaning cheaper campaigns and more grass roots effectiveness vs mass media marketing. Seems like smaller districts would be a bit harder to jerrymander as well. Whats the downside? Paying for more congresspeople and staff? That would be made up with one bridge to nowhere not built.

Posted by: jefff on January 18, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

There are two main issues I see with this:

1) What if an incumbent has 3 or 4 challengers? Does he/she get credited with some percentage of the sum raised by all of them? Won't an obvious move here be for the party of the incumbent to fund a "shadow challenger" out the wazoo, who them drops out of the race, leaving their incumbent with a much bigger war chest than his "real" opponent?

2) The problem with any limitation on fund-raising is that it's automatically a "rich guys get to run the country" law. Once you ban any gifts except from family, the ones with the wealthy families are in pole position.

That being said, the basic premise is outrageously brilliant. If the kinks can be worked out, I love it.

Posted by: Ethan on January 18, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

gq,

The point is that the donors Abramoff was coordinating for would have much less incentive to donate to Republicans if the Republicans were out of power. The donors may pick a different lobbyist to work with Democrats if Abramoff was simply unwilling to do so, but the money would find its way to where it could do the donors the most good.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

we can be pretty sure that the cost will be much more than the projections

That's probably true if the GOP is making projections. Last time I checked, Clinton did pretty good, and even exceeded his projections re the deficit. The last time I checked, Iraqi oil is not paying for our adventure there, Medicare is costing more than projected, the tax cuts are costing the economy more than projected...that's ALL GOP doing.

Posted by: gq on January 18, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Re the free speech issue, remember that, under Buckley, CONTRIBUTION limits are Constitutional and not abridgements of free speech (although this proposal is more than a "limit" - it is a complete ban), but EXPENDITURE limits are unconstitutional.

For those of you wondering why expenditures are speech, consider a law banning expenditures by the New York Times Company, Washington Monthly Company and The Nation. The Times, WashMonthly, and Nation can say whatever they want, but cannot spend one dime. Would that be an abridgement of their freedom of speech?

Posted by: Al on January 18, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Stochastic Representative Democracy is another way to refer to a government choosen at random. Aleatory actually suggest "luck" with randomness, stochastic, is more formal, term regarding to random probability.

Posted by: Spectator Consumer on January 18, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

How does this stop Roger Clinton from taking $200,000 to get his brother to give some crook a pardon??

How about we just let Congress spend money on what is specifically called for in the Constitution....then the gravy train for the lobbyists would dry up.

Posted by: Patton on January 18, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

The donors may pick a different lobbyist to work with Democrats if Abramoff was simply unwilling to do so, but the money would find its way to where it could do the donors the most good.

Yeah, go with that. See how it pans out.

The fact is, you're using the terms 'money' and 'donors' too generically. Try 'bribe money' and 'criminal' and 'perpetrator' and 'felon.' See, the felon, who turned out to be a criminal perpetrator, gave bribe money to the Republican.

But I can understand how you want to cloud and confuse the real issues. Plenty of Democrats have broken the law. But we're talking about 2006 right now. I'm sure you're going to bring up Abscam or the House check writing scandal.

Let's talk about the Minority Leader of the Senate tried to strangle a guy who tried to bribe him.

See the difference? The Republican takes the bribe and the Democrat kicks the ass of the guy who tried to bribe him.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 18, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

If raising the salaries and putting money into the campaign funds fixes the current situation, I am all for it.

None of this will be fixed without serious campaign reform. This isn't just about lobbying.

Posted by: Gary on January 18, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Simple solution. Campaign contributions go to a clearing house so that the candidate is unable to know who contributed to their campaign.

No free speach issues.

No quid pro quo.

Posted by: NCJim on January 18, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what fantasy world people live in if they expect people to go along with obligatory service as a representative. It's not as easy as one thinks. There is a lot of info one needs to know to run this country--even a medium sized city. It's absurd to think that someone with no interest at all in governance would do a good job--heck, even people who actually want to do the job often do it poorly.

I wouldn't want someone who was chosen at random to be a surgeon to operate on my child. It's dangerous. What if you we get a constantly bankrupt person to be in charge of economic issues. That's absurd.

BTW, the disproportionality of the electoral college is the fact that every state has two senators regardless of size and the winner-take-all system most states have.

Posted by: gq on January 18, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: If the Democrats were running both houses, how much cash do you think Abramoff would have been giving Republicans?

Even more, to help his buddies take control of the power.

What part of "Abramoff is a Republican loyalist" don't you understand?

Granted, some Democratic interests might replace Abramoff in the equation, but it wouldn't be Abramoff.

Talk about getting a clue!

As long as the government has enormous control over how business is done in this country, business will find a way to influence it, either out of corruption or sheer self-defense.

Government is evil, blah, blah, blah . . . government regulation is evil, blah, blah, blah . . . we should let businessmen running nuclear power plants self-regulate, blah, blah, blah . . . because we know they business be trusted to be honest, to keep the public health and interest in mind, to protect their workers, to serve their customers instead of themselves, blah, blah, blah . . .

tbrosz = absolutely clueless as to the evil big business has visited on the people of this country over the last two centuries.

Posted by: Advocate for God on January 18, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's the penalties that need to be stiffened up, not the fatcats' wallets. Does anyone really think 400K (or any amount) is enough to stop the urge of the bribe-hungry crooks to keep sucking on the K-street teat? Pshaw.

How about they get a finger or thumb cut off for every "donation" they accept in exchange for whoring out our government? At the very least, they would all end up with cute pirate nicknames like "One Thumb Tom". Yarrr.

Posted by: melior on January 18, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Why not do what the Brits do? Don't bother limiting campaign contributions: limit campaign SPENDING. Let each candidate give, say $5,000 to the League of Women Voters to prepare and distribute a detailed biography/dossier. What else does a voter need than objective information about the candidate? No more TV bites, negative ads, etc. Just the straight information, please.

Posted by: R.W. Behan on January 18, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Not bad, buy why conflate the public financing of campaigns and lobbyist gifts? Why not start with a complete gift ban for all elected officials and staff? There is no need for any member of Congress to get presents, none.

Posted by: Doctor Gonzo on January 18, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Let's talk about the Minority Leader of the Senate tried to strangle a guy who tried to bribe him.

He was wearing an FBI wire at the time, which tends to improve one's behavior when approached by someone with some cash.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Term limits: bad idea. It's good to have experienced legislators.

Term limits: excellent idea. We need to have an electorate that is experienced in self-governing and that can't happen if the pool of candidates is limited by the advantages that incumbents have.


We need term limits because we need to counteract the tendencies toward oligarchy that happen in any organization. Without explicit mechanisms to insure that a permanent oligarchy doesn't arise we are left with it's prospect as inevitable.

Political experience and competence (the result of experience and learning from that experience) must be distributed as widely as possible, if we're going to maintain any semblence to a democracy.

That's why I find (nearly) all the objections to California's proposition system feeble. Yes, it is subject to extremists and abuse, but without the experiencing the results of bad decision making no political body, whether it's the State Legislature or the people themselves, can possible learn from their mistakes.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I have an idea and I am sure it has many holes in it, so shoot away.

But it seems to me a very honest solution is to make the statement that:
You either like a politician and support thier positions OR you seek to change that politicians opinion. But you cannot do both. Any individual or corporation that contributes directly or indirectly to a lobbyist is not allowed to contribute funds directly or indirectly to a politician. and vice versa.

You either like them the way they are and support them OR you seek to change their opinion. But you cannot do both.

Posted by: yep on January 18, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

How about this as an addendum or modification or whatever:

Upon election, each member of congress submits a list to the GAO or whoever. The list is of folks who are likely to give the congressman gifts by virtue of being longtime friends or business associates. The list is limited to 50 names. The congressman can accept gifts from these people but may not vote on legislation that would positively affect them or their representatives in any direct fashion, and must not introduce legislation that would positively affect them.

Posted by: collin on January 18, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

GQ-
I don't know what fantasy world people live in if they expect people to go along with obligatory service as a representative. It's not as easy as one thinks. There is a lot of info one needs to know to run this country--even a medium sized city. It's absurd to think that someone with no interest at all in governance would do a good job--heck, even people who actually want to do the job often do it poorly.

I wouldn't want someone who was chosen at random to be a surgeon to operate on my child. It's dangerous. What if you we get a constantly bankrupt person to be in charge of economic issues. That's absurd.

So you assume our elected representatives are experts, like an MD? Get real. Have you not noticed all the white, rich, Christian, males that make up our elected officials? Do you think they are better representative of our country?

I contend, first, if a random group of people can give someone the death penalty (the jury system) why can't it vote, in a large body for legislation? Second, the experts in government are NOT the elected officials, but the un-elected professionals that run government, that woulnd't change.

How can you be in love with a system that gives you GW Chimp and a Hollywood actor for President? Are they experts? Do they know more than a group of randomally selected citizens, sufficiently large to guarantee diversity of opinion? I think not. Although maybe bodybuilders like Arnold, or pro wrestlers like Jesse Ventura, or Sonny Bono's ex-wife are what you think good officials are made of. Not me.

Posted by: Spectator Consumer on January 18, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I can't tell if this is a good proposal or not.

But here's what I *can* tell: If by some chance it *is* a good idea, it will be buried by a $40 million advertising campaign that says:

"What kind of idiots think Congress deserves to have their salaries doubled?"

End of story. Period. Forget about it. Ain't happening.

Posted by: Bill Camarda on January 18, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

On the issue of increasing representatives. The UK's lower house, the House of Commons, has 646 representatives for 60.5 million people. That works out to about 93,500 people per MP. In the U.S. we have 435 reps for 300 million people, or 689,600 people per rep. That's larger by a factor of seven. To match UK's rate of representation, we'd need to increase the size of the house to 3,045. Admittedly, that seems like a lot of reps and it will introduce some new complexities, but this is the 21st century, and there's nothing unmanageable about it. Heck, I'd say go ahead and knock it up to 5,000 just so we can outdo the limeys.

We could be more conservative with the Senate and increase it to say 4 or 5 senators per state. That would give the electoral system some more flexibility, while still retaining a bit of states' rights.

Posted by: Derek Copold on January 18, 2006 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

I like Cal Gal's idea of anonymous campaign donation. Whether or not the details she specifies will work isn't important. I think it would definitely be a step in the right direction.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Limit Congressional pay to the median income with no acceptance of any contributions.

Posted by: Hostile on January 18, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I am glad someone brought up term limits. If you think office holders are being bribed with campaign donations, then single terms of office are the cure. If you wish to run for a different office, you must resign the office you hold first.

For the House, Senate, and presidency, this will require a constitutional amendment. I would support it.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yancy Ward wrote: It just seems unconstitutional to me to prevent person A from telling person B that he made a donation to the fund.

That may be true, but if person B has no way of learning the source of his campaign funds, person A can save his money and simply lie about having made the donation. And person B knows that person A can do that, and person A knows that person B knows that, etc. At that point, what is the likelihood that person B will go out of his way to do any special favors for person A?

Posted by: Beale on January 18, 2006 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Man, I would love to be a Congressmens family member under this proposal. Then I could take my cut of whatever I got to give to my Congressmen family member.

Will have 1800 Roger Clintons running around

Posted by: Patton on January 18, 2006 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Please no more reps.we have a hard enough time trying to keep what we got honest.

