Ernest Norris, change.org
Submitted by: Editor
Petition: Elections – Not Auctions
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I am 71 years old. Through a combination of hard work and good luck I am relatively secure financially and enjoying an active retirement. Perhaps I should be satisfied with that and get on with life. However, I am worried about the future of my country. My lifelong confidence in the “American system” has been shaken, and that system’s ability to sustain our prosperity in the 21st century seems dubious. I am upset with the current state of affairs and, since I lived in the time when these problems were created, feel a responsibility to try to do something. All of my friends and acquaintances, no matter what their political persuasion, seem to be equally concerned and, like me, are not sure what we can do to make things better. The problems seem too big and way beyond our ability to influence change. At the same time, I feel compelled to try to do something. That is the reason for this epistle.
Safeguard the future for your children and sign a petition by following this link United States Congress: Neutralize the effect money has on elections.
Some of our problems:
- The shrill rhetoric and lack of compromise of our governing institutions (at all levels).
- Our inability to bring our unacceptable national debt under control.
- The subpar performance of our school systems.
- The fragility of our country’s infrastructure.
- The influence “special interests” have on our legislative process.
- The sense that our economy is rewarding those that produce short term “financial gains” over those that build long term sustainable businesses based on products & services.
- An inability to resolve the untenable rising costs of the Medicare and Social Security programs.
- Spiraling and unsustainable health care costs.
- Getting elected to national office requires huge sums of money.
- An unacceptable level of unemployment.
- Immigration laws that seem to accomplish all the wrong outcomes.
- A tort system that facilitates too many frivolous law suits.
Here are some groups being blamed for our problems:
- Banks that don’t care if you can repay your mortgage.
- Legislators that spend an unreasonably large amount of their time raising money for their next election and an unreasonably small amount of time legislating.
- Business leaders that are more concerned with this quarter’s profit than the long term sustainability of the business.
- Financial managers that are more focused on taking advantage of creative gimmicks that enhance their personal wealth while giving little weight to the moral and long term consequences of their actions.
- Doctors who have no incentive to lower health care costs. On the contrary, the more procedures they perform, the more reimbursements they receive.
- Medicare and Social Security recipients that are happy with their benefits and are unwilling to consider changes that might put the system on a sound financial track for the future.
- Union leaders that are more interested in protecting their jobs than the jobs of the people they represent.
- Attorneys that build very lucrative law practices upon “ambulance chasing” and other schemes that produce little for the grieved and increase insurance costs for everyone else.
Folks, that’s the free market at work. All of those people are doing exactly what they feel is in their best interest. The free market is a very efficient way to allocate resources and incent businesses and individuals to maximize their individual life circumstances. However, unfettered individual actions do not necessarily benefit our society as a whole. That is why we have governments. With no government we would be living in a barbaric world the likes of which humanity has worked thousands of years to evolve into the more civilized world we live in today. To say “the government is the problem” is correct only if the government is doing the wrong things, but we would most certainly not be better off with no government. I see our government, and the regulations it creates, being akin to a referee in a basketball game. Without some rules, and enforcement of those rules, a basketball game would be a chaotic brawl dominated by brute strength, not basketball skills. At the same time, if the referee is too restrictive or keeps changing the rules during the game, the results will also be chaos and confusion. Our problem is not too much or too little government – it is government that is not doing the right things.
I propose that this inability to get our government to “do the right things” is the systemic “root cause” underlying every one of the problems mentioned above. The question is, why don’t our legislators “do the right things”, and what can we do to change that situation? I believe we have a political “system” that incents our legislators to do the “wrong things”. Even those legislators with the best intentions are, all too frequently, strongly dissuaded from doing what they know is best for the people in their districts and the country as a whole.
Why does this happen? I think there are many things but I believe the NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF MONEY IN POLITICS is, far and away, the most important. Reducing the influence money has on our political system offers the greatest potential for getting our government back on track. Our legislators need for money to gain/maintain office is corrupting the effectiveness of our legislative process. Consider the following:
- The amount of money it takes to run an election campaign.
- How that money is spent.
