Saturday, January 12, 2013
Bonanza Column 267 - Who is Being Represented?
According to a number of respectable polls, 57% of Americans favor some form of gun control. Ninety-plus percent of NRA members favor background checks for gun ownership. The fact that Congress has failed to take any meaningful action on any form of gun regulation illustrates, in my view, a situation that is both unfortunate and dangerous.
We elect our Senators and Representatives, yet once they are elected a large majority of them are unresponsive to what the electorate thinks and wants. Instead, they become the servants of those who pour large amounts of money into their campaigns and continue to find ways through their lobbyists to keep those in Congress in their debt. I am referring, naturally, to groups like the NRA, major businesses and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, and, yes, even more liberal-leaning groups like labor unions.
In a poll taken last June, of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees, and 82 of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions – all components of the Affordable Health Care Act.. Notwithstanding that, 34 bills have been introduced in Congress for the wholesale repeal of the AHCA, the latest just this week by the redoubtable Michelle Bachman (R-MN).
We cherish the myth of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” when a grass-roots campaign by a determined lay person could send them to Congress where their passion and the rightness of their cause could change the course of political events, and it’s possible that before about 1940 that could work. Now, however, the cost of running for national office makes politics beyond the most local level the province of the well-financed, whether through personal wealth or outside support. When that outside support comes in large infusions of cash, it would be naïve to think it comes without some expectation of quid pro quo, no matter if the infuser is Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, the UAW, or the Sierra Club.
I’ve always been fond of the Chinese proverb that says if we don’t change our direction, we are likely to get where we’re headed. In this case a change of direction means a radical reform of how our government is elected. That starts with genuine campaign finance reform, and meaningful finance reform requires that we reassess the legal fiction that a corporation is a person. This doctrine originated in the Dartmouth College case of 1819, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation may sue and be sued in court in the same way as “natural persons.” This doctrine in turn formed the basis for legal recognition that corporations may hold and exercise certain rights under the law The ruling was never intended to mean that corporations are "people" as that word is normally understood, nor did it grant to corporations all of the rights of citizens. Given that there is no bar to restricting or even barring corporations’ donating to candidates and campaigns, and to eliminate PACs and Super-PACs which are connected to corporate entities.
There should be a limit to donations by individuals as well, both to candidates and PaCs and Super-PACs, so that millionaires and billionaires have no greater ability to influence elections than do the 98 or 99% of Americans who fall below that level of wealth.
Finally, and this would require a Constitutional amendment, the terms of Representatives should be four years rather than two. The two-year term means that a Member of Congress start running for his or her next term almost immediately after the current term begins. This was not the case when the Constitution was written, and to extend the term would simply be to acknowledge the realities of governing and running for office in the modern era.
None of this can happen unless the American people demand it, loudly and persistently, until the stranglehold of special interests and the very wealthy on the electoral process is broken. This is not an issue that fractures along the Right-Left fault line. Whichever way you lean politically, your interests are being represented only to the degree that they coincide with the interests of those in control, and that is clearly not what the Founders had in mind.-->