Posted by: patton on January 18, 2006 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Beale,

I agree with your logic completely. Indeed, I would expect the disclosure of donations would greatly exceed the actual funds donated. Like I wrote, I like the idea, I just don't see how you stifle or why you need to stifle the donors.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I hate the proposal. The first clause suggests, as has been noted, that congress steals because it's underpaid, which is nonsense. The article itself says that higher salaries means an increased likelihood they'll agree to go along with dropping campaign contributions, but that's nonsense, too, for several reasons. First, one would think the opposite: the greater the financial stakes, the more they'll want to be reelected. Second, no one would be voting on a tradeoff sent down from on high by God or James Carville but on a proposal with individual clauses, and they'd be better able to choose to ditch limits while keeping higher salaries. Third, this suggests they need to be weaned from begging for money becuase they love it, but in the very next paragraph the authors say they'd love a chance not to beg for money. Sloppy thinking somewhere. (Of course begging for money is an effort, but it hasn't prompted campaign reform.)

The second clause, it's been pointed out, may have problems with the courts and with not favoring exactly the incumbents who'd vote on it. But while one could perhaps still plea for an ideal of public funding, why then the third clause?

And as for that clause, wow, is that wild. Besides that it backs off of public funding, it reminds one of all that's wrong with the system: funders would wield a lot of power. The clause would also strain the reform to the financial breaking point. Bad enough that, the courts think, matching funds would have to allow for (and so meet) the personal expenditures of Bloomberg types. But now it'd also have to meet what corporations and lobbyists can donate. Ouch.

I couldn't craft a worse reform proposal if I put my mind to it.

Posted by: artcrit on January 18, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Just let the republicans stay in office get rid of elections then there won't be any cheating slimy dems to worry about.

Posted by: patton on January 18, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: As long as the government has enormous control over how business is done in this country, business will find a way to influence it, either out of corruption or sheer self-defense.

So, the options are:
A) do not control business, or
B) do not control business

That seems to be what your statement boils down to. I think there are plenty of data points showing how just allowing business to do whatever it wants, is, shall we say, sub-optimal.

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent's campaign account with a comparable sum
Gosh, why shouldn't I like this?

Politicians don't run for office for altruistic reasons, they run for office for the power (this is largely, not universally, true). And you are expecting them to police themselves? Wake up. The thought of lobbyists coming to them because they are powerful enough for lobbyists to come to is why they get up in the morning.

As for this proposal, let's have a little thought experiment. Think of all the ways a lobbyist could grease a politician without giving them anything. Kid need to go to college? Aunt Betsy need a good retirement? Brother Jake looking for a boat? And what was that family loophole?

You could try attacking the source: since power corrupts, limit the power. Cut the Federal government back to what is enumerated in the Constitution. Otherwise, our congresspersons will either design in, or find loopholes in anything they pass; because they don't want to pass it.

And oddly enough, I can see lots of you laughing over the PorkBusters thing from the right, since it involves such a small percentage of the budget. But what percentage of the lobbyists are represented there?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Funny thing about term limits - George Nethercutt (R-WA) ran against Tom Foley in 94. The 2nd Amendment group poured a ton of money into the race to defeat Foley because of his Brady Bill vote - Part of Nethercutt's platform, and one which he highly proclaimed, was that he would abide by term limits voluntarily. Won, re-ran, but, when his term limit came into play, he announced that, as he was just learning his way around Congress, it would be an injustice to his district to step aside. Although his Democratic opponent made this a big issue, Nethercutt was re-elected. Across the state line in Idaho, Rep.Chenowith (R-ID) stepped down because of her promise to not exceed term limits, not withstanding the heavy rumors of an sexual affair with a married man. She did have some honor, you know.

If they are going to raise the salaries of Congress, could they also raise the level of pay, make them full time employees and lower the age limit for referees in the NFL? I'm beginning to believe that our reps in Congress and the NFL refs are some of the finest individuals money can buy. Perhaps, Morelli will run for Congress.

Posted by: stupid git on January 18, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think Carville's and Begala's proposals are close enough - nothing they propose would be worse than what we have now.

I also think our legislators and officials need to be investigated much more than they are. There should be something like a fourth branch of government perpetually investigating the other three. It would never lack business.

I agree with Derek Copold that both houses should be much larger. Likewise the Supreme Court. Nine justices is ridiculous. Ninety would be better.

In principle I agree with Craigie that selection of citizen legislators by random lottery would be better than election of professional liars by deceived voters. But that change would constitute a revolution - not worth the upheaval in my opinion.

Less revolutionary, but still unlikely, we should consider how much America's extreme income inequality and lack of governmental oversight of corporations contributes to the problem. Concentration of wealth inevitably causes a parallel concentration of political influence. All the governments generally considered the least corrupt have very high taxes and very intrusive regulation of corporations. Unfortunately, the effect of billionaires and corporations buying the government is a downward spiral; so I personally am not optimistic about any of this.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 18, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is not with existing laws, it is with the culture of corruption. How about this one. The airwaves are bought and paid for by the media companies. What if we simply said that in exchange for the right to own and make money off the airwaves most of the time, during the months leading up to an election every candidate would get X hours free air time from every licensed media outlet. The time would have to be made available during peak viewing or listening hours. The cost of television adds (the real cost in running for election) drops like a rock and candidates who want an advantage could spend their time on non-televised or non-radio events. Give as much as you want to a candidate. He can spend it on everything but television and radio. Field leveled.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 18, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Please no more reps.we have a hard enough time trying to keep what we got honest.

Actually, having more of them helps keep them honest. First, they're not as valuable, and thus not as worthy of bribing. Second, the more people you have in a certain circle, the harder it is to form conspiracies. Third, even if a congressman is "turned" by contributions or outright bribes, the damage he does will be limited.

Posted by: Derek Copold on January 18, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

I would think having separate rules for incumbents and challengers would face a serious "equal protection" challenge.

And in this era of discontent with the Congress, coming out in favor of a RAISE for them is a political non-starter.

Posted by: Chris Andersen on January 18, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: So let's talk. What do you think?

I think it's a practical idea that will have to wait until after the 2006 elections to have a snowball's chance in hell. And even then, extraordinarily doubtful.

I've often wondered why the heck Congressmen and Senators are so fearful of their constituents' reactions that they continue to pay themselves so miserably. And now that it's become widely publicized how much time they spend fundraising -- and the kinds of conflicts of interest those efforts introduce -- it's clear that a bold change needs to take place. In a city (D.C.) of extraodinarily mediocrity, fear, and diffidence... fat chance!

Posted by: The Dad on January 18, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Derek, maybe you already know that arguments very similar to yours for a large legislature were made by Spinoza in his unfinished Political Treatise. If I remember right, his formulas would give us a congress of around 5000 voting members.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 18, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

gq
"BTW, the disproportionality of the electoral college is the fact that every state has two senators regardless of size and the winner-take-all system most states have."

Yea, thats why the disproportionality exists at all, but the degree of disproportionality has also been increasing over time since the size of the house was frozen.

Consider an absurd case: there are 1 million representatives and 100 senators. The disproportionality in that case would be negligable because the senatorially derived electoral votes would be such a small portion of the total.

To a first approximation (because the senate is already quite a bit smaller) if we double the size of the house we reduce the dispropotionality by half.

Posted by: jefff on January 18, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

"If the Democrats were running both houses, how much cash do you think Abramoff would have been giving Republicans?"


Really I think the Republicans would be getting just as much, but the Democrats might started getting parity.

Who is the Minority Leader who tried to strangle somebody? I totally missed this.

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Gary, I had no idea, but it's nice to know that I'm in agreement with ol' Baruch.

Posted by: Derek Copold on January 18, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Or... we could all move to a country where democracy really works?

Posted by: PW on January 18, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey: I agree, there's no need to prohibit donors from telling politicians whatever they want to tell them, so long as campaign finance laws require that all contributions be given to a clearinghouse that is prohibited from disclosing their sources.

One side benefit of such a rule: candidates could spend less time fundraising and more time campaigning, the result being that you and I would have more opportunities to see the candidate live and in the flesh without having to pay $500 or $1,000 to get in the door.

Posted by: Beale on January 18, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's not implausible to create a third house of Congress, to deal exclusively with some category of issues, like foreign affairs?

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

The ideas have merit.

1. The gift ban would be similar to the one that governs nearly all federal employees already. They can't even accept a free cup of coffee.

2. Financing. Interesting. What would happen if a megawatt "personality" ran against an incumbent, but raised very little cash. Who has the advantage here?

Posted by: kaptain kapital on January 18, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Decrease their pay and benefits. The pay and benefits (pension, medical insurance, etc.) for public service employees should be slightly less than a lower-middle class job in the private sector. Ideally they should have about the same level of job security.

Repeal any legal exemptions that they have created for themselves. Any law they pass for others to obey must also apply to them.

Posted by: Bob on January 18, 2006 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

I will ask my question again.

If I, a private citizen, gathers funds from like-minded people, and ran whatever advertising I desired for whatever candidate I chose, what would be the implications for Carville and Begala's system?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 18, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

If I remember right, his formulas would give us a congress of around 5000 voting members.

Cool...then we can redesign the Capitol Building to look more like the Galactic Senate chamber in Star Wars. I'd love to see the Congresscritters on those little flying platforms.

Posted by: Gregory on January 18, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Money does not buy speech, speech is free, money buys an audience, and there is nothing in the Constitution that says I have a "right" to an audience.

Free speech is about * individuals * saying what they want to say without interference from government, period. It has nothing to do with financing an ad during the Super Bowl.

Posted by: Rick DeMent on January 18, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think Buckley v. Valeo is an abomination. If it's illegal to bribe a policeman, if it's illegal to buy marijuana, why is it legal to buy a congressman? After all, all you are doing is asking for a change in (or exemption from) the law on your behalf.

And this would in no way prevent corporations from advising congressman on how to vote. You could always submit letters, legal memoranda, etc. for or against a particular bill. Presumably, if it was good advice, it would be heeded.

The death of our country is due to the fact that money rules all - see outsourcing, pension dumping, and, as Exhibit A, our thoroughly corrupt goverment.

Buckley v. Valeo should be overruled, and the sooner the better. It is an unconscionable exercise of judicial activism.

Posted by: brewmn on January 18, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I also like the idea of increasing the size of the House of Representatives. But we have to remember that increasing the size of Congress will proportionally increase the power of the Executive branch.

It might be a good idea to move to a parlimentary system where the chief Executive Branch officer is elected by the majority coalition in the Legislature.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

The general outlines are decent. I'm not sure I agree with details, and of course to avoid being struck down it would have to be implemented, at least in part, via a Constitutional amendment, which would have to be crafted so as to permit such regulation, not be overspecific, and not have collateral harmful effects on free speech.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

YES!!! I think it is a great proposal. The point isn't whether or not it would ultimately be upheld by the Supreme Court, rather, it is an awsome political position for Dems to take.

Posted by: Dan Rosenberg on January 18, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Or... we could all move to a country where democracy really works?

And wait for it to collapse under the weight of its own corruptibility?

Does true democracy--or a true republic, if you will--have a natural life span like other forms of government? Are we seeing the end of it?

Posted by: shortstop, a little depressed this week on January 18, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

No do it the other way, the party with fewest members in congress gets to pick the president. Kind of like when you were a kid and had to divide something, one divied it up, the other got to pick.

Posted by: Rick DeMent on January 18, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

This proposal is great for several reasons. First of all, it's bold. It's the kind of thing that will get press, the people would support, and GOP fight tooth and nail to defeat. In that sense, it's like flag burning. Each time we put it up there and they kill it, we look good, and they lose a little blood. Secondly, if it DID pass, the Democrats would have the advantage again because it would shift the power base from entrenched special interests to average voters. Thirdly, it says throw the bumbs out, and that means the party in power.