The average cost to win a House seat in 2010, as reported by The Campaign Finance Institute, was $1,362,239 – In the Senate it was $7,500,052. Of the $853 million spent by all House candidates in the 2007-2008 election cycle, 20% came from donors contributing between $1 - $999. The balance, 80%, came from donors contributing $1,000 or more, PACs and “Other “– including self financing. If you think that these numbers from 2010 are disturbing, just wait until 2012 when the Super PACS, unleashed by the 2010 landmark case filed by Citizens United, exert their influence. These Super PACs can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups. The big money it takes to run an election campaign is coming from big contributors and the Super PACs will just make it worse. Question – who has more influence on the legislator’s actions, the small contributors or the big contributors? Duh! Our legislators, if they want to continue in office, have to respond to the wishes of their big donors, be it big business, Super PACs, unions or other narrow interest groups. Do those big donors expect compromise and nonpartisanship on the part of the legislator or do they prefer tight adherence to their agenda? Duh, again.
How all that money is spent is, in my opinion, quite disturbing. For example, the Center for Responsive Politics identified the total expenditures for the 2008 Presidential election as 1.8 billion dollars. Of this amount, $711 million, or 39.5%, was spent on “media” ‘payments for advertising and media production, including TV and radio air time, print advertising, blast faxes, phone banks, Internet ads and media. This does not include $96.6 million for campaign and fundraising direct mail expenses. Do these huge sums of money spent on “advertising” influence the outcome of campaigns? You bet! Are our elections becoming “auctions” where the candidate with the most money (i.e. support of big donors) wins? Perhaps.
We put our legislators in a “system” that requires them to cater to the needs of their big contributors if they hope to get elected. This “system” is unfair to our legislators and to the majority of the people they represent. The reliance on big donors, combined with the very narrowly focused issues those donors are promoting is, I believe, a major reason our political process is dominated by extreme positions and a total lack of compromise. We MUST find a way to change the system so our elected representatives can concentrate on solving the country’s problems, not on raising campaign money with possible “strings attached”.
A recent poll by the New York Times identified a Congressional approval rating of 9%! It is clear that “the people” are ready for change. However, this change can ONLY come from the citizens of this great country. Those benefiting from the current system, whether they be current legislators, big donors or “media” suppliers that earn so much money from election reporting and advertisings are, with few exceptions, not about to initiate change. In fact, they will fight any efforts to reduce the influence of money on elections with all of their might. However, I believe many candidates, those that truly wish to serve their constituencies and their country, would be thrilled to get “big money demands” off their backs.
I wish I had the expertise to identify what must be done and how to do it. Perhaps it will take a constitutional amendment. I don’t know, but there are certainly people, experts if you will, that can identify the “what & how”. My goal is not to put forth solutions but, instead, to help initiate a change to our electoral system that will allow future legislators to deal more effectively with the complex process of governing our country. If enough people (you) make enough noise, change can happen.
If you agree with this epistle, sign a petition by following this link United States Congress: Neutralize the effect money has on elections.
The number of people that sign the petition will provide a clear indication of the number of people that want change. If the numbers are big enough they will allow me, and others, to let legislators, the news media and potential “change agents” (like Rootstrikers and United Republic mentioned below) know just how important this issue is to the American people. If there is enough of a “groundswell” of voter demand for change some of our current legislators, who would like to reduce the influence of money on elections, might even provide the leadership and know-how required to make something happen. Let’s use the internet to express our desire to get our political system functioning once again.
There is already reason for hope. Even though most of those trapped in the current system are likely to resist, rather than support change, some folks are already working on changing the system. Check out Lawrence Lessig’s new book Republic, Lost – How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It. Mr. Lessig is director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. His book provides a clear definition of the “money in politics” problem and identifies strategies for solving it. He also helped launch an organization called Rootstrikers ( www.rootstrikers.org ) that is a nonprofit foundation created to curb the undue influence of corporate lobbyists over the US political process. Another resource that may provide the required leadership and organizational skills required is United Republic, another group dedicated to getting the money out of politics. Their website is http://www.unitedrepublic.org/. These two resources seem to be combining forces and, hopefully, will provide the leadership and know-how required to make something happen. A significant number of names on the “ELECTIONS – NOT AUCTIONS” petition would most certainly help their cause.
So there it is! Nothing may come of this but at least I have tried to do something that might allow future generations to have a more responsive and effective government. At 71, I will be probably be OK – but, unless something changes, younger folks will continue to suffer the effects of problems caused by their parent’s and grandparent’s generations. ~Ernest Norris