Guide Lesterland: The Corruption of Congress and How to End It (TED Books Book 34)

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And the vast, vast majority of the rich, especially on the Right, would fundamentally oppose what the Funders in general are pushing: In a code that is most meaningful to people on the Right, and will be more understandable after the argument for the next and third point, the Funders are the cronies in the epithet crony capitalism. They seek the privilege and protection of the government against the challenges of competition or justice. No one whose wealth has come from honest if lucky hard work should have any patience with their special pleading.

Every one of them should want a world in which the special power of the Funders has been removed. That world will still have rich people. But the rich people will be more respected and honored by the rest of society, because none will believe that they have secured their wealth by securing the special privilege of government.

We Americans dont begrudge the hard-. We dont even deny the lucky their rewards as the incredible activistsupermodel Cameron Russell has so powerfully described.


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And the critical fact the rich need to recognize is that, in a world of growing inequality, the basic support for this system depends upon the proportions among these three categories the hard-working, the lucky, and the corrupt: When America comes to believe the rich are rich because they cheat better, America will no longer be America. Heres point three: 3 In the U. Corruption is a nasty term, ordinarily applied to very nasty souls. But that sense of corruption referring to the criminal behavior of particular individuals isnt the only sense of that term.

Its not its most important sense. Its certainly not the Framers primary sense. When I say that Congress is corrupt, Im not talking about cash secreted in brown paper bags to members of Congress. Indeed, Im not talking about the criminal acts of anyone. The corruption Im talking about isnt illegal corruption, its legal corruption.

The United. States Congress is not filled with criminals. The United States Congress is filled with people who have allowed a system of influence to develop that has corrupted the institution they have the honor to serve. For they have allowed Congress to become corrupted relative to the baseline the Framers had established for how the institution of Congress would function.

Its the institution, in other words, that is corrupted, not the individuals even if it is the individuals who are responsible for that institutional corruption. We can see that corruption by looking closely at the Framers design. The Constitution doesnt mention the word democracy once. Instead, what the Framers gave us was what they called a Republic. But by a Republic, what they meant, as their writing and rhetoric made clear, was a representative democracy. And by representative democracy what they meant, as Madison explained again in Federalist 52, was a government with a branch the House of Representatives that would be dependent on the.

An exclusive dependence. A dependence that, because exclusive, would tilt, they thought, the actions of Congress toward the publics good. But the whole point of the Lesterland metaphor is to show how our Congress does not have a single dependence. Instead, our Congress has evolved a different dependence. Not a dependence on the people alone, but a dependence on the Funders, as well. This is a dependence too. But it is a different and conflicting dependence from a dependence on the people alone so long as the Funders are not the People.

And obviously, they are not. The Funders are citizens, no doubt. But they come from a group that They are the tiniest slice of the 1 percent, not randomly selected from the balance of the 99 percent, but concentrated and targeted in their aims and influence. To allow them the position they have in this. Republic is a corruption of this Republic. Like a magnet beside a compass, or molasses in a gearbox, or a wheel not aligned, this system of influence corrupts the system of influence the Republic was meant to have. It is, in this very precise sense, a corruption.

Now theres good news and bad news about this corruption. The good news is that it is a bipartisan, equalopportunity corruption. It blocks the Left on a wide range of reforms that we on the Left care about. From climate change Jim Hansen: The biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money in politics26 , to financial reform, to health care, to food safety, it takes but a tiny number of Americans as Funders to join together to block these important changes, so long as that tiny number is comprised of Funders exercising the influence this system allows: through money in the money election.

But this corruption also blocks the Right. The Right wants a smaller federal government. But the current system for funding elections only gives members of Congress an interest in keeping a large and invasive government. When Al Gore was Vice President, for example, his team had an idea for deregulating a significant portion of the telecommunications industry. They took the idea to Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill wasnt impressed. Hell no, was the response described to me, if we deregulate these guys, how are we going to raise money from them?

You can extort only if your target needs something from you. And a potential Funder has greater needs from Congress the more Congress regulates the things that Funders care about. This fact therefore biases Congress away from deregulation. Thats not to say that Congress never deregulates. Of course it does. It is simply to. And that fact is not lost on congresspeople.

Or think of the Rights desire for a simpler tax system Herman Cains call for a plan, for example, or Rick Perrys call for a 20 percent flat tax. The IRS Code is almost 4, pages long. The rulings and regulations interpreting that code would fill a small library. The practices of tax lawyers and accountants flourish as taxpayers bear this endless burden. One bit of this complexity is the extraordinary number of exceptions, or temporary provisions that riddle the tax code. Provisions granting a special depreciation rate for certain kinds of machinery, or a special tax rate for certain.

These temporary provisions are slated to expire after a year or two, and when they expire, the question Congress has to answer is whether that temporary provision should be extended. In December , the Wall Street Journal published a piece that puzzled over the rise in these temporary tax provisions. And the extender mania that it produced seemed only to be increasing. So what explained this mania? Surprise, surprise: fundraising! Every time a temporary provision of the tax code is about to expire, there is an easily identified set of corporations and individuals who have an obvious interest in seeing it extended.

Those corporations and individuals then become a target of lobbyists who are looking for clients they can represent in Congress to get an extension. As the Institute for Policy Innovation, a right-leaning tax policy think tank, put it, referring to the repeated extensions of. Congress essentially uses this cycle to raise money for reelection, promising industry more predictability the next time around. So, once again, the existing system for funding campaigns tilts Congress away from a simpler tax system in part because complexity makes it easier to raise money. And so long as we force members of Congress into this Skinner box of fundraising, they will be reluctant to remove a primary incentive for the Funders to give them money.

In both cases, then, and in many others too, the ideals of the Right are resisted by a system that depends so heavily upon fundraising from a tiny few. Thats not to say that if we changed the system of fundraising, the Right would always win in its fight for smaller government or for simpler taxes. But at least it would be a fair fight. A Congress that depends upon extorting the targets of its regulation to help it fund its campaigns has little interest in reducing the number of targets for its extortion.