Posted by: Memekiller on January 18, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know about that 80% matching contribution...seems too arbitrary. The matching contribution should be equal, minus documented adminstrative and operating costs in generating the contributions. Obviously, this would mean that campaigns would have to keep their books and report them in realtime.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Further, I'll go read the whole thing now, but I am still strongly in favor of contribution limits per contributor, including the actual candidate in terms of donating to his own campaign. Just this reform combined with the banning of fundraising by sitting politicians outside the defined election period would clean up most of the mess.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Does true democracy--or a true republic, if you will--have a natural life span like other forms of government? Are we seeing the end of it?

I don't know if I would put it that way. But I think it's true that, unpoliced, if you will, democracy (and every other form of government) will degenerate into a kleptocracy. Something about human nature, power, and vacuums, I think.

Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

What we ought to do is not only increase the number of representatives (5,000 seems a bit unwieldy, I'd prefer to keep it at 1,000 to 2,000 members, though I see why people want more) but nationalize the House of Representatives (not the Senate). Of course, this requires redesigning or eliminating the electoral college, but that's not a bad thing, IMO.

By "nationalizing", I mean draw districts with equal population without regard to state boundaries. This eliminates, once and for all, disproportionality in the House due to widely disparate sizes of states. Small states remain protected by their disproportionate representation in the Senate.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

...nature, power, and vacuums, I think. Posted by: craigie on January 18, 2006 at 4:54 PM

I believe that the phrase your looking for is, "Nature voids a power vacuum".


Err, or something like that.

Don't worry Shortstop, it may seem bad right now, but I think we're seeing a few glimmers of hope.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Something I wrote in the first Drum thread asking for suggestions...

...we limit contributions to a set maximum (say $100), and we limit contributions to the defined "electoral season" (for the particular seat)...as for rich candidates, there is no reason why they should not be subject to the same rules as other donors, even if they are donating to their own campaign. A rich campaigner will only be able to donate to his own campaign the same amount as anyone else. There is no violation of free speech, since we should define dollar donations as something other than speech, and realistically a public office is not intended to be a "seat of opportunity", or a "vehicle for personal ambition and success", but instead a public service. The actual seat and election are owned by the people (the constituents in each district).

No contributions will be allowed period from persons or organizations that are not based in or pay taxes to the district.

Lobbying will have the same restraints as political campaigns, in that any registered lobbying interest may only spend $100 gratuities on any particular piece of legislation. This should be enough to pay for lunch...

Obviously, the $100 is a limit I'm throwing out there arbitarily, and you can substitute your own dollar figure both for candidate contribution limits and lobbying limits (the same would apply to political party contributions as well), though the idea is to keep it at a "reasonable" level for most of the populace.

As for political parties, they will have the same limits, per donor, set annually, and will be prohibited from transferring money directly to candidates. Contributions can and should be used to increase party infrastructure and reach out efforts between and during election seasons, but these contributions must be kept strictly separate from candidate finances (strict accounting will be necessary to avoid penalties).

Finally, for political organizations raising consciousness about political issues, it's not clear that we can or ought to limit these contributions (intellectually and constitutionally), since it is not directly related to a public seat or campaign, but we should always maintain the strict separation, as with political party organizations, between these contributions and candidate contributions/finances (aside from the legal limit they would, as a single donor, be able to contribute as any other).

...if you really think about it, there is no purpose to allowing contributions to political candidates outside of an electoral race except to influence the candidate directly, which in other words is bribery. We can allow lobbying, with limits so that it keeps to a direct relevance and educational task, but we should not allow special interests to donate to a candidate throughout the time he is doing his job. There's no real reason for allowing it, and it puts challengers in the next election at a clear disadvantage. Of course, to keep things fair, prospective challengers would not be able to raise funds to be spent directly on the election campaign either between elections (note: though it is this complication that the plan outlined by Begala would address with the matching funds to the incumbent).

This would obviously require a legally mandated and defined "election campaign season", which ought to be shorter rather than longer.

I'd add that funds could be raised outside the "campaign season" in terms of generating publicity and winning a primary, but once the candidates were determined and the ballot printed up, the strict limits would apply, and a candidate would only be donate to his own campaign the same legal limit as any other donor.

All of this is brainstorming, basically thought up in a moment in an earlier Drum thread, so I'm sure there are flaws...it was just food for thought that day. I haven't thought it all the way through, or about it deeply, beyond just typing up some initial thoughts contemperaneously.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

While I like Carville's rhetoric and courage to battle Republicans, I still think he earned his way in one of the most corrupt states as a political advisor. I do not think paying already successful people such a large amount will do much to prevent the kind of corruption that goes on in Congress. I think it would be better to keep their wages closer to the average or median household income in order to better determine where their other wealth is coming from. Pay them $400K/Yr and you will assume they all drive expensive cars and live in expensive housing due to their wages rather than graft. Also, my Congressperson and Senators do not deserve such a large pay rate. If they want to earn that much money, they can start a business, invent something, be a movie star, a sports star, or franchise a fast food concession. I see no reason why politicians should be paid as well as Saudi princes.

Make it easier to follow the money rather than more difficult.

Posted by: Powerpuff on January 18, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK
I also like the idea of increasing the size of the House of Representatives. But we have to remember that increasing the size of Congress will proportionally increase the power of the Executive branch.

No, it increases the power of the Chief Executive relative to the median individual member of the legislature, not the Executive Branch relative to the Legislative Branch.

It might be a good idea to move to a parlimentary system where the chief Executive Branch officer is elected by the majority coalition in the Legislature.

I don't think it would. Though, OTOH, extending both the terms of both the House of Representatives and the President to a 6 year maximum term without an intervening election, but allowing either a majority of either house of Congress or the President acting alone to call new (and simultaneous) elections for both the President and House of Representatives earlier (but not sooner than, say, 1 year from the prior election, or 4 months from the date the elections are called) might be interesting.

I'd be tempted, though, with that model to create a third house of Congress, the "Popular Assembly", selected ,by lot, from among those who actually voted in the last general election. The Popular Assembly would have only the power to veto -- requiring a 2/3 vote of the relevant other house(s) to override -- any law, treaty ratification, or confirmation vote passed by the other two Houses, or the Senate, as appropriate, plus the power to call new elections on its own (it would, of course, be as fully empowered to conduct investigations in support of its legislative function as either of the other houses.)

The Popular Assembly could be very big; its powers being largely negative and for oversignt rather than being required to take positive action in order for the nation to continue functioning, it would need to be regularly responsive, only capable of being roused to action by abuse.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

In a lot of ways, I kind of like the idea of allowing challengers to fundraise, and giving matching public contributions to the incumbent, because it solves the problem of forbidding a sitting representative from fundraising while on the job. The main problem with this, however, is that it assumes and seemingly institutionalizes the Republican and Democratic parties as the only two parties that matter, unless the public matching contibution to the incumbent is just determined from the challenger with the most fundraising (which inevitably is likely going to be one of the two main parties, but it's not set in stone).

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

"And when it is campaign time, incumbents would be under a complete ban on raising money. You read that right. No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period."

We already have this in Wisconsin, and we just convicted 5 legislators. More to come. Still, the slime on the swamp thickens, as the watchdog agency is a toothless lapdog, and neither the Dem governor or the Repub legislature are the least bit interested in reform.

Posted by: Russell King on January 18, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

The Popular Assembly could be very big; its powers being largely negative and for oversignt rather than being required to take positive action in order for the nation to continue functioning, it would need to be regularly responsive, only capable of being roused to action by abuse. Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:14 PM

Is that essentially what the Judiciary supposed to be?

Granted it has no active power, i.e., the Supreme Court can't strike down a law without someone with standing brings it to them. But otherwise I've always had the impression that the Judicial branch acted as a supervisory branch on the other two.

Maybe we should admend the Constitution to give the Judiciary the ability to act independently instead of having to wait for someone to file suit.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK
In a lot of ways, I kind of like the idea of allowing challengers to fundraise, and giving matching public contributions to the incumbent, because it solves the problem of forbidding a sitting representative from fundraising while on the job. The main problem with this, however, is that it assumes and seemingly institutionalizes the Republican and Democratic parties as the only two parties that matter, unless the public matching contibution to the incumbent is just determined from the challenger with the most fundraising (which inevitably is likely going to be one of the two main parties, but it's not set in stone).

You could make it, e.g., the mean or median of all the challengers, I suppose, though that's too gameable to be practical.

Come to think of it, the "best funded challenger" rule is gameable too -- special interests aligned with the incumbent put up a shill "challenger" who doesn't really challenge the incumbent substantively -- indeed takes the same side on the issues, and pour huge amounts of cash into his "campaign" in order to trigger matching funds for their incumbent.

Really, I think a "personal choice public financing scheme" is better. That is, the money comes out of the public treasury, but every US citizen directs how an equal amount of the fund is spent each year (with a positive act, unused money can be carried over for a limited period of time -- say, up to five years from allocation. Unused money returns to the general fund.)

Unlike in the Carville/Begala scheme, the people still direct who gets money -- but they do so on equal footing. Giving money to a challenger doesn't have the perverse effect of arming the incumbent he challenges, as well.

Genuinely independent spending remains unregulated, as now; illegally coordinate spending should be made a felony with sanctions matching those for bribery; further, it should provide a civil cause of action in which any other candidate for the same office can recover from either the illegally coordinating spender or campaigner.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Commenting quickly here & haven't read the whole thread, but I personally find it difficult to think of many members of Congress whose work really merits $400K per annum. There are a lot of dangerous and/or demanding jobs that don't pay a tithe of that, and don't come with the accompanying prestige, media attention, &c. either.

Posted by: waterfowl on January 18, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, I just read through the whole thing, and have a few thoughts:

I like the matching contributions and ban on incumbent fundraising, but this would need to be structured in such a way that it doesn't ossify the two main parties. Though we have traditionally been a 2-party system, this has been due to how we do elections ('first past post'), and it is not impossible that a third party will emerge in the current system (see Reform Party/Ross Perot), or that we won't move to IRV at some time in the future. So the matching contributions would have to be savvy enough to keep track not of one challenger, but all of them and match according to the challenger with the most fundraising.

I'm not sure we want to pay public servants too much money, since we don't want people seeking these jobs because it will make them rich after 2 years or 6 years. Most Americans could do just one 2-year House term, at $400,000 a year, with most daily expenses paid by the government, and make out like a bandit, making more than they would in 8 years on their regular job. Some might not even find it worth it to actually be a good legislator (be happy living high off the hog on that one term). I would consider raising the salary, but not up to $400,000, and then I would peg it to inflation and be done with voting for "pay raises". $160,000 is already more money a year than the vast majority of Americans earn, and all we need are normal competent American adults to serve as representatives.

Last, I like the solution in this plan to rich candidates driving their own campaign. Personally, I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to limit all donors' contributions, including the actual candidate donating to his own campaign, if we're going to allow any limits to contributions. But if the Supreme Court sees it differently in terms of self-financing (perhaps because there is no 'bribery' element there), then this plan offered Carville and Begala would successfully counter this advantage.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

If they want to earn that much money, they can start a business, invent something, be a movie star, a sports star, or franchise a fast food concession.

Or become a blogger!

Posted by: Hostile on January 18, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: dannykim on January 18, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

All the calculating nuiance by the dems to whatever crap the Repugs have pulled gets us nowhere. I'd love to see a proposal like this thrust into the public view and completely supported by the Dems. Make the damned repugs respond. Their proposal is window dressing and we all know it. Damn tomorrow or ten years from now when we might be in power and have to play by the same rules. If that day comes, we'll change em.

