Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Member of Congress admits to pandering to the rich

A few days ago, published a very intriguing piece on the perspective of an unidentified Member of Congress. While it would be nice (I'm always curious about things like this) to know who wrote it, there can be great value in protecting the person's identity. A candid perspective, in this case, validates piercing insights from outside observers.

I offer excerpts from the column and reflect on them below.
I am a member of Congress. I'm not going to tell you from where, or from which party. But I serve, and I am honored to serve. I serve with good people (and some less good ones), and we try to do our best.
It's a frustrating, even disillusioning job. The public pretty much hates us. Congress polls lower than Richard Nixon during Watergate, traffic jams, or the Canadian alt-rock band Nickelback. So the public knows something is wrong. But they often don't know exactly what is wrong. [...]
Wouldn't it be nice if we could get our representatives to be this candid without fear? But this also highlights the importance of privacy in American society.
Congress listens best to money
It is more lucrative to pander to big donors than to regular citizens. Campaigns are so expensive that the average member needs a million-dollar war chest every two years and spends 50 percent to 75 percent of their term in office raising money. Think about that. You're paying us to do a job, and we're spending that time you're paying us asking rich people and corporations to give us money so we can run ads convincing you to keep paying us to do this job. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and corporations are people, the mega-rich have been handed free loudspeakers. Their voices, even out-of-state voices, are drowning out the desperate whispers of ordinary Americans. (emphasis added) [...]
 That damned filthy lucre!
Almost everyone in Congress loves gerrymandering
Without crooked districts, most members of Congress probably would not have been elected. According to the Cook Political Report, only about 90 of the 435 seats in Congress are "swing" seats that can be won by either political party. In other words, 345 seats are safe Republican or Democratic seats. Both parties like it that way. So that's what elections are like today: rather than the voters choosing us, we choose the voters. The only threat a lot of us incumbents face is in the primaries, where someone even more extreme than we are can turn out the vote among an even smaller, more self-selected group of partisans. [...]
I'm an unashamed Democrat but not before being an egalitarian populist. We'll get better government to the degree we have competitive districts for both Congress and state legislatures. That's why I'm passionate about Independent Redistricting. How remarkable is it that an insider is willing to admit that he prefers being able to choose his own voters?

This goes to the recent news out of Ohio that Speaker John Boehner successfully "encouraged" that state's legislative leaders -- who have been working on redistricting reform -- to NOT include Congressional districts in that reform effort.
Congress is a stepping-stone to lobbying
Congress is no longer a destination but a journey. Committee assignments are mainly valuable as part of the interview process for a far more lucrative job as a K Street lobbyist. You are considered na├»ve if you are not currying favor with wealthy corporations under your jurisdiction. It's become routine to see members of Congress drop their seat in Congress like a hot rock when a particularly lush vacancy opens up. The revolving door is spinning every day. Special interests deplete Congress of its best talent. [...]
The idea of spending half your life begging rich people you don't know for money turns off all reasonable, self-respecting people. That, plus lower pay than a first-year graduate of a top law school, means that Congress, like most federal agencies, is not attracting the best and the brightest in America.
Congress is still necessary to save America, and cynics aren't helping
Discouragement is for wimps. We aren't going to change the Constitution, so we need to make the system we have work. We are still, despite our shortcomings, the most successful experiment in self-government in history. Our greatest strength is our ability to bounce back from mistakes like we are making today. Get over your nostalgia: Congress has never been more than a sausage factory. The point here isn't to make us something we're not. The point is to get us to make sausage again. But for that to happen, the people have to rise up and demand better.
As to the claim that we're not going to change the Constitution, I disagree emphatically. Of course, for THAT to happen, the PEOPLE will in fact have to RISE UP and demand better. The problem is not simply electing better people. If we do not change the system, the best people we can get will still end up in the vicious cycle of pandering and fundraising described in the article.

In addition to amending the Constitution to limit the plutocratic influence of corporations and the rich, we must institute public funding of Congressional campaigns.

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