Thus, just as the Left suffers because this system blocks it from achieving the reform that it wants, so too does the Right suffer because this system blocks it from achieving the change that it wants. Change, whether from the Left or the Right, is the enemy of this system. The status quo with all the privileges and immunities that it offers its Lesters, as well as the special incentive it gives the Lesters to fund campaigns is its friend. In this sense, the current system is a bipartisan, equalopportunity corruption.

Thats the good news so to speak. The bad news needs no such qualification. For this system of corruption is a pathological, democracy-destroying corruption. In any system in which members of Congress are dependent upon the tiniest fraction to fund their campaigns, the tiniest fraction of that tiny fraction can use their. And by tiny I mean really really small. We are a nation of million plus. Point-zero-fivepercent is a rounding error. And the fraction of the 0. Blocking is simple because there is an economy here. An economy of influence. An economy with lobbyists at the center who sell their services to interests who have something to gain from Washington.

And those services are more easily sold the more polarized and dysfunctional Washington is. Thus the worse it is for us, the better that it is for their fundraising. This is a point that too many miss. There are any number of scholars and pundits who point to the extreme polarization of the current Congress. No doubt theyre right. On any measure, our Congress today is more polarized than any Congress since the Civil War.

Certainly, part of the reason is demographics. The United States has changed, creating greater social and political differences than we had before. It used to be that the Democratic Party had real conservatives, and the Republican Party had moderates, and even some liberals. But as the South became more Republican, and the neighborhoods of America became more isolated, these mixed political parties became more pure. But demographics isnt the only driver in this rise of polarization.

Politics and in particular, the drive to fundraise is also tightly correlated with this pathology. For the striking fact about. American politics is not that it is more polarized, but that it is inconsistently polarized. And the pattern of this inconsistency is perfectly correlated with the incentive to raise money. For example, most Funders have significant business interests. And at least on big business issues, surprise surprise, we dont actually have a Right-wing and Left-wing party.

We have two political parties standing right in the middle. Both the Republicans and the Democrats pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street. Both Republicans and Democrats have permitted the most absurd examples of corporate welfare to flourish the Export-Import Bank, for example, which subsidizes the financing of U. And both Republicans and Democrats have united to defend U. As the Cato Institute wrote in about this policy: The big losers from federal sugar programs are U. The Government Accountability Office estimates that U. At the same time, sugar policies have allowed a small group of sugar growers to become wealthy because supply restrictions have given them monopoly power.

The GAO found that 42 percent of all sugar subsidies go to just 1 percent of sugar growers. To protect their monopolies, many sugar growers, such as the Fanjul family of Florida, have become influential campaign supporters of many key members of Congress. Alignment on the money issues thus keeps both parties in the fundraising game. Without alignment, one side would be blown out of the park.

But on social issues, the opinions of the relevant Funders are sharply divided, and the. The Right defends the sanctity of marriage against gay people who want to commit to everlasting love. The Left defends the right to choose against many who see the fetus as deserving of as much protection as any other person. Framing the issues in this polarized way makes it easier for both sides to rally to engage. And the more who engage, the easier it is to raise money. But what about gerrymandering. Doesnt that increase polarization? In an obvious sense, as the deans of congressional studies, Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, put it, Redistricting does matter Polarization is thus a scourge on modern government.

It has produced a Congress, again in. And as a result, we have a political system The disease is the corruption of campaign finance. As Mann and Ornstein rightly put it, that corruption works in multiple ways to reinforce the partisan polarization at the root of dysfunctional politics. For there are plenty of interests keen to block change. And the more dysfunctional our system becomes, the easier it is for congresspeople and lobbyists to effectively sell the guarantee of no change.

Most of the time this happens without anyone. Or naming it. The players know it perfectly well. The less they talk about it, the better it is for everyone. But sometimes the truth slips, and Lee Fang at the Nation uncovered a wonderful example of just such a slipping truth. The website for the lobbying firm Endgame Strategies promoted its services by explicitly pointing to their ability to leverage the Senates dysfunction: Managing Holds and Filibusters. Your organization has an interest in a bill that has proven controversial and you require advocacy before those legislators often backbench Senate Republicans who may exercise their prerogatives to delay or obstruct.

Endgame Strategies will give you new ways to manage your interests in a legislative environment that gives great power to individual senators. Dysfunction is profitable, for those who sell it lobbyists. It becomes a necessity for those who depend upon the help and favor of those who sell it Congress. Thus there should be no surprise that we have entered a stage in our governments decline in which except for the random reform-. In , in his book On Walden , Henry David Thoreau wrote this: There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

We as a people need to recognize this root. We need to see it, and name it, and organize to change it. We all those of us motivated to engage politically, those of us angry at what our government is or is not doing have our issue. We all have the cause that we are, in some form, fighting for. But we must all come to see that regardless of the issue, whether on the Right or the Left, reform will get blocked by this one root: this corruption, this dependence upon the Lesters, this dependence upon an influence that conflicts with a dependence upon the People alone.

Corruption is thus the root that all of us must strike at, if were ever to achieve any progress against the many branches of evil. And ending. Known and ignored So far, we all know this.

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Everything Ive written so far is just a reminder. A trigger to get you to recollect what you have already recognized a million times over. It is the most obvious banality of U. Not in the Gilded Age sense of corruption, but in a uniquely American sense that American lobbyists are now frantically working to spread to other democracies across the globe39 : Our Congress is corrupt.

It is obvious. Yet we ignore the obvious. We ignore it the way we ignore death. Or taxes. Or the end of the world. We ignore it because changing it just seems impossible. The very idea of motivating a political movement to rise up and make this system different seems beyond the power of any of us. So we turn instead to the problems that seem possible like eradicating polio from the face of the globe Bill.

Gates , or building a database of images of every street across the globe Google , or developing a truly universal translator of the sort Captain Kirk used to speak to the Klingons and that we could use to speak to the French or Malagasy Microsoft , or making a fusion reactor in a garage as Taylor Wilson did at the age of These are the manageable problems. They are the possible problems. And so we engage them, and ignore the impossible. But heres what we must see: We cannot ignore this corruption anymore. We need a government that works. Not works for the Left or works for the Right.