We've got to starting playing the game like they do, ruthless, take no prisoners, political hardball.

Same approach with Iran, we have to be crazier then the Repugs. It does no good to point and say, we told you so. dems have to come up with a plan to stop that nuclear threat, something crazy, something that shows security is tops on our list and we'll go to any length to accomplish it. Something the Repugs wouldn't dare do. Air strikes, SOFs, whatever.

Think Kennedy and the bay of pigs.

Iraq is the same way. we are already there and most Amer agree in principle with the invasion. Therefor dems need to support that war, but point out that they could have done it better, with less lives lost and less money spent. How, buy being realistic about the endeavor rather then a god damned cowboy.

The Amer people want strength and security, well lets give it them. Would you trust Patton to run Iraq? How bout Kennedy to deal with Iran? How bout Eisenhower to deal with NK? (oops)

Come out the closet Dems and see the new reality!

The dems want to differentiate themselves in the political market place. Voters want beer, Dems want to give them wine. WRONG!!! Give them better beer, more interesting beer, cheaper, beer, beer with more alcohol. You get the point.

When is Marketing 101 gonna sink into Dean's head? When he stops being afraid, that's when.

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on January 18, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Or become a blogger! Posted by: Hostile on January 18, 2006 at 5:36 PM

Where can I get me some of that sweet, sweet bloggin' money?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK
Is that essentially what the Judiciary supposed to be?

Not really, no. While I think the political question doctrine is overused, it has a place; the principal role of the Popular Assembly would be to act as a check on political abuses that are largely outside of the scope what a judiciary, particular in an adversarial system, is really good at. Other than calling elections, its main practical effect would be subject acts to additional scrutiny, not to levy punishments.

But otherwise I've always had the impression that the Judicial branch acted as a supervisory branch on the other two.

That's certainly one of its roles within a narrow scope -- that of legality of action. The Popular Assembly would serve as an additional check focussed on the desirability of action.

Maybe we should admend the Constitution to give the Judiciary the ability to act independently instead of having to wait for someone to file suit.

Doing so would cripple the ability of the judiciary to be (and moreso, its equally-important ability to be seen as) a fair arbiter when genuine controversies arose, if it were able to start them on its own.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Enact a total gift ban for congress and staff.

Follow this with a constitutional amendment to limit the applicability of the constitution to natural persons, not corporations.

Then write whatever lobbying laws you like to regulate corporate political behavior.

This still leaves the problem of wealthy individuals. which presumably we could deal with using some relatively routine legal formulation....several people have had ideas that might work.

Add a constitutionally-defined campaign season and public financing of elections.

Limit voting to hand-written paper ballots, hand counted with a proper chain of evidence.

That'll do for now.

Baz

Posted by: bmcphail on January 18, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

>I've never understood why members of Congress, >... haven't already passed some sort of public->financing law. Can anyone explain that to me?

Easy, here's a short train of thought.

1) Contributions buy influence for the wealthy.
2) Contributions enhance the power of the incumbent.

The two parties above are in control.

Do you see anyone in the above scenario that has an interest in actually reforming the system?

The Wealthy?
The Incumbents?

Only way reform will ever come is by a general uprising of the electorate... and given that money controls the media... good luck.

Posted by: Buford on January 18, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Come to think of it, the "best funded challenger" rule is gameable too -- special interests aligned with the incumbent put up a shill "challenger" who doesn't really challenge the incumbent substantively -- indeed takes the same side on the issues, and pour huge amounts of cash into his "campaign" in order to trigger matching funds for their incumbent.

Very interesting point, and very important. This looks like the obvious loophole.

Giving money to a challenger doesn't have the perverse effect of arming the incumbent he challenges, as well.

This part I'm not sure I like either, where the actual money you give goes to the other candidate too.

I'm not convinced about public financing, and definitely feel contribution limits per candidate is the best solution, combined with an outright ban on fundraising outside the election season, but it's not clear how this would work.

Perhaps we could limit contributions as we do now to a dollar maximum per candidate, for all donors (citizens and organizations), while still allowing a rich candidate to donate as much as he wants to his own campaign (if the Supreme Court insists on allowing this), but only this self-financing would be subject to public matching funds.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: 'a third house of Congress, the "Popular Assembly", selected ,by lot, from among those who actually voted in the last general election. . .its powers being largely negative and for oversigt. . .it would need to be regularly responsive, only capable of being roused to action by abuse.'


Like a super grand jury.

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Doing so would cripple the ability of the judiciary to be (and moreso, its equally-important ability to be seen as) a fair arbiter when genuine controversies arose, if it were able to start them on its own. Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:40 PM

Good point, I hadn't thought of that.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

I still boggle that the idea of banning giving money violates free speech. Money is not a form of speech (yeah yeah I know what the intent of the money is). If anything, someone with money to give politician interferes with my "free speech" since I don't have that monetary form of "free speech" to get my message heard.

Writing and calling my representatives certainly is my access, but when weighted carries a lot less clout than the green.

That being said, something has to happen. I'm all for upping congressional compensation ($400k is a bit over the top), make the job more desireable and attract better candidates that spend time legislating instead of begging for money. Look at the 4 year term of the president. How much of that time is actually spent working on issues vs. campaigning/fund raising?

Posted by: Simp on January 18, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

The simple answer is that you remove most of the rules regarding campaign contributions, but enact very strict rules on transparency and disclosure.

Anybody looking at a candidate, for example online, should have complete access to the source of every nickel that went into his campaign. The original source, not some "PAC" or "industry group" or "activist organization" that is normally used to hide the real individuals or interest groups.

Then let the chips fall where they may. As always, the bitch would be enforcement.

Public financing raises the question of who gets to decide which candidates get the money.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK
How does this stop Roger Clinton from taking $200,000 to get his brother to give some crook a pardon??Posted by: Patton
Roger Clintonreceived no money and no one on his list got the pardons. However, if presidential brothers are an issue with your, perhaps you should check into the charmed life of Neil Bush.
Will have 1800 Roger Clintons running around Posted by: Patton
And Neil Bush


Posted by: Mike on January 18, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Come to think of it, the "best funded challenger" rule is gameable too -- special interests aligned with the incumbent put up a shill "challenger" who doesn't really challenge the incumbent substantively -- indeed takes the same side on the issues, and pour huge amounts of cash into his "campaign" in order to trigger matching funds for their incumbent.

On second thought, this probably wouldn't work, since inevitably lots of people would end up voting for the challenger rather than the incumbent, since how do you get the word out it's just a scam to all the voters without exposing oneself to a 20-year prison sentence for electoral fraud? This might not be a scenario that would actually occur, since the vote could very well get split and backfire.

I like a compromise...keep contribution limits, and top them out at a contribution reasonable for an American with median (or average) income (i.e. not $2,000), and implement the public matching funds only for self-financing. This would be effective as a remedy for the Supreme Court refusing to allow donor limits to apply to self-financing.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK
Like a super grand jury.

Very much like that.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

The bad news is that the public must provide enough funding to cover candidates' campaign costs AND cover all the expenses of the political parties. The good news is that 5 cents out of every $100 that government collects in taxes would be plenty.

The most democratic way to decide which politicians deserve such public money is by using party registrations and voting results to allot each voter's bit of public subsidy to the politicians they prefer.

One man, one vote, one voucher!

Posted by: Tom Strong on January 18, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

It may be expensive to work in Washington D.C. and maintain a home elsewhere, but I honestly don't think there's a pool of talented politicians who aren't getting involved because the pay for Congress members is too small.

I think this particular suggestion is absurd. It ignores the fact that most of our members of Congress are quite comfortably well off.

How about anonymous public finance of campaigns that get the signatures of a minimum of say, 5% of the eligible voters in the state the candidate declares residence in?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 18, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK
... remove most of the rules regarding campaign contributions, but enact very strict rules on transparency and disclosure. Posted by: tbrosz
The simple answer of yours is violated each and every election cycle by ad hoc groups with RNC connections who managed to hide their funding behind the names of non-entities and special interest groups of obscure origin.

It is interesting to see that you equate business interest donors with corruption.

Posted by: Mike on January 18, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Beyond an outright ban, it is donor limits that can free up the system to do the will of the constituents. Put a $500 limit on donors per candidate per annum, and then stop worrying about it, since a $500 bribe every year by a single corporation, business owner, or constituent won't go very far. Then you don't have to worry about fundraising, and it can happen all the time. Along with this, pass into law 10-year minimum sentences for public corruption charges (including electoral and fundraising fraud and conspiracy).

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK
Anybody looking at a candidate, for example online, should have complete access to the source of every nickel that went into his campaign. The original source, not some "PAC" or "industry group" or "activist organization" that is normally used to hide the real individuals or interest groups.

How does this differ from the actual status quo under McCain-Feingold?

Public financing raises the question of who gets to decide which candidates get the money.

"Public financing" only raises the question when the term is raised in vague terms outside of the context of a specific plan. Specific plans answer rather than raising that question, see, for instance, my "personal choice public financing" scheme upthread which answers "every US citizen, equally". Or see the Carville-Begala partial-public-financing scheme, which answers "private contributors, by giving to the challengers".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK
The most democratic way to decide which politicians deserve such public money is by using party registrations and voting results to allot each voter's bit of public subsidy to the politicians they prefer.

I still think the most democratic method is to give each citizen control of an equal share of the pool of public campaign money, and letting them choose where it goes.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Still, the simplicity of the Carville/Begala plan is appealing, and does allow for unlimited spending, but it does raise questions about what this would do to the incentive to donate to a candidate, since the money will spread to the candidate you oppose, as well as whether this isn't just a symbolic gesture to free market conservatives, (since the only difference between this scheme and public financing is that private donations each cycle would determine the level of public financing, rather than a set formula).

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK
On second thought, this probably wouldn't work, since inevitably lots of people would end up voting for the challenger rather than the incumbent, since how do you get the word out it's just a scam to all the voters without exposing oneself to a 20-year prison sentence for electoral fraud? This might not be a scenario that would actually occur, since the vote could very well get split and backfire.

Well, its something that pulling off well would take cleverness and planning, and a lot of friendly mouthpieces to shout "conspiracy theorist!" when the other side accused your shill of being somewhat dishonest about motives when he backs out at the end of the campaign, saying that he doesn't want to jeopardize the values he holds dear by causing a vote split that elects a candidate farther from his beliefs than the incumbent. But, still, when looking at any plan, you have to at least consider -- how would a wile opponent abuse it. Ask: What Would Rove Do?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

As I recall when FDR was handing out millions during the New Deal they had some agency that was empowered to investigate every single rumor or hint of corruption in the process, which was very successful at checking abuses.

A third house of Congress with that as part of its fundamental mission could be a very appealing idea to put on the table, because it would be hard for any corrupt entity to entirely pervert the whole rationale for its' existence.

Even the Republicans haven't managed that with today's Congress.

Posted by: cld on January 18, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

I still think the most democratic method is to give each citizen control of an equal share of the pool of public campaign money, and letting them choose where it goes.

I'm not sure about this, because it seems unwieldly. And theoretically, this public campaign money would pretty much spread like the votes, if voters were given the option where it would go, so it leads one to wonder that, if we were to to strictly public financing, why we wouldn't just publically finance anyone who can get 5% signatures for that cycle. That would be more fair, and allow more ideas and constituents to be served (and not complicate the system either with voter direction of funds).

