On Sunday, August 17, I had an interview on “Know Your Candidate,” a web-based program from North Carolina. We covered a wide range of subjects including education, campaign financing, and the difficulties in Ferguson, MO. My thanks to Bram Sawkowski and Barbara Dee for the opportunity to speak directly to voters around the nation.
There is a lot of work for Congress to do, but it’s understandable how in the summer Members would take a few days off. Perhaps a few weeks; more than a month …… naw.
We’ll it’s happening now. This Congress, which has passed far fewer bills than any Congress in our two hundred twenty-six year history began its recess on Friday August 1 and will not return to work until Monday, September 8.
If I am elected, I pledge myself to spend at least, and probably far more, than 40 hours a week doing the people’s business.
I’m not quite sure what my Republican opponent Ann Wagner is doing during the Congressional vacation, but each weekday I will let you know of the kind of activities in which I would be engaged if I was in Congress.
Let’s start with today, August 4, 2014.
POINT OF THE DAY:
Congress: Days at work – August – September, 2014
Return to Recess Index
Question from Molly
Like many citizens, I am concerned about the role of money in politics. I am growing disillusioned in our political process since it appears to me that nearly everyone in public office is bought and paid for by any number of special interests. It has reached a point that politicians no longer represent their constituents, but instead represent a select group of wealthy elite (aristocracy perhaps?) who sponsor them financially. It has gotten to the point that it is not possible to vote such individuals out of office, because the only alternative candidates are also (or will be upon taking office) similarly bought and paid for. The American people no longer have “informed consent” about their political candidates since big money in concert with campaign strategists have turned modern politics into a sick “reality TV” show that relies on psychological manipulating the people into seeing an extremely distorted version of “reality.” I am furthermore discouraged that this cancer in our political system is constantly and purposely being overlooked due to the use of scare tactics around hot button issues to distract people from this less “glamorous” but more important issue. Groups like Represent.Us and the Mayday “super PAC to end all super PACs” offer promising ideas for tackling this problem. What is your opinion of this problem and the proposed solutions? Is there any chance for such proposals to work without being targeted by the scare campaigns of special interests who stand to lose a considerable amount of influence if these proposals were pursued in earnest?
Response by Arthur
Molly, I think that you’ve really zeroed in on the many insidious ways in which money corrupts politics. As you say, there is no gain when we work to remove a “moneyed interest” representative from office and replace him or her with someone else who has deeply entrenched financial support.
I don’t see Congress passing meaningful campaign finance reform in the near future, and if it did, the laws would probably be struck down by SCOTUS. We have to make changes on the supply side of money rather than just the demand from politicians.
I think that we as citizens need to lead by example. If we don’t like money in politics, we need to have our actions reflect our views. We have to let political candidates know that we won’t vote for them if they are raising and spending huge amounts of money. We need to stop donating to the well-oiled machines. I have been guilty of that in the past and now curbing my behavior.
There are positive indications that money in politics isn’t worth all that it’s trumped up to be. Eric Cantor spent over five million dollars in his primary race in Virginia only to lose to a relatively unknown opponent. Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS did terribly in the 2012 election. In some districts, in some situations, money alone isn’t going to do the job. As you say, groups like Represent.Us and Mayday Super Pac are making a real difference. Clean Elections in Maine is really strong.
I think that if you and I and many others pass the word about supporting the groups that are working to limit money in politics, we will make progress. But the key is whenever possible to not vote for candidates with big moneyed interests.
Question from Donna
I’m concerned about the “revolving door” between government and private industry. For example, elected officials often leave office and take lucrative jobs in industries for which they crafted favorable legislation while in office, or Obama administration staffers leave their appointments to take well paying jobs on Wall Street. It often works the other way around, as in the case of WellPoint health insurance executive Elizabeth Fowler who left her well paying job to be a staffer for Sen. Max Baucus (at the time one of the health care sectors most heavily backed lawmakers) in order to write the Affordable Care Act. She is now back in the private sector as a lobbyist for Johnson & Johnson. Do you think there is anything we can do about the revolving door and the corruption it brings to government?
Response by Arthur:
Donna, this is such a good question. In some cases former members of Congress have to wait a year to before they can actively lobby. Actually, Larry Rhoden, a Republican running for the Senate from South Dakota, has proposed a permanent ban on lobbying by former members of Congress. This is terrific because (a) it would directly affect the issue about which you write, and (b) it is a really positive step towards addressing the situation in a bi-partisan way.
Since it is not very likely that Congress will pass the necessary legislation, it is important for non-partisan non-profit organizations to track legislators and former legislators who are going through the revolving door. That becomes effective if voters utilize this information and loudly say that they will not vote for anyone coming or going through the revolving door.
Question by Bob:
Arthur, how can Congress again become an effective advocate for the American people? Will this require a significant change in our current representatives?
Response by Arthur
- Reduce the influence of money in politics. Since both legislation and court rulings on controlling the amount of money in politics are in a stall, the best we can do is to look for candidates who voluntarily limit the amount of money that they raise and spend. This is a politically self-serving thing for me to say since I am doing it. But I think that if the American people want Congress to be a better advocate for them, they need to elect candidates who have low-budget campaigns. Fortunately the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) makes these records available for candidates, though not for PACs. There are now non-partisan non-profit groups that are working to minimize the role of money in politics, and if more people can take their advice and simply refuse to vote for highly-financed candidates, we will make progress.
- Linked to Item #1, the less time that members of Congress spend “dialing for dollars,” the more time they will have to meet with constituents who are not potential donors. That will better help them understand the issues of their district and the country.
- Since we have a bi-cameral legislature in Congress, it is difficult for legislation to pass. The Founding Fathers wanted it that way. But nowhere did they write that they wanted a filibuster in the Senate or votes in the House limited to the whims of the Speaker. If I am elected to Congress, I will do everything that I can to push for votes on any and all legislation. If what I support fails, so be it; I can live with that. If it doesn’t come to a vote, I think that democracy is being thwarted. Once the Democrats take control of the House, I will only vote for a candidate for Speaker who agrees to put all issues to a vote.
- Yes, all of this will require a significant change in our current representatives.