But works for the citizens of the Left and Right, who bind together to win elections, and then get to see their own brand of reform enacted. We dont have that government now. The system we have now guarantees that sensible reform from either side will be blocked. So whether it is tax simplification or climate change legislation, smaller government or cheaper health care, financial reform or ending crony capitalism. So grab the issue you care most about, sit it down in front of you, look it straight in the eyes and explain to it that there will be no Christmas until we fix this corruption.

That on practically none of the most important issues facing this country will we make any progress toward any sensible reform until this corruption ends. My point is not that my issue this corruption is the most important issue facing this nation today. It isnt. Your issue is. The issue you care about is. Whether its climate change or overregulation, financial reform or health care, a complex and invasive tax system or inequality, the debt or education whatever.

You pick the issue. Let that issue be the most important issue that we as a people face. My issue isnt that most important issue. My issue is just the first issue: The issue we must solve before we can address these other most important issues. Before we have any sensible. For we, as a people, cannot afford a future without sensible reform. As Mann and Ornstein put it: All of the boastful talk of American exceptionalism cannot obscure the growing sense that the country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively.

The United States is not the world. And our competitors in the world are not all afflicted with the pathologies of our government. Countries across the planet are able to adopt sensible energy policy, or sensible patent policy, or sensible Internet policy, or sensible health care policy. Those countries therefore do not face the burdens that our economy does as we pay dearly for a health care system that delivers second-rate health care to too many, as we destroy the promise of the middle class by neglecting public schools, as we choke the entrepreneurial utopia that our country was by selling her future to crony capitalists.

It is simply no longer true to say of the United States. We dont. Horatio Alger has moved to Europe. Fixes So what do we do? How could we end this corruption, and make it possible for We the People to move on to the issues that we must finally address sensibly? The analytics here are not hard. If the problem is a system that forces candidates for Congress to a spend too much time raising money from b too small a slice of America aka, the Funders , then the solution to this problem is a system that a demands less time raising money, and from b a wider slice of America aka, the People.

A solution, in other words, that spreads out the Funders influence. That keeps a Congress responsive to its Funders, but that makes the Funders the People. This way of understanding the problem is very different from the way many other reformers talk about the problem.

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For I focus upon the effects of campaign fundraising on candidates, not upon the effects of campaign spending on the people. Others see the problem differently. They say, for instance, that the problem is we have too much money in politics, and that therefore we need to get money out of politics. I understand this sentiment. I dont understand the analysis. Campaigns cost money, and will always cost money. Yet despite the amount that gets spent on campaigns, we still dont have an overly informed public. We dont even have a sufficiently informed public.

Again: Its not the people who are corrupted. Its the system that is corrupted by the way we fund campaigns. The same principle applies regarding the view that money is not speech. That slogan was born in response to the Supreme Courts decision in Buckley v. Valeo In that case, the Court upheld limitations on contributions to campaigns, but struck down limitations on independent expenditures. The Court did so because it viewed spending money to influence political campaigns as constitutionally protected free speech. If it were not constitutionally protected, the reformers reason, then Congress would be free to limit independent expenditures and thereby limit, in their view, political corruption.

Thats true. If it were the case that money is not speech, Congress would be free to limit independent expenditures. But there would be other consequences too: Congress would also be free to ban any money being spent to influence elections at all, or at least limit it severely thereby effectively protecting incumbents from their challengers.

And depending upon how the. Supreme Court sways, Congress might even be free to limit spending to criticize the government, or particular policies of the government, since once again, if money is not speech, then spending money, like any other action, could possibly be regulated. But I dont think this is the only way to end this corruption. I believe instead that we can change the way candidates fund their campaigns without changing Buckley v. Valeo in particular, or the way the First Amendment protects free speech generally. For again, the problem is not the speech.

The problem is the fundraising. The same problem arises with the view held by some that we could solve this problem of corruption if only corporations were not persons and if, therefore, they were denied constitutional rights. That they are persons has. Why they are deemed persons has been a puzzle for the rest of us for that same some time. Even if they werent, the Funders would still be funding campaigns. And even with corporations as persons, we can still change the system so that the Funders are not corrupting elections.

Thats not to say that I agree with the silly decisions of the Supreme Court restricting the ability of government to regulate in important areas of health and welfare, all in the name of free speech. On this reasoning, for example, the courts have struck down a Massachusetts law regulating tobacco companies marketing to kids, and a Vermont law that required food companies to label genetically modified food. I dont.

I think the Supreme Court is wrong in those cases. And we need to work especially law. But we citizens need to recognize that the problem with Americas democracy is not just some recent Supreme Court decisions. The problem with Americas democracy is Americas democracy. The problem is the Skinner box that candidates for Congress must live within just to raise the money they need to run their campaigns. That Skinner box is the corruption. And whatever the virtues in declaring that corporations are not persons, that declaration will not liberate Congress from the box.

Or, finally, some believe that any problem with the current system would be solved simply by more transparency. That somehow, if we could see who gave what more clearly than we already do, we would be less concerned with how the who was inspired to give the what. This too is just wrong not because we dont need transparency in the system. We do. We obviously do. But it would be a pretty fundamental confusion to believe that the problem of the Deepwater Horizon would be solved if only we had a better, clearer, maybe HD webcam.

Seeing the sludge was good. But to fix the problem means stopping the sludge, not seeing it more clearly. So too with the corruption of campaign finance. No doubt we need to see who gave what. As John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse put it, We should not look to new ways of. Transparency of course. But not transparency alone. So again, the analytics are easy: We solve this corruption not by getting money out of politics, not by declaring that money is not speech, not by pursuing the red herring, as Garrett Epps describes it,50 by declaring that corporations are not persons, and not just by making every transaction in politics perfectly transparent.

We solve this problem by embracing citizen-funded elections. By adopting a system, in other words, that: a demands less candidate time raising money, and enables candidates to raise that money from b a wider slice of America. Such a system of citizen-funded elections would not require a constitutional amendment, or. Even this Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the power of Congress to complement the system for funding elections in a way that would effectively spread the influence of the funders to the people generally.

And there are several powerful proposals floating about today that would achieve this effect perfectly well. In , for example, the House of Representatives came close to passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which would give candidates a chance to fund their campaigns with small-dollar contributions only. Or, finally, Congressman John Sarbanes, a fourth-term Democrat from Maryland and certainly among the most important of Congresss reformers, has proposed the Grassroots Democracy Act, which creates matching grants, tax credits, and a pilot program for vouchers, all to the end of making it feasible for candidates to fund their campaigns with small-dollar contributions only.

Because all of them would spread the funder influence from the. Lesters to the People and change the dynamic of dependence. Each of them has been tried in some form in the states. Each of them could be tinkered with to give candidates an opportunity to run winning elections without ever having to become dependent upon the Lesters, and without ever having to act in a way that draws their integrity into doubt. Indeed, for me, insanely and overly sensitive as I am, this is among the most important issues that any member of Congress needs to recognize.

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As one former member explained his decision to leave Congress: People just presume we are dishonorable. Imagine living under a cloud of suspicion all the time. If you can do that, you can understand why some of us think serving in Congress isnt enjoyable. For this is among the greatest sins of the current system. No matter what a member of Congress does, there is always the plausible argument that she did it because of the money. Even if the action is at the core of her beliefs, we. The system that Congress has allowed to evolve doesnt allow us to trust Congress.

So we dont which is why Americas confidence in Congress hovers at below 15 percent. Citizenfunded elections would make it almost impossible to believe that any Congress did whatever it did because of the money. Instead, citizen-funded elections would make it possible for all of us to believe as we desperately want to believe that whenever Congress did something silly, it was either because there were too many Democrats, or because there were too many Republicans, but not because of the money.

But what about the SuperPACs? Even if we had citizen-funded elections, wont SuperPACs continue to dominate the system? And wont the Lesters simply turn to them to find a way to exert their influence? Theres no doubt that Citizens United unleashed a series of decisions by courts and the Federal Election Commission FEC that have created a new, and even more virulent instance of precisely the corruption Ive described. Not technically their SuperPACs, of course, because the whole idea of SuperPACs is that they are independent of the candidates and if you believe that, then But whether they have their SuperPAC or not, candidates for Congress must now inspire the Lesters to contribute to their campaign, and to these independent groups too.

The incentives here are truly invidious. That fear inspires a logical response: Incumbents seek to secure a kind of. SuperPAC insurance a guarantee that if they are attacked, an equal but opposite response will be launched. But because the incumbents cant simply turn to their own largest contributors by definition, these contributors have maxed out , the incumbents must secure that insurance by finding a SuperPAC on their side, which has a strong enough reason to intervene to support that incumbent. And all this security has to be in place long before there is an attack.

Long before even a single dollar is spent, the very threat that dollars will be spent has changed the behavior of the government in power. And in this obvious dynamic, the dependence of Congress upon the Funders has been radically increased. So of course I agree that Citizens United is a real problem. And it may well be that we need to amend the Constitution to deal with that real.

But 1 even if we do, that doesnt change the strategy that we should be following right now. And 2 in any case, Im not yet convinced that we will in fact have to amend the Constitution to deal with Citizens United. We need, in other words, to change the way Congresss elections are funded, if were to have any chance of achieving the supermajority support that wed need to change the way the Constitution has been interpreted. The first step to changing the Constitution is to change Congress.

But more important, 2 its not even clear that we need to change the Constitution to deal with Citizens United. First, citizen funding may be enough. As the nonprofit Dmos puts it, If candidates for federal office were mostly. Even with SuperPACs, this tactic may give members of Congress enough independence to do the right according to their constituents view thing. And that would mean we could ignore this ignoble decision, and get on with the project of doing government well. Second, even if citizen funding is not enough, for complicated law-geek reasons that Ive explained elsewhere,59 its not even clear that Citizens United denies Congress the power to address the most virulent problem that has developed since it was decided SuperPACs.

Its my view that if presented in the right way, the Supreme Court would conclude that SuperPACs can be regulated, because SuperPACs are corruption incarnate in the sense that I have described in this book. But even if Im wrong about that, here is the critical point: It would be an incredible waste of a reform movement to focus its energy upon reversing a Supreme Court opinion especially an opinion that didnt even cause the problem.

Citizens United was a close vote. An incredibly close vote. At least two of the justices in that majority are not going to hang on to their seats for much longer. When they step down, at least if theyre replaced by more moderate justices, it is difficult to believe that the extremism of that opinion will survive. So why build a movement to give us what time will give us anyway? Especially because if this is what we fight for, and this is what we get reversing Citizens United we will not have begun to get what we need to solve the corruption of this system.

For remember: On January 20, , the day b e f o r e Citizens United was decided, our democracy was already broken. The corruption I have described was already flourishing. We have. Citizens United didnt take us there. And if all we achieved through this movement of reform is a return to the world that existed on January 20, , we will have achieved nothing.

We need a movement that speaks truth, not trendiness. A movement that teaches America what the problem actually is, and how that problem can be fully fixed. And the analytics in that lesson should be clear: We fix this corruption only by freeing candidates from the Skinner box of campaign funding. Farm leagues The analytics are easy. Its the politics that is hard. And hard, maybe impossibly hard, all because of a street K Street, the name we use to refer to the industry of lobbying that now thrives within the beltway of D.

Members, staffers, and bureaucrats have an increasingly common business model a model focused upon their life after government. An economy with lobbyists at the center who sell their services to interests who have something to gain from Washington. And those services are more easily sold the more polarized and dysfunctional Washington is. Thus the worse it is for us, the better that it is for their fundraising.