At this stage, I'm not sure we can get 100% public financing done, either pragmatically or legally, so in the interim a variation of the Carville/Begala plan could be a winner.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

I find it odd that to combat corruption, most solutions here increase the size (and therefore power) of an already corrupt bureaucracy.

Is the problem not big enough for you yet?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

when looking at any plan, you have to at least consider -- how would a wile opponent abuse it. Ask: What Would Rove Do?

Oh, I definitely agree, and still believe your scenario to be a very important one, especially with the idea that the shill candidate would withdraw. I'm just imagining that it would be difficult to pull off if serious minimum corruption, fraud, and conspiracy penalties were put in place (but certainly not impossible). Though to do it election after election would seem to indicate abuse and invite prosecution.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I find it odd that to combat corruption, most solutions here increase the size (and therefore power) of an already corrupt bureaucracy.

"Most" solutions? Which ones?

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK
I'm not sure about this, because it seems unwieldly.

That's a concern -- I think its the ideal, and the first inquiry should be can it be made practical. Then, if that comes up no, we get to how do we best approximate it...

But I think rejecting it out of hand is giving away too much, too soon.

And theoretically, this public campaign money would pretty much spread like the votes, if voters were given the option where it would go

I'm not sure that's the case (and citizens are not the same as voters.) First of all, if you have a set pool of money for all candidates, citizens will give to their favored candidates in the races they think are most important. If you give it annually, with roll-over opportunities, rather than funds given that expire each cycle, citizens will make priority decisions about primary vs. general election campaigns, etc.

Further, citizens may be encouraged to give to the candidates they agree with most early on, to try to get them momentum, but in the end vote strategically.

...why we wouldn't just publically finance anyone who can get 5% signatures for that cycle.

At what rate? The most democratic means is to let the citizenry choose the rates, I submit. Further, if you give control of money to the people, those who are willing to commit some resources early can choose to use it to give early money to exploratory committees to help their preferred candidate get the signatures to qualify, rather than waiting until after they've qualified.

That would be more fair, and allow more ideas and constituents to be served (and not complicate the system either with voter direction of funds).

I'm not sure what standard of "fairness" you are using, but I certainly don't see setting a percentage support cutoff as "more fair".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Most" solutions? Which ones?
Well, let me use my scroll wheel. A third house of Congress, new agencies, increasing the number of reps, adding more laws written by the corrupt for the corrupt.

I'm already tired of scrolling. Maybe you can point out just one that reduced the incentive for buying influence (i.e. reducing government).

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK
Maybe you can point out just one that reduced the incentive for buying influence (i.e. reducing government).

While reducing government may reduce the incentive for buying influence, its hardly the only way to do that.

The fact that you treat these two as equivalent is a fatal flaw in your reasoning. Spreading power among more people in government reduces the utility of attempting to buy influence, by reducing the effect that can be attained by corrupting a member.

The third-house proposal is part of a proposal that reduces the incentive through increased accountability, additional veto points, and reduced ability to "ride out" scandal through the ability of different actors to send the government back to face election on short notice.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't read down the thread, Conspiracy Nut, so you may have something there with that grimoire. But my suggestion (not my analysis of other's suggestions), and Carville/Begala's, certainly reduce incentive to corruption, and don't expand bureaucracy.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, "more fair" was a poor choice of words, since I really meant to focus more on getting more voices, issues, and constituents involved, and equally funding any candidate meeting a reachable threshold would go a long way in doing that (as would implementation of IRV). your idea may be a good ideal, but I would have to hear how it would actually work, since it seems like a radical departure from how we do things today (people have trouble filling out tax forms, and we want to ask them to manage a public election funds portfolio?). it just seems to me it would be wiser, in the event of going to publically financed elections, to just set a threshold and let the people focus on voting.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Spreading power among more people in government reduces the utility of attempting to buy influence, by reducing the effect that can be attained by corrupting a member.
Then maybe you can explain the length of this list. Since this is a selected subset of influence buying, do you really think spreading it out is a problem?

reduces the incentive through increased accountability
So, we already have 3 branches so they can keep an eye on each other, and that isn't enough; now 4 is the answer. And after they get bought off too (see above subset list, buying off politicians is a popular activity) will we need a 5th to keep them in line? Etc.

We currently have laws on campaign financing and ethical lobbying. How much good are they doing? As long as the incentive to grease remains, grease will remain.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Two concepts seemed to have been mixed on this thread, or perhaps I have not been reading carefully enough. It appears at the moment that a significant portion of Congress's time, especially the House, is in raising money, not for any particular politician's lifestyle, but to fund the next election.

I see no benefit to this. It doesn't matter what members of Congress or the President are paid in terms of salary, if they are spending 60 or 70 percent of the time raising money its just a guaranteed bad result.

At best, its harmless if the legislator manages to do the appropriate amount of actual legislating, whatever that is, but harmful in the sense that only people with a high tolerance for begging for money over rubber chicken dinners end up being in Congress. There are thus, at the moment probably many qualified people who would simply not subject themselves to that much begging.

At worst, you end up with a Congressperson who is not very astute in terms of the policy their constituants might actually want pursued, but are very astute at raising money and campaigning. This seems to be pretty much what we now have. Its not so much blatant corruption, its that there is absolutely no counterweight to the need to get elected and, certainly in the case of the House, stay elected.

Then, the appearance of inpropriety and actual impropriety quickly follows. No one paying $500 a plate for dinner is interested in the speech, and, the politician spendng all of his or her time at such dinners is, of course not doing any independent research into the various issues he or she is voting on.

This has nothing to do with what the salary of the job is. Apparently $165K and the power is already plenty to get people to spend thier entire life campaigning.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Good points Hank.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK
your idea may be a good ideal, but I would have to hear how it would actually work, since it seems like a radical departure from how we do things today (people have trouble filling out tax forms, and we want to ask them to manage a public election funds portfolio?).

Its no harder than voting, really. You are periodically alotted funds. You can spend them at any time with any qualified recipient. (Heck, you can make it just like a checkbook.) You write a check, you give it to the candidate, they deposit it, the transaction is recorded, and you get a statement back of how your share of the public election funds was spent.

it just seems to me it would be wiser, in the event of going to publically financed elections, to just set a threshold and let the people focus on voting.

It seems to me it would be far less wise. First, because you can't do it your way, period, with full public financing. Getting 5% signatures is a lot. You've got to spend money to do it. That means either fundraising, or spending lots of personal cash up front. It's either a big wealth filter for candidates, or you have to allow pre-qualification private fundraising; either way, you've failed to get the money out of politics.

Giving people the choice of how money is spent does more to equalize power at the critical, earliest stages of the process. And if you can't trust people to choose political priorities, how can you let them vote?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Carville/Begala's, certainly reduce incentive to corruption
Does it prevent Congress from passing out money to one person/group over another person/group? Because if doesn't, the incentive to buy influence remains.

It may make it more difficult on the surface, but remember that we are relying on the same people taking money to write the laws to control their own receipt of money. Here's the acid test on this one: would you trust DeLay to write this bill? Would I trust Kennedy? (I saw a list of his contributions a little while ago, it was impressive)

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I suppose as a Democrat one ought to be careful. Because the life of a member of Congress is basically one gigantic campaign and one gigantic fundraiser, you will notice that even though we have now had several years of Republican control not only are relatively popular programs not cut, but additional spending, much of it pork thrown to campaign donors is the rule.

If these reforms took place, a Republican congress with a Republican president would presumably not be beholden to their own set of interest groups interested in govenment money. If they were not so beholden, one would expect actual cuts in government.

Be careful what you wish for.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

if they are spending 60 or 70 percent of the time raising money
Better than doing their real job, as Patrick McManus said "Gives us taxpayers a break".

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK
So, we already have 3 branches so they can keep an eye on each other, and that isn't enough; now 4 is the answer.

No one suggested a fourth branch of government.

As long as the incentive to grease remains, grease will remain.

Inasmuch as this is true, it doesn't support the equivalency you've suggested between reducing government and reducing incentive. The power of government is only one aspect of the incentive, the ability to get away with it and the realizable benefit from corruption is part of the incentive. Increased veto points, broader distribution of power, more democratic distribution of power, and other factors work to control the utility of corruption, and therefore its incentives.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

That means either fundraising, or spending lots of personal cash up front. It's either a big wealth filter for candidates, or you have to allow pre-qualification private fundraising; either way, you've failed to get the money out of politics.

Actually, I would allow pre-qualification fundraising, and I don't see a problem with it. Once you are qualified, you've done your job and shown you can get the signatures and support from the community. None of the cash you raise to get on the ballot (and a share of the public financing) would be spendable on the campaign. If you're rich and can get 5%, which isn't easy, then more power to you. You still have to prove yourself on the public dime in the real election.

Of course, keep in mind I'm only brainstorming on IF we went to public financing, which I'm not actually advocating at this point.

Giving people the choice of how money is spent does more to equalize power at the critical, earliest stages of the process. And if you can't trust people to choose political priorities, how can you let them vote?

I just think you're making this sound easier than it will actually be in practice. Who will manage this system, and how will it be monitored? And it's not a question of trusting people to choose political priorities, but whether most Americans are realistically going to bother with this process, since we can only get 50% to go out and vote right now, which is eminently easier than this process you're suggesting, which will somehow have to be managed through mailing checks to people or on their tax returns.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I'm not saying it doesn't sound good, or even ideal, it just doesn't seem remotely possible to ever occur.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Does it prevent Congress from passing out money to one person/group over another person/group? Because if doesn't, the incentive to buy influence remains.

I'm more than willing to listen to your proposals Conspiracy Nut, to remedy this situation, as there is truth to what you're dropping. Surely we should end "earmarks", and implement minimum legislation posting guidelines (at least a week), and ban (if not criminalize) using Social Security trust funds for general spending, but what else should we do?

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

No one suggested a fourth branch of government.
You're suggesting a new group of government to provide a check and balance on an existing group of government. Call it what you want.

the ability to get away with it
If our representatives didn't want this happening, they wouldn't be doing it in the first place. Since they are, we can only posit that they like it. And these are the people that will write the laws. They will retain the ability to get away with it.

As I said, we have 3 branches of gov't to check one another, we have campaign laws, we have lobbying laws, and it's not working. Wanting more and more of the same thing is not the way to change.

Thank you, sir, may I have another...

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hank raises an interesting question...if we drop donor limits to $500 maximum per candidate per annum, would that make politicians even more desperate fundraising sluts, or would it go below the level where there is return on investment for this time?

If lower donor limits would just increase the nymphomania, then a Carville/Begala variant may be the way to go.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK
I just think you're making this sound easier than it will actually be in practice. Who will manage this system, and how will it be monitored?

I'd presume that, if it applies to federal elections, the FEC would manage and monitor it, and that the main burden would be on candidates to file papers establishing their qualification to receive funds.

And it's not a question of trusting people to choose political priorities, but whether most Americans are realistically going to bother with this process, since we can only get 50% to go out and vote right now, which is eminently easier than this process you're suggesting, which will somehow have to be managed through mailing checks to people or on their tax returns.

I don't think it matters whether most Americans bother with the process. I also think more people identify lack of choices than difficulty as a reason for not voting, so citing voting statistics as if they were proof of how "hard" a process people can handle is missing the point. With the process, lack of choices will not be a problem. If many people choose not to participate there is no harm.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK
If lower donor limits would just increase the nymphomania, then a Carville/Begala variant may be the way to go.

