Democrats & Liberals Archives

Fixing our Democracy

In my previous post I declare that the greatest problem facing our democracy is the influence of money in our political system. Money buys elections, influences lawmaking, defeats industry regulation and degrades our justice system. If we can reduce the influence of money, our democracy would bloom.

We tried money restrictions with the McCain-Feingold Law. The Supreme Court never liked this law, and earlier this year in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, scrapped it. Money is free speech and corporations are persons with free speech rights, the Court said.

Instead of solving our problem, the Supreme Court made it worse. The influence of money has skyrocketed.

Congress is trying to mitigate some of the harm of the Court's decision with the DISCLOSE Act, which calls for transparency of those behind corporate ads. It may help, but not by much.

Another possible remedy to our money-dysfunctional political system is a Clean Elections Law, such as that in Arizona. Here, a candidate faced with a wealthy opponent can get matching funds from the government. The Supreme Court recently blocked Arizona's Clean Elections Commision from distributing matching funds during this year's campaign. Another blow to our democracy.

Congress is considering the Fair Elections Act. This act is different from Arizona's act in that there are no matching funds. If a candidate can gather a large number of small contributions, he may be elegible for more government funds during the campaign. Since no matching is involved, it may be considered constitutional.

Lawrence Lessig is a big driver of reforming elections. He favors the DISCLOSE and Fair Elections Acts. However, he believes we must do more and pass an amendment. See Public Campaign for more.

I have been thinking that none of these approaches removes the influence of money. As far as passing an amendment, even if all the stars are fully aligned with us it may take years and years before we can do it. Maybe we need a radically different approach.

Let's concentrate on free speech among people, because after all, this is what we are after. What's the best way to make clear our differences? By debate. Not phony statements. Not answering ridiculous questions. Debates of at least a half hour, each on a specific issue. Run by neutral observers, unaffiliated with a party, a corporation or an advocacy group.

All candidates will be encouraged to debate. All debates will be free. Distribution of debate information and debates themselves will be free.

No restrictions will be made on other means for publicity. This means that money will still play a role. But with time it would become obvious to all that the debate approach is preferable. The influence of money will decrease, but will never disappear.

A big additional advantage - perhaps the main advantage - to free debates is that instead of being bombarded with negative attacks, we would hear what candidates had to say about real issues enabling us to make reasonable choices.

Posted by Paul Siegel at June 16, 2010 7:08 PM
Comments
Comment #302274

Paul,

Perhaps the Networks need to sponser debates of all the candidates OTHER than the Dems and Republicans. It could be started as a meme on the internet, which seems to attract Network news. Once the meme gets enough exposure the DEms and Republcans will be clamoring to be included, instead of them forcing others out.

Posted by: gergle at June 16, 2010 9:19 PM
Comment #302275

Stop the corporate duopoly strangle hold on politics meme.

Hey, if Betty White and Zach can get millions of views on Facebook….hey maybe we can recruit them to help the meme.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Bring-back-BETTY-WHITE-to-host-next-seasons-SNL-PREMIERE/119999244689966?v=wall&ref=search

http://myown.oprah.com/audition/index.html?request=video_details&response_id=5615&promo_id=1

Posted by: gergle at June 16, 2010 9:30 PM
Comment #302287

Paul said: “Let’s concentrate on free speech among people, because after all, this is what we are after.”

Speech is free. That has not been a problem. Communication to the public, on the other hand, is very, very expensive. And there is the nub of the whole issue.

Public debates for all candidates publicly funded sounds like a great idea. But, it needs work. There has to be a filter to screen out the clowns and insinceres who would otherwise make a joke out of such debates rendering them not worth the time to watch. How can that filter be properly and justly applied, and who will apply it? It is not an insurmountable obstacle, but, needs some real work to resolve.

The publicly funded debates is far easier. However, our Constitution insures people’s rights to spend their money in any legal manner they wish, to include funding their own campaigns, which, left intact, results in what we have today with wealth controlling elections. I truly fail, at this time, to see an effective and constitutional and just way around this. But, I remain open to ideas.

However, all these issues are irrelevant to the fundamental real one, which was mandate by universal suffrage. Namely, an educated, informed, and invested electorate. In the final analysis, there simply is no substitute in a democratically elected government for an educated, informed, and vested electorate bringing those attributes to bear on their election day ballot decision. That is the challenge for America in the end, and all other issues will be no more than stop gap inadequate measures.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 17, 2010 12:52 AM
Comment #302299

OK, how about we take money out of it altogether!!!. Give each candidate a period of time on the public airwaves paid for by a public fund, say 1/2 hour, whatever,(maybe an hour or more for a gubernatorial or presidential candidate, to lay out his platform. That’s all he gets. After that he has to shut up. No signs, no ads, nothing more. That’s it. Period. The media are of course free to discuss his platform statements, but that doesn’t cost anything. after a predetermined period of time we have the election. We know what the candidates said, we know what they stand for, that’s all that is necessary. Back when our electoral system was devised, we had no mass media. and no big corporate interests. We need to change the whole thing to fit the times.