This is a point that too many miss. There are any number of scholars and pundits who point to the extreme polarization of the current Congress. No doubt theyre right. On any measure, our Congress today is more polarized than any Congress since the Civil War. Certainly, part of the reason is demographics. The United States has changed, creating greater social and political differences than we had before. It used to be that the Democratic Party had real conservatives, and the Republican Party had moderates, and even some liberals.

But as the South became more Republican, and the neighborhoods of America became more isolated, these mixed political parties became more pure. But demographics isnt the only driver in this rise of polarization. Politics and in particular, the drive to fundraise is also tightly correlated with this pathology. For the striking fact about. American politics is not that it is more polarized, but that it is inconsistently polarized. And the pattern of this inconsistency is perfectly correlated with the incentive to raise money.

For example, most Funders have significant business interests. And at least on big business issues, surprise surprise, we dont actually have a Right-wing and Left-wing party. We have two political parties standing right in the middle. Both the Republicans and the Democrats pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street.

Both Republicans and Democrats have permitted the most absurd examples of corporate welfare to flourish the Export-Import Bank, for example, which subsidizes the financing of U. And both Republicans and Democrats have united to defend U. As the Cato Institute wrote in about this policy: The big losers from federal sugar programs are U. The Government Accountability Office estimates that U. At the same time, sugar policies have allowed a small group of sugar growers to become wealthy because supply restrictions have given them monopoly power. The GAO found that 42 percent of all sugar subsidies go to just 1 percent of sugar growers.

To protect their monopolies, many sugar growers, such as the Fanjul family of Florida, have become influential campaign supporters of many key members of Congress. Alignment on the money issues thus keeps both parties in the fundraising game. Without alignment, one side would be blown out of the park. But on social issues, the opinions of the relevant Funders are sharply divided, and the. The Right defends the sanctity of marriage against gay people who want to commit to everlasting love. The Left defends the right to choose against many who see the fetus as deserving of as much protection as any other person.

Framing the issues in this polarized way makes it easier for both sides to rally to engage. And the more who engage, the easier it is to raise money. But what about gerrymandering. Doesnt that increase polarization? In an obvious sense, as the deans of congressional studies, Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, put it, Redistricting does matter Polarization is thus a scourge on modern government. It has produced a Congress, again in.

And as a result, we have a political system The disease is the corruption of campaign finance. As Mann and Ornstein rightly put it, that corruption works in multiple ways to reinforce the partisan polarization at the root of dysfunctional politics. For there are plenty of interests keen to block change. And the more dysfunctional our system becomes, the easier it is for congresspeople and lobbyists to effectively sell the guarantee of no change. Most of the time this happens without anyone.

Or naming it. The players know it perfectly well. The less they talk about it, the better it is for everyone. But sometimes the truth slips, and Lee Fang at the Nation uncovered a wonderful example of just such a slipping truth. The website for the lobbying firm Endgame Strategies promoted its services by explicitly pointing to their ability to leverage the Senates dysfunction: Managing Holds and Filibusters. Your organization has an interest in a bill that has proven controversial and you require advocacy before those legislators often backbench Senate Republicans who may exercise their prerogatives to delay or obstruct.

Endgame Strategies will give you new ways to manage your interests in a legislative environment that gives great power to individual senators. Dysfunction is profitable, for those who sell it lobbyists. It becomes a necessity for those who depend upon the help and favor of those who sell it Congress. Thus there should be no surprise that we have entered a stage in our governments decline in which except for the random reform-. In , in his book On Walden , Henry David Thoreau wrote this: There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

We as a people need to recognize this root. We need to see it, and name it, and organize to change it. We all those of us motivated to engage politically, those of us angry at what our government is or is not doing have our issue. We all have the cause that we are, in some form, fighting for. But we must all come to see that regardless of the issue, whether on the Right or the Left, reform will get blocked by this one root: this corruption, this dependence upon the Lesters, this dependence upon an influence that conflicts with a dependence upon the People alone.

Corruption is thus the root that all of us must strike at, if were ever to achieve any progress against the many branches of evil. And ending. Known and ignored So far, we all know this. Everything Ive written so far is just a reminder. A trigger to get you to recollect what you have already recognized a million times over.

It is the most obvious banality of U. Not in the Gilded Age sense of corruption, but in a uniquely American sense that American lobbyists are now frantically working to spread to other democracies across the globe39 : Our Congress is corrupt. It is obvious. Yet we ignore the obvious. We ignore it the way we ignore death. Or taxes. Or the end of the world. We ignore it because changing it just seems impossible. The very idea of motivating a political movement to rise up and make this system different seems beyond the power of any of us.

So we turn instead to the problems that seem possible like eradicating polio from the face of the globe Bill. Gates , or building a database of images of every street across the globe Google , or developing a truly universal translator of the sort Captain Kirk used to speak to the Klingons and that we could use to speak to the French or Malagasy Microsoft , or making a fusion reactor in a garage as Taylor Wilson did at the age of These are the manageable problems.

They are the possible problems. And so we engage them, and ignore the impossible. But heres what we must see: We cannot ignore this corruption anymore.

We need a government that works. Not works for the Left or works for the Right. But works for the citizens of the Left and Right, who bind together to win elections, and then get to see their own brand of reform enacted. We dont have that government now. The system we have now guarantees that sensible reform from either side will be blocked. So whether it is tax simplification or climate change legislation, smaller government or cheaper health care, financial reform or ending crony capitalism.

So grab the issue you care most about, sit it down in front of you, look it straight in the eyes and explain to it that there will be no Christmas until we fix this corruption. That on practically none of the most important issues facing this country will we make any progress toward any sensible reform until this corruption ends. My point is not that my issue this corruption is the most important issue facing this nation today. It isnt. Your issue is. The issue you care about is.

Whether its climate change or overregulation, financial reform or health care, a complex and invasive tax system or inequality, the debt or education whatever. You pick the issue. Let that issue be the most important issue that we as a people face. My issue isnt that most important issue. My issue is just the first issue: The issue we must solve before we can address these other most important issues. Before we have any sensible. For we, as a people, cannot afford a future without sensible reform. As Mann and Ornstein put it: All of the boastful talk of American exceptionalism cannot obscure the growing sense that the country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively.

The United States is not the world. And our competitors in the world are not all afflicted with the pathologies of our government. Countries across the planet are able to adopt sensible energy policy, or sensible patent policy, or sensible Internet policy, or sensible health care policy. Those countries therefore do not face the burdens that our economy does as we pay dearly for a health care system that delivers second-rate health care to too many, as we destroy the promise of the middle class by neglecting public schools, as we choke the entrepreneurial utopia that our country was by selling her future to crony capitalists.

It is simply no longer true to say of the United States. We dont. Horatio Alger has moved to Europe. Fixes So what do we do? How could we end this corruption, and make it possible for We the People to move on to the issues that we must finally address sensibly? The analytics here are not hard. If the problem is a system that forces candidates for Congress to a spend too much time raising money from b too small a slice of America aka, the Funders , then the solution to this problem is a system that a demands less time raising money, and from b a wider slice of America aka, the People.

A solution, in other words, that spreads out the Funders influence. That keeps a Congress responsive to its Funders, but that makes the Funders the People. This way of understanding the problem is very different from the way many other reformers talk about the problem. For I focus upon the effects of campaign fundraising on candidates, not upon the effects of campaign spending on the people.

Others see the problem differently. They say, for instance, that the problem is we have too much money in politics, and that therefore we need to get money out of politics. I understand this sentiment. I dont understand the analysis. Campaigns cost money, and will always cost money.

Yet despite the amount that gets spent on campaigns, we still dont have an overly informed public. We dont even have a sufficiently informed public. Again: Its not the people who are corrupted. Its the system that is corrupted by the way we fund campaigns. The same principle applies regarding the view that money is not speech.

for (my) love, Bettina

That slogan was born in response to the Supreme Courts decision in Buckley v. Valeo In that case, the Court upheld limitations on contributions to campaigns, but struck down limitations on independent expenditures. The Court did so because it viewed spending money to influence political campaigns as constitutionally protected free speech. If it were not constitutionally protected, the reformers reason, then Congress would be free to limit independent expenditures and thereby limit, in their view, political corruption.

Thats true. If it were the case that money is not speech, Congress would be free to limit independent expenditures. But there would be other consequences too: Congress would also be free to ban any money being spent to influence elections at all, or at least limit it severely thereby effectively protecting incumbents from their challengers. And depending upon how the. Supreme Court sways, Congress might even be free to limit spending to criticize the government, or particular policies of the government, since once again, if money is not speech, then spending money, like any other action, could possibly be regulated.

But I dont think this is the only way to end this corruption. I believe instead that we can change the way candidates fund their campaigns without changing Buckley v. Valeo in particular, or the way the First Amendment protects free speech generally. For again, the problem is not the speech. The problem is the fundraising. The same problem arises with the view held by some that we could solve this problem of corruption if only corporations were not persons and if, therefore, they were denied constitutional rights. That they are persons has. Why they are deemed persons has been a puzzle for the rest of us for that same some time.

Even if they werent, the Funders would still be funding campaigns. And even with corporations as persons, we can still change the system so that the Funders are not corrupting elections. Thats not to say that I agree with the silly decisions of the Supreme Court restricting the ability of government to regulate in important areas of health and welfare, all in the name of free speech. On this reasoning, for example, the courts have struck down a Massachusetts law regulating tobacco companies marketing to kids, and a Vermont law that required food companies to label genetically modified food.

I dont. I think the Supreme Court is wrong in those cases. And we need to work especially law. But we citizens need to recognize that the problem with Americas democracy is not just some recent Supreme Court decisions. The problem with Americas democracy is Americas democracy. The problem is the Skinner box that candidates for Congress must live within just to raise the money they need to run their campaigns.

That Skinner box is the corruption. And whatever the virtues in declaring that corporations are not persons, that declaration will not liberate Congress from the box. Or, finally, some believe that any problem with the current system would be solved simply by more transparency. That somehow, if we could see who gave what more clearly than we already do, we would be less concerned with how the who was inspired to give the what. This too is just wrong not because we dont need transparency in the system.

We do. We obviously do. But it would be a pretty fundamental confusion to believe that the problem of the Deepwater Horizon would be solved if only we had a better, clearer, maybe HD webcam. Seeing the sludge was good. But to fix the problem means stopping the sludge, not seeing it more clearly. So too with the corruption of campaign finance. No doubt we need to see who gave what. As John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse put it, We should not look to new ways of.

Transparency of course. But not transparency alone. So again, the analytics are easy: We solve this corruption not by getting money out of politics, not by declaring that money is not speech, not by pursuing the red herring, as Garrett Epps describes it,50 by declaring that corporations are not persons, and not just by making every transaction in politics perfectly transparent. We solve this problem by embracing citizen-funded elections.

By adopting a system, in other words, that: a demands less candidate time raising money, and enables candidates to raise that money from b a wider slice of America. Such a system of citizen-funded elections would not require a constitutional amendment, or. Even this Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the power of Congress to complement the system for funding elections in a way that would effectively spread the influence of the funders to the people generally.

And there are several powerful proposals floating about today that would achieve this effect perfectly well. In , for example, the House of Representatives came close to passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which would give candidates a chance to fund their campaigns with small-dollar contributions only. Or, finally, Congressman John Sarbanes, a fourth-term Democrat from Maryland and certainly among the most important of Congresss reformers, has proposed the Grassroots Democracy Act, which creates matching grants, tax credits, and a pilot program for vouchers, all to the end of making it feasible for candidates to fund their campaigns with small-dollar contributions only.

Because all of them would spread the funder influence from the. Lesters to the People and change the dynamic of dependence. Each of them has been tried in some form in the states. Each of them could be tinkered with to give candidates an opportunity to run winning elections without ever having to become dependent upon the Lesters, and without ever having to act in a way that draws their integrity into doubt.