I think Carville/Begala -- since it reduces the relative value of positive campaigning vs. negative campaigning by eliminating any net benefit from attracting donations -- would result in a massive upswing in the worst kind of negative attacks.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

but what else should we do?
In the '94 to '00 time frame I'd have said "Elect Republicans", but they've been as big a bust as Democrats.

I'm heartened by the PorkBusters thing from the rightie blogs. I know that we're looking at a small part of the budget, but I'd bet we're looking at a large chunk of lobbyists. We're certainly looking at a large chunk of why people want to buy influence, pure discretionary spending for no purpose other than to pay off influence buyers.

Our government got the way it is a little at a time, and it'll have to be whittled back into shape a little at a time. I don't, however, have a grand plan. My crystal ball sucks.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it matters whether most Americans bother with the process. I also think more people identify lack of choices than difficulty as a reason for not voting, so citing voting statistics as if they were proof of how "hard" a process people can handle is missing the point. With the process, lack of choices will not be a problem. If many people choose not to participate there is no harm.

I agree there will be no harm if people don't participate, but I'm not saying they won't participate because it's harder, but because it's more involved than voting, and as is only 50% are involved in voting. It's not a matter of difficulty, but involvement, though I preemptively agree with you that this is no argument against your proposal, and it's not meant to be, as I'm just hashing ideas out. The main objection I would have to your proposal at this point is that you don't seem to have any idea how it would work...is the government going to send out checks, or is this going to be on your tax return?

I have no clue how this would practically work. Does the government send out checks to each registered voter, and would each government do this for each level of election? Or, if it's for citizens as you mention, and not voters, how do they claim or receive these funds? Does the government drop it into your checking account, send you a check, or give you a tax credit? If you don't work, and don't need to pay taxes, and don't have a checking account, but are a citizen, how does it work? Or would you have to be registered?

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK
If our representatives didn't want this happening, they wouldn't be doing it in the first place. Since they are, we can only posit that they like it. And these are the people that will write the laws.

This is just idiocy; if this were true, there would never be any point in any popular movement aimed at changing the status quo, since the people currently in charge, at least in a formal sense, always are the ones writing the laws, and they, almost without exception, tend to prefer the systems that keep them in their present state of power.

Nevertheless, such movements often do work and often produce positive change. Largely because, regardless of the formal structure, those in power ultimately rely on the acquiescence of the rest of the population, and are, when the population gets angry enough and united enough in pushing for a change, forced to give up some of the ability to feather their own nests in order to prevent more radical and, for them at least, disastrous change that eliminates their power altogether. And by that means, the systems of corruption and exclusionary and anti-democratic power are weakened.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think Carville/Begala -- since it reduces the relative value of positive campaigning vs. negative campaigning by eliminating any net benefit from attracting donations -- would result in a massive upswing in the worst kind of negative attacks.

Possibly. Another good point. But is it true that negative campaigning is worse for the effect on fundraising than it is for the effect on potential voters? I'm not so sure.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

if we drop donor limits to $500 maximum per candidate per annum
You get "grassroots groups" taking larger donations to buy all the air time the candidates can no longer afford.

Of course, these won't be coordinated with the politician's campaign. Right.

If you need an example, what was that new group of non-profits that McCain-Feingold gave birth to? (I forget the number they got and I'm too lazy to Google for it)

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the internet is the ultimate answer. I don't really see what is so special, let alone constitutionally special, about the ability of either an incumbant or challenger to spend money.

In the case of an incumbant, the actual job, proposing laws, editing someone else's propposed law, and voting on laws, well, that can easily be posted on the internet. Hell, you could post every elected representative's daily schedule for all to see. After all, we're paying for all of this. You could even allow every representative to explain every vote.

The cost would be the salary of one staffer to type it up.

Other than that, I'm not really intersted in any elected representative's personal spin on why they are doing such a great friggen job, let alone their spin on why the opposition party is doing such a poor job.

I can read. Just put it up there.

Right now it appear like they spend the majority of their time creating spin.

That wouldn't be half as bad as it is if the actual spin which made it to wide dissemenation in the media was even remotely accurate, as it is, you've got people voting when they have no idea of what they actually are voting for.

Note that everybody manages to have an opinion about federal judges, and they spend exactly zero money and zero time campaigning. They spend their time doing their jobs.

You might not agree with every ruling, and I'm sure you could find a judge who is bribed here and there, but for the most part the job gets done, and the public manages to figure out whether they agree or disagree.

Why the sanctity of politicians right to characterize their own actions? In the old days, access to the underlying votes, committee reports, daily schedules, etc, were limited by paper. Now, they are not. How about it?

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Our government got the way it is a little at a time, and it'll have to be whittled back into shape a little at a time. I don't, however, have a grand plan. My crystal ball sucks.

Then you shouldn't be so critical of proposals that do part of this whittling. You've been doing a lot of criticizing as if any proposal needs to be the definitive and/or final solution. I agree that adding houses of Congress and what not is not sound in terms of reducing corruption, and is wildly impractical too, but other suggestions do help with the whittling, and you seem to take a broad brush and criticize everything as woefully short of a desired solution you cannot even envision.

Still, you raise some valuable concerns Conspiracy Nut. Perhaps you will end up some day being a thoughtful contrarian around here rather than an instigator.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

You get "grassroots groups" taking larger donations to buy all the air time the candidates can no longer afford.

A valid objection. I'll have to turn that one over for awhile. There are a few possible solutions that come to mind...but the question always remains "are they worth it?", as we head into deeper complexity.

I'll get back to you on that.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

This is just idiocy; if this were true, there would never be any point in any popular movement aimed at changing the status quo, since the people currently in charge, at least in a formal sense, always are the ones writing the laws, and they, almost without exception, tend to prefer the systems that keep them in their present state of power.
Name me one time Congress voted to effectively reduce its power and influence. (As noted above, McCain-Feingold wasn't one)

They aren't immune to change, they are immune to reducing their power and influence (without exceptional pressure).

Personally, I think it's idiocy to expect crooks to write good criminal law.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK
I agree there will be no harm if people don't participate, but I'm not saying they won't participate because it's harder, but because it's more involved than voting, and as is only 50% are involved in voting.

Again, this relies on the fallacy that the reason only 50% or so are involved in voting is that it is "too involved", not the inadequacy of the choices. The choices, especially early on in the process, with the system I'm proposing would be broader than the meaningful choices by the time voting gets around, and would give most (i.e., not inordinately wealthy) people more influence than they have now on which of those candidates becomes a viable option to vote for.

The main objection I would have to your proposal at this point is that you don't seem to have any idea how it would work...is the government going to send out checks, or is this going to be on your tax return?

I thought I was pretty clear in the earlier description, but I will try to lay it out more precisely; the government will establish an election fund, will create an individual account for each citizen who opts in (as there is no national citizenship registry, per se, there will have to be some money spent on general publicity, as well as targetted notification sent to citizens based on Social Security and income tax records.)

Those citizens will have some method of directing funds to particular recipients, I'm thinking as a basic idea a check-like instrument drawn against their individual campaign account in the government fund, though there are other possibilities that could be used.

Eligible recipients would "cash" these "checks" with the overseeing agency (for federal elections of all stripes, I'd assume this would be the FEC; federalism probably prohibits any combination of state and federal elections here.) Which would record the transaction, and provide a public record for transparency purposes, as well as providing periodic personal statements to participants.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

And, I guess, I need to re-read Buckley or whatever else, because my point would be if there is no constitutional right to spend money, why should there be a constitutional right to raise money?

If you don't have to raise money, well, they might actually have to rely on the public's approval of what they actually do, not what they spend millions of dollars SAYING THEY DID, OR SAYING WHAT THEY INTEND TO DO.

Its not so much that conservative talk radio and the political yelling shows are bad to the extent that they are conservative, they are bad because never in my memory, has the gulf between what actually is going on and what the politicians spend millions telling us is going on been wider.

Its bad.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Carville and Begala think the solution to corruption is to raise Congressional pay to $400,000 a year. And the wonder why Democrats loose elections.

Posted by: aline on January 18, 2006 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

You might not agree with every ruling, and I'm sure you could find a judge who is bribed here and there, but for the most part the job gets done, and the public manages to figure out whether they agree or disagree.

Interesting take on judicial elections. There is definitely some wisdom here, because judicial elections could very easily be big money spenders just like general elections, but somehow the return on investment likely is the difference between the two. The perception is it's very difficult to bribe a judge, but the opposite perception is the case for our politicians. Maybe we should examine the rules, procedures, and codes of conduct judges must follow, and compare them to our legislatures, and see if we come up with any clues (again, Carville/Begala applies by banning gifts from affected parties).

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Carville and Begala think the solution to corruption is to raise Congressional pay to $400,000 a year. And the wonder why Democrats loose elections.

Indeed. This is definitely the weakest and most objectionable part of the package. Most Americans would love to make $160,000 a year, or even $200,000 a year, and most Americans are also quite competent to do the job. And, if you don't make people outright rich by being in office for a term or two, as $400,000 per annum would do, then you're more likely to get people more keen to actually do the job than live high off the hog.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK
But is it true that negative campaigning is worse for the effect on fundraising than it is for the effect on potential voters?

Negative campaigning probably has little effect on fundraising; positive campaigning, OTOH, has a bigger effect on fundraising, since it gives people a reason to support you.

Negative campaigning is bad on potential voters if it is seen coming from the candidate, but Carville/Begala will naturally further McCain-Feingold in increasing the influence of non-candidate-associated advocacy groups in elections, and since candidate fundraising is basically a neutral effort under Carville-Begala, third-party efforts that cost 1 vote for the opponent are just as good as ones that add a vote for the candidate.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

And seeing how conspiracy nut seems to be in a mood today to actually converse, note that "conservativism" is currently being terribly served by this state of affairs.

Sooner or later the pendulum will swing back. When it does, say in 2008, you will have had eight years of 100% Republican control, and no less government, no less government power, no lower taxes (taxes are currently being deferred, not lowered), and certainly no less spending than if you had simply let Ted Kennedy run all three branches by himself for eight years.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK
Note that everybody manages to have an opinion about federal judges, and they spend exactly zero money and zero time campaigning. They spend their time doing their jobs.

Well, yeah, but legislative and executive candidates spend plenty of time campaigning about the judiciary, so its not like they aren't campaigned about.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

you seem to take a broad brush and criticize everything as woefully short of a desired solution you cannot even envision
Oh, I can envision a smaller government. Well, actually I can envision a smaller Federal government. I believe that government should be done at the lowest possible level. If a function can be performed at a lower level, it should be performed at a lower level. (And that still leaves the Feds with work, I recognize that not all things can be done by local gov'ts)

Increasing states rights is the first step. But it will take extraordinary pressure to wrench that control from the Federal government. And as I keep saying, we're trying to wrench that control from people that want it. And they're the ones that write the laws. That's one difficult part.

Another difficult part is deciding which governing should be wrenched away. We the people would have to do that over the objections of the Federal government as well.

And last, I believe I am objecting to solutions which increase the size of the problem and/or rely on our currently bought off politicians to police themselves. Now I'm aware that those 2 things cover most of the solutions presented here, but that I believe was the subject of our first exchange.

I'd be happy to consider any solutions that don't increase the problem. We're, unfortunately, going to have to ultimately rely on the politicians to take action.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Again, this relies on the fallacy that the reason only 50% or so are involved in voting is that it is "too involved", not the inadequacy of the choices.

Good point. This is actually why I support IRV, because I feel it would actually expand choice and empower more political parties to market to neglected demographics and constituents. So, if your process would work as advertised, I'd support it for the reason of expanding meaningful choice (though there are still plenty of folks who just can't be bothered...and who we don't need to worry about).

