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The Irony of Congress

Steve Kelley
© Steve Kelley

I keep seeing headlines that the approval of Congress is at an all time low. And yet the last time it was at an all time low we kicked out a bunch of them and elected Tea Party candidates, and things got worse. Far worse. What’s a voter to do?

Answer: the problem isn’t the people elected to Congress, it is the money system that makes politicians beholden to special interests with money. The Supreme Court made things much worse with the Citizen’s United decision, which opened up the campaign contribution floodgates. Now we have SuperPACs on top of PACs on top of tax-exempt organizations for political donations (that’s right, your taxes are funding the donations of the rich and powerful).



  1. Hassan wrote:

    People give low approval rating to congress overall, but not necessary to their specific congress person(s) in house and senate.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  2. Diogenes wrote:

    It’s all about the money. There is an interesting passage from Fareed Zakaria’s book “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” which details how senators claim the “sunshine laws”, the laws that created vote transparency of politicians, made them more beholden to lobbyists since they could no longer pretend that they opposed or progressed an issue. The claim is that without transparency, they can vote with their beliefs, but with transparency, they have to vote with their wallets. This a poor attempt to say the system is flawed but its not the financial component, the system is most certain flawed, but it’s ALL about the money.

    NB: the former senators quoted in the book were Robert Packwood and Dale Bumpers. It is also a very good book to read to clarify the difference between democracy and constitutional liberalism

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  3. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I completely agree on the money effecting congress. We the people should take back control. I think there are several solutions which might solve the problem, but need further discussion to determine which or all can be used.

    1. Term limits. 2 terms for Senators, 5 terms for Reps. Also eliminate retirement for politicians (except our president). Serving as a lawmaker/congressman was never meant to be career, but more of an honored duty and privilege.
    2. Limit fundraising so it can only occur when congress is not in session
    3. Public funding of campaigns. Every candidate who wins their primary with donated money the can only campaign with funds from the treasury. Each candidate receives the exact same dollar amount which should make it a much fairer race.
    4. Ban all political ads except those funded by the candidate during the official election period (from the end of the primary to the day after election)
    5. Opinion news pieces can only be aired or run with approval of all or one of the candidates in the general election. (this takes out the snipers on the sidelines). I know this one would be a tough sell to the 1st amendment.

    Private money could still influence primaries but its influence would be severely downgraded.

    Let me hear what you think and more importantly how we could actually get any or all of our ideas implemented through a congress that is in love with their current system and level of power.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  4. David Freeman wrote:

    I agree whole heartedly with PtSgt on his points numbered 2, 3 and 4.

    I also agree on term limits but not the elimination of retirement benefits. The wealthy already dominate in Congress, we should not make it even more difficult for those of more modest means to serve.

    On 5 I entirely disagree. Any restriction on Opinion pieces would only drive more of the “opinion” expression into the already biased “straight news” sections. Any section of journalism that is clearly presented as opinion is far less dangerous than the insidious creeping of opinion onto the front page.

    As to, “how we could actually get any or all of our ideas implemented”, the first step is getting Citizen’s United overturned. This should be a litmus test for our votes. Then we can make progress towards a congress that better represents the full economic and cultural diversity of our nation. I wish I had a better answer but pounding the pavement encouraging participation in off year elections is all I can come up with.

    On an optimistic note, opposition to Citizens United is not clearly a partisan position. I’ve heard some Tea Party folks rail against it as strongly as progressives.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, I will admit that I’m not sure what can be done. Various things have been tried, but as Diogenes’ example points out, they can backfire.

    The one thing I am sure of is what David says — we need to overturn Citizens United and restrict the political power of corporations. I would also add electoral districting reform (as was done in California).

    Hassan, I’m working on a post for tonight which includes an interesting fact — people are increasingly disgusted with their own representatives.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  6. Diogenes wrote:

    Another reason people are going to disapprove of Congress in general (relative to their individual constituents) is probably linked to the ridiculous amount of gerrymandering that occurs. That’s another key electoral component that needs to be reformed.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  7. Don wrote:

    Hassan is quite correct, IMHO, and this isn’t something that is new, either. Been going on for a long time. “It’s all those other idiots’ representatives, not mine!” This being said, I excitedly await IK’s post this evening.

    PSgt, if only it were that simple. The retirement issue would be somewhat mitigated if term limits were put into place – no one would be a Federal employee long enough to qualify. It would add to their Social Security quarters, though, and maybe that is enough.

    I don’t know how fund raising could be limited and whether that would really change the complexion of things. Funds would simply be squirreled away by some committee or another until Congress was out of session. Nice idea, though.

    4 and 5 both run straight on into the 1rst Amendment. Citizens United would need to disappear, as IK points out.

    3 raises some interesting questions. Would any certified party be granted the same level of funding? If so – yup – some very interesting questions. If all certified parties were funded, it would make for some much more interesting races as far as the discussion of issues and presentations of proposed actions. Hmmm. Broadening the debate would be a good thing.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  8. Don wrote:

    Diogenes – changing redistricting to make it more rational is what IK is talking about in his final point. California did this several years ago in order to try and move away from the creation and maintenance of party controlled districts. Some progress was made this time around. More next time, I hope.

    Sidenote to that is the curious proposal to split California up into six states (I’m not talking about the Jefferson statehood issue). As proposed, it would create four red and two blue states. Wow. Eight net increase in Republican senators and an opportunity to create many more reddish congressional districts. Proposed by a conservative republican, by the way, if you hadn’t guessed.

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Giving all candidates a fixed amount of public money has been tried (at least, below the federal level). The unexpected consequence is a proliferation of one-issue candidates who have no chance (or even desire) to win, but just want the free microphone to shout about their pet issue. You end up with a circus of candidates (e.g., the “white supremacy” candidate, the “fundamentalist Christian” candidate, the “legalize gambling” candidate, etc. etc. ad nauseum).

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  10. Michael wrote:

    One thing that I think is bizarre is when someone complains about gerrymandering but they cannot tell you who represents their districts in their state legislatures, nor can they even describe the make-up of their state government. Irony, indeed. (No, I’m not accusing you of this Diogenes, just a comment about something I’ve seen happen all too often.)

    Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  11. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I signed the petition at move-to-amend using IK’s link and sent it to a couple dozen people I know.

    Thanks for the feedback, I’ll keep thinking…

    Monday, December 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    I know there are at least some (partial) solutions. In most parliamentary countries there are not fixed election dates, so the time between an election is announced and when it is held is pretty short. Most of the time this results in less time spent campaigning, so less money is required to get elected. Unfortunately, that bus left long ago for us!

    Reforming the drawing of electoral districts is another good step, but unfortunately incumbents have a disincentive to agree to this (ironically, when this was on the ballot in California, the Democrats were against it, and it was Arnold who pushed it. But after it passed, it was mostly Democrats who gained from it.)

    Can you ever completely get money out of politics? Probably not.

    One of my big disappointments about Obama is that he campaigned hard on making government more transparent, but once he got into office he got slammed so hard by Fox News and the Republicans he turned very secretive. I guess I understand why he did this, but it still pisses me off.

    But keep thinking. I appreciate your ideas.

    Monday, December 30, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink