As I’m writing this the federal government has been shut down for well over a week, it is my understanding that the government shutdown of 2013 is the longest in the history of the US. This has got me thinking about how our political system seems broken. The impression these days is that politicians have redefined who their constituents are, and consider special interest groups and lobbyist that give them the most amount of money their constituents. Just to clarify, this applies across party lines. No party seems to be better or worse at this than the other, so this is aimed at everyone in congress not a particular party. I’m not one for just complaining, if I am going to point out how something is broken I like have a solution. So here is what I propose needs to happen to help turn the tides on this perceived corruption. While this wont solve 100% of the problems, I believe it will solve 80–90% of them. I think it all comes down to better campaign finance laws:
- Ban Companies from making political contributions, if you are not eligible to vote in federal elections you can not donate.
- Limit how much an individual is allowed to contribute to a particular candidate on a yearly basis to 2000 times the federal minimum hourly wage. At the time of this writing that figure is $7.25/hour, so the limit would come out to be $14,500.00 per year. This limit would apply to each person eligible to vote (see #1). Donating to a super PAC that supports a specific candidate would count as a donation directly to that candidate. Super PAC’s that support multiple candidates would have to declare what the ratios of contributions are to each and peoples contributions to those super PAC’s would count as contributions to all the candidates in the declared ratios. All gifts of food, drinks, trips or property to any officials are considered political contributions and subject to said limit no exceptions. Federal law on bribing officials applies to all members of congress and executive branch and should be strictly enforced.
- All those that serve the federal government get the same benefits and their pays determined by The Office of Personnel Management. In other words all members of congress get the same benefit and pension as anyone else serving the federal government, and their pay should follow the GS pay scale. Serving in Congress should be an honor, not a way to get rich. No special benefits for members of congress, or the executive branch. If congress votes them self’s increased benefit, those benefit will be available to all federal employees. If congress votes them self a bonus or pay raise then that would trickle through the entire GS system. For example if congress gives them self a 5% raise, the entire GS scale just increased by 5%. No member of congress or the executive branch should get any privileges not available to any other federal employees that hold similar office. For the purposes of clarification congress is not unique. I consider them to hold similar office as highly ranking officials within DOJ, DOE, DOD, etc.
- Set super strict penalties for violations of the campaign limit so that people will think twice about violating it. I’m thinking something along the lines of making it a federal felony punishable by mandatory prison sentence of minimum of 5 years per offence plus a fine that is equal to double the violation. For example if a candidate was found guilty of taking a one million dollar contribution from a single donor they would have to spend 5 years in federal prison and pay a fine of two million dollars. The fine can not be satisfied by any means other than paying it in full from their personal funds, not even bankruptcy can erase it. If they don’t have the funds to satisfy the fine all their assets, cars, houses, everything, will be seized and auctioned off to satisfy the fine, forcing their family to move into low income housing and live among low class until they can get back on their feet through hard work. Another example: another candidate is found guilty of taking $250,000 from four different donors, that candidate would need to spend 20 years in prison and pay the same two million dollar fine. Plus they loose all federal benefits, including pension. Since they’ll have a federal felony on their records they will no longer be able to hold any office, can’t vote, etc. like other felons. Once they come out of prison they’ll most likely be broke from trying to satisfy the fine, have to report to parole officer and look for a common job just like any other felons.
- Any person or company found trying to persuade, coerce or even just tempt a politician to violate campaign finance laws should be found guilty of bribing an official and penalized accordingly.
What I believe this will accomplish is level the playing field just a little, making donations from regular folks count more in the eyes of the politicians as they will now have to seek contribution from more of their constituents and can’t count on million dollar contributions from the super rich.
Do I believe Congress will ever agree to cut off their major source of funding and agree to live more of an upper middle class life, instead of living with the super rich? I’m not sure, I think the only reason they would want to do that is to prove to the public that aren’t in pocket of the super rich. Maybe they also want protection from the super rich threats that if they don’t vote their way they’ll fund someone else to take their office.
There are however couple of noteworthy organizations working towards similar goals. First is Move To Amend which is countrywide org with state chapters and Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution which is working to get WA State legislation to support a constitutional amendment.