As for implementation, it does sound complicated, but it would be worth it if the return was as advertised. Still, it's not a practical solution for 2006, but it's worth pushing on the edges to see how everyday folks respond to it.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

And seeing how conspiracy nut seems to be in a mood today to actually converse
This is the new improved me. Does this new model make my butt look fat?

no less spending than if you had simply let Ted Kennedy run all three branches by himself for eight years
Well, after pointing out that Kerry's spending proposals were larger than Bush's actuals, I'm going to have to meekly allow much merit in this. But words cannot express how badly this near truth chaps my ass.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

I see where you're coming from conspiracy nut, but there's a whole lot of well-engrained corruption at the state and local levels too, so in some cases innovating some "best practices" to minimize this corruption (not eliminate it), at whatever level of government, would be wise.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK
This is actually why I support IRV, because I feel it would actually expand choice and empower more political parties to market to neglected demographics and constituents.

Its why I support preference voting and multimember legislative districts, as well (not so much IRV, because IRV retains single-member districts by definition, and IRV/STV is about the worst method you could come up for to use preference ballot information without deliberately trying to do it badly, though its still, marginally, an improvement over what we have now.

(I'm not sure if its worth supporting to get preference ballots implemented, or if getting it implemented would provide too much barrier for further change.)

But, unless media practice really changes, I'm not sure that IRV, or any preference system, particularly in single-member districts, does much to change the viability equation. It can twiddle around the edges of extreme cases a bit.

But changing how money is distributed early changes the equation a lot more, and certainly isn't incompatible with electoral reform (indeed, I think either reform makes the other more achievable.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Heh, it occurs to me that the lefties are always whining about their politicians running as Republican-Lites, and now we have Republicans spending like Democrat-Lites.

On that sad note, I'm signing off for the evening. Good night, and good luck.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

but there's a whole lot of well-engrained corruption at the state and local levels too
Whoops, one more since I saw it.

Sure, after we wrench government from the Feds and give it to the state, we wrench it from the state and give it to the locals. Because, it's much easier to keep an eye on your locals than it is the Feds. They're still corrupt, but they're at least corrupt on a local scale instead of global.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 18, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm out too. Almost 5:00. Good talks.

Posted by: Jimm on January 18, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Before anyone jumps in, judges, of course, do not hand out tons of money on an annual basis. Sure, they rule on cases, but contrary to popular spin, rulings on litigation resolve a dispute about resource allocation not otherwise solved.

For every $10 verdict there is someone who has $10 and someone who thinks it should be paid to them. There is a term for a case which might result in a $10 verdict against a party with $0, that term is "you have no case."

However, my point stands -- federal judges rule on political issues all of the time, and the public manages to somehow learn of all of this without being subjected to Ruth Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas having a mud wrestling match every Sunday morning.

Hell, you might not like Thomas, but he managed to go a full term, if memory serves, without uttering a single question from the bench at oral argument, let alone giving speeches, raising money, and appearing on talk shows.

Compare this to the BS we are deluged with from all levels of elected officials, and I think the way to reform is clear.

1. Politicians become like judges. Maybe you give them one speech a year. Maybe. No talk shows.

2. All of their activity is available on-line. Sure, you run the risk of Bill O'Reilly spending hour upon hour mischaracterising John Kerry's actual voting record. But at least I'm not paying O'Reilly.

3. The goal would be to reduce the cost of participating in a campaign to as low as possible. Only then will lobbying cash be brought under control.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK
Well, actually I can envision a smaller Federal government. I believe that government should be done at the lowest possible level.

I think this is where we most fundamentally disagree. I believe government should be done at the most appropriate level, which isn't always the lowest possible level. Advancing technology, communication, and commerce increasingly raises the level of government at which many things are appropriately done (indeed, there are an increasing number of things that would be most appropriately done at a super-national level, for which we have no good body to assign them as no democratically accountable super-national body exists) even though it remains theoretically possible to perform most functions at the lowest levels of government.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK
However, my point stands -- federal judges rule on political issues all of the time, and the public manages to somehow learn of all of this without being subjected to Ruth Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas having a mud wrestling match every Sunday morning.

No, instead, they have politicians from the political branches having mud wrestling matches about current and prospective Supreme Court members.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK
Hell, you might not like Thomas, but he managed to go a full term, if memory serves, without uttering a single question from the bench at oral argument

This is, in fact, one of the (less important, to be sure) reasons I don't like Thomas.

You think this is a positive trait?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

cm, you are right, but at least, even if I disagree with Thomas, I know that Thomas himself is not spending 50+% of the time he is supposed to be working on cases convincing me that he is a smart guy and further convincing me to give him money to keep his job.

Even thought its a tough thing to swallow the thought of millions of my fellow citizens getting their version of reality from Rush Limbaugh, at least its some confort that I'm not actually paying Rush's salary.

As we have no choice but to pay our elected representatives, we ought to be paying them to do the job, not get re-elected.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and obviously Thomas is boarderline incompetent. My point was not that falling asleep in your chair or whatever was a positive trait, merely to question what appears to be the underlying assumption that politicians have to be able to raise money and constantly campaign.

They certainly don't today, its never been easier to give the public instantaneous, unfiltered knowledge of what they actually do.

In the case of Thomas, you know he hasn't asked a question the day of the oral argument. The public gets the published opinion instantly.


You, perhaps, have a more recent knowledge of case law on this topic, and I'd be really curious to know if its law that politicians have the right to raise money.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK
cm, you are right, but at least, even if I disagree with Thomas, I know that Thomas himself is not spending 50+% of the time he is supposed to be working on cases convincing me that he is a smart guy and further convincing me to give him money to keep his job.

Yes, and if legislators and executives weren't elected in the first place, and weren't subject to periodic reelection, and weren't dependent for their success in their initiatives on people who were likewise subject to those pressures, they probably wouldn't bother with doing that either.

Then again, Thomas isn't spending any time, including (most especially) the time he spends actually working on actual cases, convincing me he is a smart guy and should actually keep his job, quite the opposite. But then, he doesn't care, because their is bugger-all I can do about it.

We could make executive and legislative officials like judges, if this was what we wanted, simply by converting to a monarchy, "tempered" by an appointed legislature. Then no one in government would bother trying to convince the people who they nominally work for that they ought to have or keep offices.

As we have no choice but to pay our elected representatives, we ought to be paying them to do the job, not get re-elected.

We certainly have a choice. It is quite possible to have an unpaid legislature. But as long as you have an elected legislature, you are going to have legislators trying to convince people to re-elect them, and would-be legislators trying to convince people to elect them in the first place.

That's the price of having elections, and its unavoidable.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hank: and anybody else who is fascinated with the judicial confirmation process and the SCOTUS.

Read the book written a few years ago by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, Strange Justice. Its a great book about Clarence Thomas and his confirmation.

Then take a look at the book David Brock wrote on the same subject. This was back in the day when Brock was still a conservative hero. It was title The Real Anita Hill.

Conservatives swallowed Brocks book hook, line and sinker. They derided Strange Justice with utter contempt.

My opinion? Anybody with half a brain who is simply interested in information can read these books and realize that the Abramson/Mayer book is well researched and valid. The Brock book is a nasty joke.

These books illustrate why I eventually became a Democrat. There is just a huge difference in the sort of person who filters up to the leadership positions of our two major parties.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on January 18, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

cm, I have to add one thing, which is (although our last two posts crossed) that although it is a certainly that an elected legislature is going to WANT to be re-elected, if for nothing else than to wield power, should it be a given that we, as their employers, allow, as part of that job, all of this time spent raising money and campaigning?

It has never been easier to publish basic facts. Yet, due mostly to the elimination of the fairness doctrine and the prolifieration of cable channels, the amount of time spent by both political parties and their agents in trying to convince us of their worthiness has never been greater, either.

This may not have been true in 1798, or whenever, but now we have to ability to instantaneously know what our elected representatives are actually doing. Is is necessary to allow them to spend 50% of their time telling us what they think we want to hear, and raising money to so tell us?

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

cm, I have to add one thing, which is (although our last two posts crossed) that although it is a certainly that an elected legislature is going to WANT to be re-elected, if for nothing else than to wield power, should it be a given that we, as their employers, allow, as part of that job, all of this time spent raising money and campaigning?

Raising money? Perhaps not, though the devil is in the detail on the alternatives. Yes, I think we ought to allow them to continue to communicate with us what they are doing and why they think we should support it. And that's all campaigning is aside from raising money.

It has never been easier to publish basic facts.

It has never been easier to publish anything, whether it is basic facts our outright lies about basic facts. It has, conversely, never been as hard for anything published to get any attention.

Yet, due mostly to the elimination of the fairness doctrine and the prolifieration of cable channels, the amount of time spent by both political parties and their agents in trying to convince us of their worthiness has never been greater, either.

I'm not at all convinced that the assignment of cause and effect here is correct.

This may not have been true in 1798, or whenever, but now we have to ability to instantaneously know what our elected representatives are actually doing.

I don't see how this is relevant; the relative speed of communication of so-called "basic facts" vs. campaign communication hasn't changed since 1798, so certainly basic parameters haven't changed. But the context -- which often consists of disputed and fundamentally subjective interpretations -- underlying decisions is important to judging them, and shutting the participants out of the process of communicating that context is nonsensical.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're a bit too quick on this one. It's true that there's bugger-all you or I could do about Clarence Thomas, because he is never going to run for re-election, but what is happening is that Congress, especially the House, is now spending more and more time and more and more money running for re-election, and the extent of the "perpetual" election cycle is due to each party not wanting to be out campaigned by the other, not because of any need on the part of the citizenry for more debate.

Basically, at one point in U.S. history, the public was limited to newspapers and live speeches. No radio, no television, no internet. I do not have at hand statistics involving the amount of time an elected representative from California, in say, 1890, spent campaigning, or, for that matter, raising money to campaign. But I will speculate, with all the risk that entails, that there is no possible way that the Congress of 1890 spent as much time as the Congress of 2004 in campaigning. Perhaps our hypothetical freshman congressman of 1890 was immediately escorted into some smoke-filled room and informed how to vote, but there is no way the citizens of California in 1890 put up with what we now endure. They elected their representatives, and for at least some of the two year term, the representatives managed to go back to D.C. and actually goven.

At some point in (Say 1890) it was critical that a member of congress be allowed to physically travel back to their districts to report on what was going on. For some percentage of Americans, there was literally no day to day knowledge of what Congress was up to.


This would all be dry fodder for some political science class, if it were not for the fact that campaigning, and the raising of money to campaign, is now warping the actual substance of what congress is supposed to be doing.

So, do you think it would be constitutionally possible to limt the amount of time an elected representative was allowed to campaign?

If its "nonsensical" to limit campaigning by simply limiting it directly, I am not sure how you, or anyone, is going to limit it indirectly by either limiting the source of funds of the amount of funds.

Posted by: hank on January 18, 2006 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz wrote:

"You people are supposed to be reality-based. Get a clue. As long as the government has enormous control over how business is done in this country, business will find a way to influence it, either out of corruption or sheer self-defense."

Posted by: tbrosz on January 18, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK


So, would you say business considers the federal government the enemy? What's that make businesses then, traitors to America?

Posted by: MarkH on January 18, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're a bit too quick on this one. It's true that there's bugger-all you or I could do about Clarence Thomas, because he is never going to run for re-election, but what is happening is that Congress, especially the House, is now spending more and more time and more and more money running for re-election, and the extent of the "perpetual" election cycle is due to each party not wanting to be out campaigned by the other, not because of any need on the part of the citizenry for more debate.