Indeed, for me, insanely and overly sensitive as I am, this is among the most important issues that any member of Congress needs to recognize. As one former member explained his decision to leave Congress: People just presume we are dishonorable. Imagine living under a cloud of suspicion all the time. If you can do that, you can understand why some of us think serving in Congress isnt enjoyable. For this is among the greatest sins of the current system. No matter what a member of Congress does, there is always the plausible argument that she did it because of the money. Even if the action is at the core of her beliefs, we.

The system that Congress has allowed to evolve doesnt allow us to trust Congress. So we dont which is why Americas confidence in Congress hovers at below 15 percent. Citizenfunded elections would make it almost impossible to believe that any Congress did whatever it did because of the money. Instead, citizen-funded elections would make it possible for all of us to believe as we desperately want to believe that whenever Congress did something silly, it was either because there were too many Democrats, or because there were too many Republicans, but not because of the money.

But what about the SuperPACs? Even if we had citizen-funded elections, wont SuperPACs continue to dominate the system? And wont the Lesters simply turn to them to find a way to exert their influence? Theres no doubt that Citizens United unleashed a series of decisions by courts and the Federal Election Commission FEC that have created a new, and even more virulent instance of precisely the corruption Ive described.

Not technically their SuperPACs, of course, because the whole idea of SuperPACs is that they are independent of the candidates and if you believe that, then But whether they have their SuperPAC or not, candidates for Congress must now inspire the Lesters to contribute to their campaign, and to these independent groups too. The incentives here are truly invidious. That fear inspires a logical response: Incumbents seek to secure a kind of. SuperPAC insurance a guarantee that if they are attacked, an equal but opposite response will be launched.

But because the incumbents cant simply turn to their own largest contributors by definition, these contributors have maxed out , the incumbents must secure that insurance by finding a SuperPAC on their side, which has a strong enough reason to intervene to support that incumbent. And all this security has to be in place long before there is an attack. Long before even a single dollar is spent, the very threat that dollars will be spent has changed the behavior of the government in power. And in this obvious dynamic, the dependence of Congress upon the Funders has been radically increased.

So of course I agree that Citizens United is a real problem. And it may well be that we need to amend the Constitution to deal with that real. But 1 even if we do, that doesnt change the strategy that we should be following right now. And 2 in any case, Im not yet convinced that we will in fact have to amend the Constitution to deal with Citizens United.

We need, in other words, to change the way Congresss elections are funded, if were to have any chance of achieving the supermajority support that wed need to change the way the Constitution has been interpreted. The first step to changing the Constitution is to change Congress.

But more important, 2 its not even clear that we need to change the Constitution to deal with Citizens United. First, citizen funding may be enough. As the nonprofit Dmos puts it, If candidates for federal office were mostly. Even with SuperPACs, this tactic may give members of Congress enough independence to do the right according to their constituents view thing. And that would mean we could ignore this ignoble decision, and get on with the project of doing government well. Second, even if citizen funding is not enough, for complicated law-geek reasons that Ive explained elsewhere,59 its not even clear that Citizens United denies Congress the power to address the most virulent problem that has developed since it was decided SuperPACs.

Its my view that if presented in the right way, the Supreme Court would conclude that SuperPACs can be regulated, because SuperPACs are corruption incarnate in the sense that I have described in this book. But even if Im wrong about that, here is the critical point: It would be an incredible waste of a reform movement to focus its energy upon reversing a Supreme Court opinion especially an opinion that didnt even cause the problem. Citizens United was a close vote. An incredibly close vote. At least two of the justices in that majority are not going to hang on to their seats for much longer.

When they step down, at least if theyre replaced by more moderate justices, it is difficult to believe that the extremism of that opinion will survive. So why build a movement to give us what time will give us anyway? Especially because if this is what we fight for, and this is what we get reversing Citizens United we will not have begun to get what we need to solve the corruption of this system.

For remember: On January 20, , the day b e f o r e Citizens United was decided, our democracy was already broken. The corruption I have described was already flourishing. We have. Citizens United didnt take us there. And if all we achieved through this movement of reform is a return to the world that existed on January 20, , we will have achieved nothing.

We need a movement that speaks truth, not trendiness. A movement that teaches America what the problem actually is, and how that problem can be fully fixed. And the analytics in that lesson should be clear: We fix this corruption only by freeing candidates from the Skinner box of campaign funding. Farm leagues The analytics are easy. Its the politics that is hard. And hard, maybe impossibly hard, all because of a street K Street, the name we use to refer to the industry of lobbying that now thrives within the beltway of D.

Members, staffers, and bureaucrats have an increasingly common business model a model focused upon their life after government. Their life as lobbyists. Fifty percent of the Senate between and left to become lobbyists. Forty-two percent of the House. And as United Republic calculated in , the average salary increase for the 12 Congress members they studied was 1, percent.

For former Senators and Congress members, the road to K Street, a mere two blocks from the White House, is paved with money. Lyndon Johnson was constantly fearful of what life after government would bring. As Robert Caro describes it, Over and over again he related how once, while he was riding in an elevator in the Capitol, the elevator operator had told him that he had been a congressman.

Lobbying for elevator companies perhaps. But running elevators or any other non-influencepeddling work no way. Yet if the reform that I am describing were adopted, then K Street would shrink. It wouldnt disappear. It shouldnt disappear lobbyists are essential in any modern democracy. But the lobbyists who would survive would be the policy wonks: those expert in advising about the complex issues that regulation inevitably involves. They wouldnt be the power brokers, or the channels through which campaign cash gets directed.

They wouldnt be as valuable to their clients as the lobbyists of today are. And thus they wouldnt be as rich. The economy of lobbying in a reformed D. And so it could no longer afford to give Congress members and staffers and bureaucrats the huge pay increases the current economy does. So for Congress to adopt the changes that I have described would be for Congress to kill the most lucrative public service retirement package that our Nation has known.

How then is it possible, one might fairly ask, to imagine them changing this? I get the skepticism. Or pessimism. Or, for some, hopelessness. Taking on this power is not easy. Beating it will be incredibly hard. So I understand the impatience that so often greets the argument for reform: Why talk about a change that. Why waste time dreaming for a miracle?

