How Does Congress Deny the People’s Choice of Representation?
Congress and Special Interest Groups Deny the People’s Choice of Representation
Congresspersons aided by Special Interest Groups go to great lengths to assure reelection. Their cumulative efforts over time result in de facto control of the election process to the degree that our vote is no longer for a meaningful choice and most votes are wasted because they cannot affect any outcome. Congress has the power to remedy these problems, but it takes no effective action.
Special interest groups’ financial control of media throughout the election process advances their chosen candidates and discourages other good candidates from running. In fact, to maximize their influence in today’s electoral party races, special interest groups can often pre-select both parties’ candidates before they even announce their candidacy or create a situation where seats go uncontested. In effect, special interest groups control the slate of candidates for whom the People may vote.
Power of the Media
In 1787, our Constitution’s Founding Fathers could never have imagined today’s 500-channel 24×7 television information age and how special interests groups use it to manipulate news and influence our elected representatives and our government. They could not have foreseen Teleprompters, acting lessons, sound bites, photo opportunities, dial-group instant feedback, astroturfing (astroturfing via Internet), narrowcasting and microtargeting, and all the ways some candidates now use to become chameleons who are all things to all people, never letting their real passions and character be seen least they offend some voters. The massive mergers and loss of ownership diversity that government permits in the organizations that have first-amendment rights in order that they furnish us with the truth would have appalled them. They would have been more appalled at the professional spin doctor and political actors who manipulate news so as deliberately and repeatedly to mislead the public, eventually creating the big lies that become the perceived truth. The world beyond our immediate physical contact is increasingly becoming a virtual world, where we often cannot distinguish factual from virtual reality, truth from lies, reasonable from illogical.Starting with the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, federal candidates have communicated with us largely through this virtual world. The cliché “the medium is the massage” has become an everyday political fact of life, controlling the politicians and their messages to a degree that responsible politicians and serious voters deeply resent. “The average sound bite or block of uninterrupted speech fell from 42.3 seconds for presidential candidates in 1968 to only 9.8 seconds in 1988. In 1968 almost half of all sound bites were 40 seconds or more, compared to less than one percent in 1988.” (K. Adatto p. 25) Though it may be the only way to get media coverage and thereby to get elected, politicians loose a large part of their credibility when media does not allocate enough time to hear their case. The People simply do not know who or what to trust. Consequently, disillusion with politicians’ trustworthiness is widespread.In 1983, U.S. media was dominated by 50 substantial corporations. Today, 24 years later, these 50 companies have essentially merged into five international conglomerates (BHB p. 5). The antitrust laws, the fairness doctrine, a public voice in licensing and FCC regulation are now virtually meaningless (BHB p. 136-141). Congresspersons treat these media giants with respect, for they can make or break any politician without effort. They are amongst the most powerful special interest groups. To all intents and purposes, the these five companies now control much of what U.S. Citizens learn, or do not learn, about political candidates (BHB p. 135). Because Congress is the branch of government with the power to legislate a change in this situation, the failure to prevent this consolidation of media power belongs in large to Congress.
Gerrymandering has a parallel and additive impact. Though congressional redistricting is the responsibility of the States, special interests promoting a specific congressperson and party have a major influence on the process. In 36 states, redistricting is the responsibility of the state legislature; in seven states (AZ, HI, ID, NJ, WA and WV), redistricting is done by independent means; and seven states (AL, DE, MT, ND, SD, VT and WY) have only a single district (Wikipedia).Gerrymandering has the effect of redrawing voting boundaries so that members of the first group make their votes more effective than the votes of a second group. It wastes the second group votes artificially—thereby voiding their vote and their Article 1 Section 2 right of choice. Gerrymander works by packing opponents’ votes into redrawn districts where the opponents will already win, and by distributing the remainder into redrawn districts where opponents become a minority. It particularly favors incumbent congresspersons because they generally influence the drawing of the voting boundaries—and the effects are far from trivial. For example, if two parties have an equal number of votes, it is possible to gerrymander so that one party gets three times as many seats as the other. Sophisticated computer mapping systems, which require substantial financial support, design gerrymandering today. Consequently, special interest money is again crucial.Voters should choose which political party should be in power; instead, congresspersons, special interests and political parties choose their voters to assure their power. In the House of Representatives, about 190 seats are safe for each party, leaving only 55 seats (i.e., 13 percent) where the outcome is open.
Congressional Seniority System
The seniority system first emerged in the 1840s and became ensconced about 1910. Seniority rights, based on length of service on a committee, are customs rather than rules. Provided they are reelected by their constituents and regardless of their merit, members elected to a committee normally remain to become powerful chairpersons. Thus, Congress is inherently unrepresentative(Levinson p. 27)—the representatives of some voters are continuously more powerful than the representatives of other voters.This type of unequal vote of our representatives makes some voters more powerful than other voters for prolonged periods. Of course, temporary unequal votes are an unavoidable fact of political life; the problem is the duration of the inequality and the lack of necessity of the inequality. Though some reforms have occurred, e.g., the use of caucus and secret ballot, the inequalities remain.
Their almost-permanent reelection benefits both the congressperson and the special interest groups—especially as seniority dictates who gets the power positions in Congress. The old problem has grown hugely over time. In the first half of our republic, repeated reelection was almost inconceivable and one or two terms were the norm. From 1830 to 1850, turnover in the House averaged 51.5 percent. Today, House Representatives seeking reelection (1998) spent nearly five times more than their opponents spent and had over 98 percent reelection success rate. Subsequent re-election rates have not changed much—98 percent in 2000, 96 percent in 2002. Senate re-election rates also favor the incumbent, but not by as large a margin—90 percent in 1998, 79 percent in 2000, and 86 percent in 2002.
These effects on governance are statistically significant. The World Bank keeps data on each county’s “Voice and Accountability” indicator. “Voice and Accountability includes in it a number of indicators measuring various aspects of the political process, civil liberties, political and human rights, measuring the extent to which citizens of a country are able to participate in the selection of governments”. The United States has descended from 10th place in 1996 to 24th place in 2005. The following 14 countries have overtaken us: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Palau, Portugal, Reunion and United Kingdom. Though there are still many countries in the world below us, almost all of the original EU countries are now above us. It is worth noting here that Switzerland ranks from first to sixth, and averages fourth. Significantly, in 1891 when the Swiss used the U.S. Constitution as a federal model, they also adopted nationwide initiatives.
Thus, wealthy special interest groups, and Congress by exacerbating instead of resolving these problems of wasted votes and voter choice, deny the People’s right under Article 1 Section 2 of the constitution to choose their representatives.