I don't dispute that. I just don't think the solution to that involves prohibiting campaigning (regulating campaign finance more effectively, and maybe radically, sure.)

Basically, at one point in U.S. history, the public was limited to newspapers and live speeches.

Yes, and at one time public participation in elections was driven largely by engagement through a patronage system, and actual involvement in candidate selection by, e.g., primary elections was nil. The candidates convinced party insiders to vote for them (or insiders convinced people to be the nominee of the party), and the insiders directed the rank-and-file members how to vote (providing, in some cases, pre-marked ballots), and that was that. A large number of states were one-party machines, the system was far more corrupt, probably, than anything Tom Delay has ever been involved in (though not for lack of effort on his part, to be sure) from the lowest local office to the top of the national parties, and the idea that it was anything even remotely similar to "democracy" was laughable.

Come to think of it, this is the exact same time you are talking about.

So, do you think it would be constitutionally possible to limt the amount of time an elected representative was allowed to campaign?

Anything is "Constitutionally possible", so long as you are willing to do it through a Constitutional amendment (or two such amendments, if you want to create unequal representation in the Senate.) But members of Congress retain First Amendment rights, so now, restricting their public political advocacy probably isn't practical. Of course, when the campaigning is often intrinsic to their legislative function, its dubious whether its even theoretically possible to constrain it without actually preventing them from legislating, aside from making legislative proceedings secret by Constitutional mandate.

If its "nonsensical" to limit campaigning by simply limiting it directly, I am not sure how you, or anyone, is going to limit it indirectly by either limiting the source of funds of the amount of funds.

You yourself pointed to the arms race between the parties. Funds controls limit access to the weaponry. Of course, the primary purpose of finance reform is to combat the corrupting power of moneyed interests and to make the distribution of political power more equal and therefore democratic, not to limit campaigning. Though, of course, given, as you say, the ease of communicating basic facts, democratizing functional political power combined with that allows more effective public accountability -- which allows the public to control campaigning more directly by rejecting candidates whose campaigning practices they don't like.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

I've never understood why members of Congress, if they hate begging for money so much, haven't already passed some sort of public-financing law. Can anyone explain that to me?

They may hate "begging for money," but they realize they do it better than challengers. The current sytem favors incumbents bigtime, so there's little incentive to change it.

I'm against all limits on what people can contribute to campaigns on philosophical grounds. I think that, as long as there's full disclosure, you should be able to write a seven figure check to the campaign of your choice.

Still, I will say that the Carville-Begala solution is an interesting idea, and would probably be a big improvement over what we have now. But the last thing an incumbent wants is to allow a potential challenger to accept huge contributions from benefactors. That would make reelections, so, um, challenging. Which is why it will never happen.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida on January 18, 2006 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Make the rule that only voter-elgible individuals can contribute to candidates and all contributions have to be reported (on the Web or some other very public place) within one week of receipt.
Corporations and the like are legal fictions. They cannot vote. So they should not be allowed to contribute. "And the like" includes unions, charities, think tanks, and all the rest. Only voter-elgible individuals should be allowed to contribute.
Non-monetary contributions (e.g., meals and hotel stays) should be valued and that value counted as a contribution (and reported within one week).

Posted by: focus on January 18, 2006 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

This is one of those stupid ideas that pop up every few years right after an ethics scandal hits. What amazes me is how many people pause for a moment and mull it over (I'm talking about you Kevin). These guys already make $165K a year and thats a damn site better than most people reading this blog. Its better than most doctors, engineers, or architects make and about 3 to 5 times better than average depending on where you live. It follows the logic that you can't bribe a rich man because he isn't greedy or corruptible like the rest of us. Arnold Schwarzenegger actually campaigned on that nonsense, but it hasn't stopped him from being the biggest fundraiser in CA history. If you actually want solve the problem, get rid of the legalized bribery in existence today. Pass a law that only allows contributions from private citizens and knock the maximum down from $2000 per candidate per year to $200.

Posted by: Mike on January 19, 2006 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent ideas focus, especially in regards to banning contributions from non-citizens, and I sympathize with you Mike on the salary hike. $165 grand is plenty (even a hike to $200 would be awesome, $400 would be way overdoing it).

As far as some concerns laid out in the thread about 501s runing amok if we adopt donor limits and/or the Begala/Carville plan, one obvious remedy would be the reintroduction of the "fairness doctrine" with some serious mojo, and expanded to all public bandwidth (frequency, satellite, and we'd have to fudge if we wanted cable to comply).

Posted by: Jimm on January 19, 2006 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

I'm for anything that'll (a) work, (b) pass Constitutional muster, and (c) not put the government in the position of implicitly endorsing political parties.

This looks like it would pass muster with respect to (a) and (c); let's pass it and see if the (b) part happens.

ISTM it would; if we can place Hatch Act restrictions on the political activity of Federal employees without running afoul of the First Amendment, there shouldn't be any problem with disallowing fundraising by incumbent Federal officeholders.

Posted by: RT on January 19, 2006 at 6:02 AM | PERMALINK

I think this is where we most fundamentally disagree. I believe government should be done at the most appropriate level, which isn't always the lowest possible level.
Well, I get the impression where we most fundamentaly disagree is that you see government as a helpful, beneficent thing; whereas I see it as a drain on resources (where it is absolutely necessary, it is a necessary evil). But your point here would be another biggie.

And BTW, your increased communication makes my pushed down gov't more efficient as well. People and local gov'ts can rapidly learn what is and what is not working in other areas. This helps them achieve the condition the locals desire the fastest, and with the fewest errors.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, tbrosz, rdw, and conspiracy nut . . .

Donations made personally by Abramoff in the same period went entirely to Republicans. Abramoff was a Pioneer-level donator to President Bush's re-election campaign, meaning he raised at least $100,000. The White House has given $6,000 of Abramoff's donations to charity.

Conservatives can now quit lying about how Dems are as tied to Abramoff as the GOP.

Posted by: Advocate for God on January 19, 2006 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Part of any reform should include a return to the "Fairness Doctrine". That's number one. There should also be REQUIRED of every TV satellite, cable, or UHF/VHF station to provide a minimum amount FREE equal time to candidates during the 8 months (perhaps 6) leading up to an election. Anything beyond the FREE time is to be paid for by candidates, with money to pay acquired in some manner similar to the Carville/Begala methodology.

No more big money donors, no more corporate pay AT ALL - corporations are not humans, they do not vote, they cannot be jailed or otherwise punished ala a HUMAN, they do NOT get equal rights to an actual HUMAN individual. NO CORPORATE MONEY AT ALL. Any trips to see X, if allowed, should be either paid for by each Congresscriminal OR there must be NO favoritism on the part of those paying for the trip. ANY and ALL members who have a valid use in going to see X to be educated about X on the ground, goes to ANY and ALL appropriate members, regardless of Party.

That's just off the top of my head, spit-balling. What is nonnegotiable is the Fairness Doctrine. Bring it back. End of story.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 19, 2006 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting, but there's no way in hell that congressional incumbents are going to make it HARDER for them to win.

That is why it must be forced upon them regardless of their selfish desires. They can take their desire to shut out competition for their seats and cram it so far up their asses that they choke on it.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 19, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives can now quit lying about how Dems are as tied to Abramoff as the GOP.
Yes, but the Dems are just as tied to lobbyists as the GOP. The only job you Dems have on that score is successfully separating Abramoff from other lobbying.

Good luck.

It'll be particularly interesting watching you try to separate Abramoff from other lobbying groups tied to Abramoff. (Those other lobbying groups having greased Dems) The reason they're tied to Abramoff is because they aren't separate.

But again, good luck.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Make the rule that only voter-elgible individuals can contribute to candidates and all contributions have to be reported (on the Web or some other very public place) within one week of receipt.
Once again, this opens up corporations, unions, etc contributing to outside organizations working to elect the candidate they can no longer donate to.

McCain-Feingold showed us how this would work.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

I like it. My government is for sale to the highest bidder every day.

The reason we give 3 billion to Israel each year is because THAT ethnicity buys the votes.

I want the money out of the system.... and by the way... the airwaves belong to THE PEOPLE -

not CBS

now THERE is a revolutionary idea... give the airwaves back to the people.

Posted by: arsenia gallegos on January 19, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

one obvious remedy would be the reintroduction of the "fairness doctrine" with some serious mojo, and expanded to all public bandwidth (frequency, satellite, and we'd have to fudge if we wanted cable to comply).
How much lobbying did you just introduce with this legislation? Public frequency channels are going to want to work hard to include cable, cable is going to want to work hard to not be included. Whether or not the internet gets included will bring in more groups, ditto satellite radio... How many loopholes will be found and exploited? How much court time and expense resolving this?

Expanding government and expanding legislation is not the way out of this.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives can now quit lying about how Dems are as tied to Abramoff as the GOP.

The GOP collected about 2/3's of Abramhoff's largess. Which is about what one would expect for the party in power. It doesn't matter if the money came directly from Jack or thru one of his associates as directed by Jack. What matter's is public perception. And 80% of the public perceived both parties to be equally guilty and another segment has no opinion. The fact that Jack funneled money to Harry Reid via a conduit rather than directly matters little to the average citizen.

As a political issue this has some value but not as much as you think. Liberal dreams of a reverse 1994 are laughable. You need a Contract with America and someone to sell it. You have neither. Your Senate minority leader is conflicted in the matter and a far cry from Newt. Your house minority leader is a SF liberal and a further cry from Newt.

Posted by: rdw on January 19, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

What is nonnegotiable is the Fairness Doctrine. Bring it back. End of story.

No prayer. Talk Radio is big business, cable TV is bigger business and the internet is even bigger business. Other than the whacky left tired of losing elections NO ONE WANTS GOVERNMENT CENSORSIHP. That's why the only time it's ever mentioned is by the whackjobs.

Posted by: rdw on January 19, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a think. First they vote themselves a raise every year. Who else but CEO's have that option? Second these people are filthy rich to begin with. Third I support term limits, this way they take care of what needs to be done instead of pimping for re-election money. And fourth and my favorite considering telecommunications now-a-day they could stay in their home state instead of DC and use global communications to read and understand bills before they vote for them

Posted by: justathought on January 19, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Credit where credit's due - it was Jim Hightower's idea more than a decade ago.

Posted by: yellowdog on January 19, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

they could stay in their home state instead of DC and use global communications
Now see, this here I can consider. Because I just can't see lobbyists being very successful over the phone (and especially if the congresscritters had to agree to automatic wiretaps). Which means they'd have to do an awful lot of travel (and they would, but it still works to limit the utility).

It would also empty DC. Take our congresscritters out the ass-kissing environment and put them at home among normal people.

Debate can still occur, just like it is right here on this blog. And that just gave me a wonderful picture of one Senator writing to another Senator: "Aw bullshit, you're gonna have to provide a link to that one."

It's got good points.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

And imagine for just a moment, the Senate Debate Blog. Out there in public, for all of us to see.

Man, that would be a politicians worst nightmare. I've decided that idea has some serious potential.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on January 19, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

It has been amusing reading all of the ideas presented to solve the problem of using campaign funds to bribe public officials, and yet very few of you support the one reform that would most effectively solve this problem.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 19, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

With that family gift exemption, i can imagine Tom Delay marrying Jack Abramhof.

Posted by: DennisBoz on January 19, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK
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Posted by: 免费电影 on January 20, 2006 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Hey are you guys still accepting commments here?

Posted by: Riverbelle on January 20, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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