Posted by: capnmike at June 17, 2010 10:28 AM
Comment #302324
OK, how about we take money out of it altogether!!!.
Posted by: capnmike at June 17, 2010 10:28 AM

I agree! Repeal the 17th amendment. Repeal the 16th amendment at the same time.

Just as they were passed, so shall they be repealed. Both of them at once.


Posted by: Weary Willie at June 17, 2010 7:14 PM
Comment #302326

What’s a meme, gergle?

Posted by: Weary Willie at June 17, 2010 8:39 PM
Comment #302335


Neither the 16th nor the 17th has a damn thing to do with money in politics and repealing them would just mean that wealth would be sole owner of the government.

It seems obvious that some think we have to much democracy as is.

Contrary to popular belief, partisanship insures that state legislatures are bastions of corruption just like the federal government.

There are many things we could do to strengthen democracy and the odds are slim to none that we will do any of them.

It is obvious that we will need a Constitutional amendment to deal with corporate influence in the election process and I believe it is equally obvious that we are not going to get it done. Even if we could get an amendment through Congress, there are enough Republican run state legislatures to kill it dead. There are probably some Democratic run legislatures that would join them.

The only corporate money or any organizational money that should be in politics is a 1% tax on corporate profits to finance the election process. No special interest commercials, nothing should influence the voters except the politicians and the policies they promote. Any politician that is caught lying to the American people should be disqualified from running for election or reelection. There should be plenty of watch dogs looking for the lies.

Posted by: jlw at June 17, 2010 11:33 PM
Comment #302338

jlw, why tax corporations to fund electioneering. Such taxes only get passed on to the consumers. If your intent is to tax the wealthy to pay for public campaign finance, then you would want to create an income tax on incomes above a certain amount and adjust that for inflation on a regular basis. Tax on income is not recollected from all consumers through consumer pricing.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 18, 2010 2:43 AM
Comment #302339

WW, what has Senators elected by popular vote have to do with public campaign financing? (17th Amendment).

And repeal of Congress’ capacity to levy income taxes absolutely fails to address the issue of public campaign financing, unless, your intent is to recreate the oligarchic plutocracy of the 19th century which brought on the Great Depression and preempted a broad middle class income group. (16th amendment).

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 18, 2010 2:51 AM
Comment #302351

True, Paul, money is the root of all evil when it comes to the political arena. I do like the idea of open, free and independently operated debates. However, as was stated, we’ll never get all of the money out of politics and, judging from the failure of Prop 15, the public isn’t interested in public financing for even a single office. Also, I concur that free speech is important but I feel that an informed citizenry is just as vital. Last month I was fortunate enough to be invited to a lunch by a group of my former students. I find them all to be of average (or above) intelligence and if they received anything from my classes I hoped it was the encouragement to get involved and vote. Unfortunately, only one knew what the “Tea Party Movement” was and none knew that a Corporation initiated Prop 16. Many of my neighbors are just as ill informed or apathetic. Therefore, all of the “free and open” debates will be meaningless if the majority fail to “tune” in.

Posted by: Tracey Young at June 18, 2010 12:36 PM
Comment #302353

Weary Willie,

I was referring mostly to an internet meme:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme

Posted by: gergle at June 18, 2010 1:19 PM
Comment #302356

Mr. Remer wrote; “However, all these issues are irrelevant to the fundamental real one, which was mandate by universal suffrage. Namely, an educated, informed, and invested electorate. In the final analysis, there simply is no substitute in a democratically elected government for an educated, informed, and vested electorate bringing those attributes to bear on their election day ballot decision.”

Hurrah for Mr. Remer. Well said. Hell must have frozen over as we agree entirely on this statement.

Off subject, I read this very moving story today in the NY Times. It describes how the efforts of just a few led to the downfall of an evil empire.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/opinion/18beckerman.html?pagewanted=2&th&emc=th

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 18, 2010 2:27 PM
Comment #302363

Senator Al Frankin has a few words to say about corporate ownership of America and Americans:

The Roberts Court has systematically dismantled the legal protections that help ordinary people find justice when wronged by the economically powerful.

In Stoneridge, it stripped shareholders of their ability to get their money back from the firms that helped defraud them.