I get it. But I dont buy it. This problem is solvable. Indeed, if you think back to the problems our parents took on racism in the s, sexism in the s, and then for us today, homophobia the problem of corruption seems eminently solvable. Those problems were hard problems. You dont just wake up one day no longer a racist. Or a sexist.

It takes generations of hard work to rip that ugliness from our social DNA. But the problem Im talking about is just a problem of incentives. And if we changed those incentives, the corrupting behavior that they produce would change as well. When Connecticut adopted a small-dollar funding system for its representatives and governor, 78 percent of the elected representatives Democrat and Republican alike opted into the system in its first year. And if only we gave them a convincing way to do it differently, they would take it. Of course, once they understand the consequences of this different system for their future, if indeed they see a future on K Street they might not be eager to see the change enacted.

But if we could build a political force powerful enough to force its enactment, the change would stick. A new economy would develop one less lucrative for lobbyists no doubt, but one more closely dependent on the people alone. The challenge is therefore to build that political force something we, as a people, have not done since the Progressive Era, when both Republicans and Democrats alike demanded that the corruption of that age end. And just as they achieved their victory then, so too could we: For though we might live in Lesterland, even in Lesterland the people have the ultimate influence over their elected officials.

We still have the power to throw them out, which is what we should do to any politician, whether a Democrat, a Republican, or an. Independent, who does not commit to fundamental reform. The Lesters may not like it. But theyve been sloppy. They have left us a way out. And its time we used it. How In July, , on the cusp of a full-scale presidential campaign, Gallup ran their quadrennial poll asking Americans to rank the top priorities for the next president.

Number two on that list second only to creating good jobs was reducing corruption in the federal government. There hadnt been a significant federal political scandal in almost half a decade. Instead, the only corruption-related issue that was anywhere in the popular press in July , was the endless attention the press was giving to the almost endless stream of big money into political campaigns.

Americans were being shown again and again that the Funders were in charge. And the more they saw. Yet if you had turned to the websites of either the Obama or Romney campaigns in July or, for that matter, at any time during the election cycle , you would have found diddly-squat about corruption. Absolutely no reference whatsoever to this issue, or its importance. Not even a hint of a policy offered by either presidential candidate about how they were going to address this, the second most pressing issue on the United States top 10 list.

Indeed, according to a researcher I asked to look at the question, this was the first time, as far as we could see, that an issue at the top of Gallups list was not even mentioned by either major presidential candidate. Even politicians get hypocrisy. Unless the candidate could credibly claim that he would change the system, there was no reason to remind people that he too was part of this corrupt system.

Barack Obama had done a pretty good job in arguing. This unity among us about the importance of this issue is the basis for hope that we might actually prevail in this fight. Corruption was nowhere on the top 10 list in , or It made its first appearance in , when it hit number four on the Gallup poll. But though the politicians forgot about the issue in , we did not.

Its salience has only grown among us, even if the willingness of our leaders to take up that fight is as shriveled as. The sole reason this issue has survived is the incredible hard work done by a movement Ive watched from the sidelines with admiration but with skepticism. Born of the embarrassment called Citizens United, this movement has brought together literally millions of Americans behind the idea that Citizens United must be reversed. We didnt take much convincing: As the Washington Post reported soon after the case was decided, 80 percent of Americans polled opposed the decision higher among Democrats 85 percent , but still high for Republicans 76 percent and higher still for Independents 81 percent.

People do. And the thousands of Americans working through both new organizations such as MoveToAmend. In July , just as Gallup was reporting that corruption was our number two concern, a broad coalition of these reform groups delivered to the United States Senate almost 2 million signatures demanding an amendment to overturn the Supreme Courts mistake.

And as the coalitions website, United4thePeople. No doubt there are some prominent politicians Bernie Sanders, Jamie Raskin and former politicians Russ Feingold within it, but the real heroes are the people who are never going to run for anything, and who want nothing more from this government than to have it work. People like David Cobb, John. Bonifaz, Zephyr Teachout, Jeff Clements these citizens have spend literally thousands of hours traipsing across the country, speaking to Rotary Clubs or in living rooms, to 10, or 50, or a hundred people at a time, convincing fellow citizens to join in the most difficult political struggle that our political system envisions amending the Constitution.

Their success in turn points to the most important fact about U. If you listened to the chatterati, youd think the only interesting division in American politics is between the right side and the left side. Between the GOP and the Dems. But the interesting division in American politics today is not between the left side and the right side, but between the inside and the outside. The inside, which is the politics of D. When you listen to what the inside talks about, or cares about, or deliberates or, more accurately, feigns deliberating about, and contrast it to what the outside talks about, or cares about, or deliberates about, you might be reminded of the title of the book by John Gray, at least with a slight remix: D.

Is from Mars, We Are from Earth. We care about corruption; they cant even spell the word. We want a government of integrity. They sell sponsorships of political conventions to corporations for millions. We want a government that works. They realize that the easiest way for them to fundraise to stay in power is for gridlock to become a marketable product. They are from Mars, we are from Earth, and it is time we organize to defeat these Martians. Where is Orson Wells when you need him? This is not the first time that outsiders have done this. Just over a century ago, and after more than 30 years of organizing, the Progressives in the United States finally achieved supermajority support for the idea that politics in the U.

No doubt, weve seen critical social movements since the Progressives that have focused upon much more important substantive issues the civil rights movement, the equal rights movement, and now the gay rights movement. The evolution of computer displays Ars Technica. HDMI vs. DisplayPort vs. DVI vs. VGA: Which connection to choose? Desktop LCD monitors used to use fluorescent lamp as light source.

Recently white LED has been used to reduce heat dissipation, energy consumption and also allows the monitor to be thiner. Vikings bring thier wife on expeditions. Viking women were most certainly not stay-at-home moms Ars Technica. The server register with a CA and sign its public key with the key of CA for a fee.

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