In Conkright, it gave employers more leeway to deny workers their pension benefits.

In Leegin, it made it harder for small business owners to stop price fixing under the Sherman Act. Now, the burden is on them—small business owners—to show that price fixing will hurt competition.

In Iqbal, it made it harder for everybody to get their day in court.

In Exxon, it capped punitive damages resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill because, get this, having to own up to your mistakes creates “unpredictability” for corporations. Which, by the way, means that BP’s liability may be capped because the Court doesn’t want to cause an unpredictable impact on its future profitability.

In Rapanos, it cut huge swaths of wetlands out of the Clean Water Act. Wetlands that had been covered for 30 years.

You know what has a lot of wetlands? Minnesota. No, really. You know what else has a lot of wetlands? The Gulf Coast.

I could spend a long time talking about how these cases were wrongly decided. But I’m not an academic - and these aren’t academic issues.

These decisions affect real people. They hurt real people.

Jamie Leigh Jones is a real person who went to work for KBR, then a Halliburton subsidiary. When she arrived in Iraq in July of 2005, she immediately complained to her supervisors about sexual harassment in her barracks, which housed over 400 men and only a handful of women.

KBR just mocked her. Then, four days after she got to Iraq, she was drugged and gang-raped by several of her co-workers. When she woke up, she struggled to the infirmary and had a doctor administer a rape kit, which KBR promptly lost.

Then, Jamie was locked in a shipping container under armed guard and prohibited from any contact with the outside world.

Because of the Court’s decision in Circuit City, KBR had been able to force new employees like Jamie to sign a contract requiring that any future disputes be arbitrated in secret and not in open court.

So Jamie Leigh Jones spent four years fighting for her right just to get her day in court after her employer put her in a dangerous situation, ignored her concerns, and kept her hostage in a shipping container after she was gang-raped.

Lilly Ledbetter is a real person who worked as a manager at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama. Towards the end of 20 years of service there, she noticed that her male co-workers had gotten more and better raises. By 1998, when she took early retirement, she was earning several hundred dollars less per month than her male counterparts. So she sued.

But the Court decided to give Goodyear maximum leeway to avoid responsibility for pay discrimination, thanks to the most unbelievable loophole you can imagine. The law requires that discrimination claims be brought within 180 days. The Court decided that this meant within 180 days - from the time Goodyear started discriminating against Lilly, not the most recent discriminatory check.

And Lilly lost out on a chance to recoup years of wage increases that were illegally withheld just because she’s a woman.

—-
Now, the judiciary is just one branch of our system. I was proud to pass legislation giving victims like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. And I was thrilled to see that the very first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

But even as it has closed the door on ordinary Americans looking for justice in the legal system, this Court has made it harder for the political system to address these injustices.


In Citizens United, the Roberts Court overstepped its procedural bounds so that it could graciously provide corporations with First Amendment rights and, by the way, open the door to foreign entities deciding our elections.

But, again, as bad a piece of jurisprudence as that decision was, even worse could be the ramifications it will have on the lives of real people.

Well into the 1960s, oil companies didn’t want to stop putting lead in gasoline despite the fact that they knew how dangerous it was.

But Congress passed the Clean Air Act anyway. And the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood dropped 84 per cent over the next quarter century.

And around that same time, our car companies still didn’t want to put seat belts in cars, even though they knew it would save lives.

But Congress passed the Motor Vehicle Safety Act anyway. And by the year 2000, the fatality rate from car accidents had dropped 71 per cent.

Both laws passed just a couple of months before midterm elections.

Does anybody think either would have stood a chance if Standard Oil and GM had been able to spend millions of dollars in those campaigns?

In Citizens United, the Court didn’t just abdicate its duty to subject efforts to impair our political process to strict scrutiny. It served as an accomplice to such an effort.

Not satisfied with giving corporations a leg up on individuals under the law, the Roberts Court is trying to prevent the American people from fighting back.

I think Al, the ‘not so funny’ comedian, is becoming one of our more intelligent, and most inspiring Senators.

Posted by: Marysdude at June 18, 2010 6:04 PM
Comment #302376


David R., it was not my intent to make wealthy people finance elections. I am among those who think that we should pass corporate taxes on to the shareholders who should rightfully be paying them.

The angle I missed was not the consumer, but rather the foreign consumer and the foreign corporation.

Posted by: jlw at June 18, 2010 10:34 PM
Comment #302390

Will my latest post to this thread, my response to David R. Remer, be published?

Maybe tomorrow? Yes?

Posted by: Weary Willie at June 19, 2010 1:49 AM
Comment #302394
WW, what has Senators elected by popular vote have to do with public campaign financing? (17th Amendment).
Posted by: David R. Remer at June 18, 2010 02:51 AM

.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_One_of_the_United_States_Constitution#Section_3:_Senate

Section 3: Senate
Clause 1: Composition; Election of Senators
“ The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote. ”


.http://www.repeal17th.com/

No it isn’t a democracy. It is a representative republic; the Founders chose this form of democracy for very good reasons. Among these reasons is that the People, wise as they can be, can also be whipped into populist frenzy. Allowing the States a voice in the Congress tempers this populist will to a degree. To illustrate my point, do you also believe direct election of the Supreme Court justices is a good idea? It puts more power into the hands of the People, and removes all checks-and-balances. Most decidedly not a good idea, if you value your freedom.

The current system, under the Seventeenth Amendment, allows Governors to appoint a replacement only if their state legislature has previously decided to allow the Governor to do so; otherwise, the seat must remain vacant until the special election is held to fill the seat, as in the case of a vacancy in the House. Direct election of Senators has proven to be a source of corruption. Lobbyists, the rich and the powerful can easily “encourage” Senators to vote this way or that, because Senators must raise a lot of money to become elected. If the States selected Senators, no money would be required for Senatorial elections, and the only lobbyists the Senators would care about is the State legislators. This arrangement is not without risk of corruption of course, but the rascals in the States’ legislatures are accountable to the People; not true of any lobbyist. It is far easier to keep an eye on your State representatives, and they are far more responsive to the People’s voices.

.http://repealthe17thamendment.blogspot.com/2010/06/judge-napolitano-repeal-progressive.html

.http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2008/10/24/repeal-the-17th-amendment/


This amendment created a fundamental structural problem which, irrespective of the political party in office, or the laws in effect at any one time, will result, over time, in expanding federal control in every area.
The 17th Amendment caused a failure in the federalist structure, federal deficit spending, inappropriate federal mandates, and federal control over a number of state institutions.
The amendment has also caused a fundamental breakdown in campaign finance issues with respect to United States Senators. As to United States Senators, campaign finance reform, a hot topic in Congress now, can be best achieved by repealing the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It should be readily apparent that United States Senators, once appointed by the state legislature, would have no need for campaign financing whatsoever.

Posted by: Weary Willie at June 19, 2010 1:55 AM
Comment #302397

Papers Relating to the Election of Senators by Direct Vote of the People …

Posted by: Weary Willie at June 19, 2010 2:07 AM
Comment #302398

Ok, thanks.
I think that worked out well.

Posted by: Weary Willie at June 19, 2010 2:20 AM
Comment #302429

WW, by your own quotations, the problem is NOT with the 17th amendment, but, with campaign financing and corporate citizenship. Your quotation says as much: “Lobbyists, the rich and the powerful can easily “encourage” Senators to vote this way or that, because Senators must raise a lot of money to become elected.”

Your quotation also states, quite accurately, that legislature appointment would not be without its own corruptions. But, completely misses the fact that State Legislatures are vastly more foreign to the public awareness than is our federal Congress’s actions and players. Ergo, state legislatures are even LESS ACCOUNTABLE to the people than is our federal Congress. Enormously less media coverage and money is spent on shining the public light on state legislatures than are spent on our U.S. Congress. So, that entire argument of state legislatures being more accountable to the people is bogus, false, and wrong.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 19, 2010 7:14 PM
Comment #302430

WW, it is no accident that approximately 3/4 of State Governments are either bankrupt or on the verge of violating their Constitution’s to balance their budgets every year. While everyone is focusing on the Obama administration and national unemployment figures, the story not being told is the vast contribution State Governments are making to our nation’s unemployment figures due to their bankrupt sate legislative policies and actions of the past. State Legislators talked big on rainy day funds, but, when the rainy day came, the cookie jar where those funds were to be kept, turned up empty or nearly so. That’s corruption on a grand scale with about 37 States participating in this hoax upon their constituents. But, who is reporting on this story? Virtually NO ONE!

Corruption of state legislatures is far easier, and subject to far less scrutiny than our federal Congress. All the more so, with the waning of newspaper investigative journalists like Huntley and Brinkley, Kronkite, or Woodward and Bernstein.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 19, 2010 7:24 PM
Comment #302544

@David R. Remer:
Corruption abounds at the local, state, federal levels. I just hope it’s not beyond repair at this point.

Speaking of local governments, local city councils and what-not get no publicity at all except in their cities. No one is holding them accountable, either.

Posted by: Giggle Test at June 22, 2010 5:13 PM
Comment #380580

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