The first step is to determine if Problems of special interests'
excessive control over the U.S. Congress are
so critical that they warrant a major effort to solve them.
present, only Congress
has the legislative authority partially to solve these Problems.
would potentially lead to limits on congresspersons' perquisites and
reduce the advantages of wealthy
special interests group contributors. Inevitably,
avoids taking meaningful, loophole-free,
Founding Fathers could not foresee
the persuasive powers of today's media age and its huge costs.
have now created Problems far beyond the scope of our current system of constitutional
checks and balances, which clearly need updating.
Therefore, this discussion is not a condemnation either of special
interest groups, which
have the first Amendment right to petition the Government, or of
Congress, whose members must accept large contributions for successful
reelection campaigns. With some inevitable exceptions, all parties discussed below
are acting legally, because the un-amended Constitution cannot take care of the imbalances that have arisen.
Nevertheless, the fundamental concepts of our republic are defined
in the Preamble of the Constitution—it should be a government of we
the people that promotes the general welfare. To promote special
interests over the people is dysfunctional.
many of our representatives initially run for office with the best
intentions of working diligently for the People. Once seated, freshmen find that
they can achieve nothing without the support of longer-serving
members and a willingness to trade favors for that support. Many of these older members have become very powerful
because, for example, they have:
Inherited power as
senior committee members or chairpersons
Built and are familiar
with a system of complex and self-serving rules
The ability to
influence allocation of special interests' contributions to
quid-pro-quo favor-exchange network
The ability to
influence budget allocations
freshman members usually decide that achieving something for their
constituents is better than achieving nothing, so they yield to the
pressure of other members. As time goes by they accept that these are
the rules by which they must play or they must leave their vocation.
Believing (perhaps correctly) that they can juggle this moral
dilemma game better than most, they decide to stay and abide by the
rules, making the best of the system that they cannot change, and
later completing the cycle as an older member.
Normally, no laws are
broken—but then, Congress currently makes all the laws and sets its
own rules without any enforceable oversight. Since almost everyone in Congress eventually joins the game,
the game is the norm and no longer appears as a moral issue. Despite
all these obstacles, the system does produce some good for the
People, though less than in the past and much less than is possible.
Eventually, most congresspersons do not want to modify the system because
it is their way of life. They have succumbed gradually to the trappings of
power and prestige that few can resist. As a result,
institutionalized the Problems; they cannot and will not solve them.
Evidently, a deep constitutional vacuum has
caught Congress and special interests, which they are collectively unable to
change. They must work as best
until the Problems are solved for them by the only ones who can wield
the power to change things—the People through their States.
Ultimately, it is the
initial responsibility to wield their power since we are the
Moreover, it is the People's moral responsibility to regulate the
temptations to which we expose those we elect—as, for example, we would hold a
business to be grossly negligent if it persistently exposes its
employees to inappropriate temptations. Special interest groups and congresspersons are subject to
their situation and their human nature—their collective behavior cannot change of its own accord.
If, out of apathy we should fail to accept this responsibility,
have met the enemy and they is us". Even worse, we impose the legacy of an
intergenerational tyranny of debt and failure on our children
and grandchildren, making them the principal victims of our
congressional office is hugely expensive in today's costly media
age and there is every reason to believe that the costs will continue to
increase in the future. Candidates must raise extremely large campaign financing. The result
is that many of our elected representatives have a
conflict of interests in
promoting the general well-being of the people.
Instead, a wide range of wealthy special interests groups
decides whom to finance that they may become candidates. Once
elected, both the candidate and the special interests try to assure continual
The special interest groups
and those they represent expect a
good return on their political
investments. If they did not receive these returns, they would not make the
excessive special interest influence is a serious and urgent Problem.
It is not "business as usual". It has created a dysfunctional
congress. The problem grows daily and will
become irreversible if we do nothing.
Our government ordained by the People
is fast becoming a permanent ruling
class of representatives who are controlled by
special interest money with the Media to
manage the Peoples' votes—in effect a
As media's power to influence elections and election campaign
costs grow ever greater, the likelihood that we will
our Republican form of Government
is very real.
We urgently need
before we reach the point of no return—if
we cannot solve the Problems then we have past the point of no return.
Some examples of the
many and varied
ways in which excessive influence
by special interests causes government to become dysfunctional and to harm us are:
Waste and Inefficiency
in 2005, $2
trillion over the next five years,
being lost to
government waste and
pork barrel projects. For example:
Congress is unwilling
to adopt rules or propose a constitutional Amendment preventing
unrelated and/or last minute amendments to bills—amounting to $27.3
billion for 13,997
pork barrel projects in fiscal 2005.
Congress is unwilling to propose a constitutional
reintroduce an effective form of the
line item veto.
90 percent of State Governors endorse and
percent of the States use this cost-effective approach to
Encourage Excessive Lobbying
Special interests make
massive contributions to buy media to help ensure election of their Candidates.
finance Washington lobbyists to represent them to Government.
special interests have always
influenced our government (as is their right under
Amendment I) only in recent times have they been able to use
powerful and expensive media. Congresspersons are taking the
political maxim "reward your
friends and punish your enemies" to new extremes.
Disclosures of filings by lobbyists are available
from the US Senate. In 2004, there
34,785 registered lobbyists—65 lobbyists per congressperson. This is an increase of 113 percent since 2000, when there
16,342 lobbyists. Many of the lobbyists are ex-congresspersons—from
1998 to 2004,
of departing congresspersons became lobbyists. The increasing
numbers of lobbyists and related financial expenditures give special
interests tremendous influence over the People's representatives. These
lobbyists would not retain jobs if they were not producing important results and
leveraging the profits for their employers.
Of course, there are not enough elected representatives to meet with all
these lobbyists. What generally happens is that elected
representatives open the doors for lobbyists to meet with government staff. It is in
such meetings that the details
are incorporated, leading eventually to congressional legislation and
appropriations. Moreover, there are such bewildering quantities
of specialized details that the lobbyists often get the wording that their
special-interest employers want without much critical scrutiny. If and when
any of the public-interest watch-dog organizations or news media find out
what has happened it is usually too late for news-worthy comment, much less
to stop or reverse the action. It should be
noted that not all lobbying is problematical—government needs ready access to outside
specialist knowledge—the problem today is that lobbying has become abusive
as a result of its excesses.
In 2004, the federal lobbying budget was
$2.1 billion. Special interest groups are sophisticated and clever. They expect an
excellent return on their investment. Obviously, they are getting it; they
would never make these huge and increasing investments without
benefit. Generally, lobbying expenditures come out of
capital or profits. Corporate profits are a small fraction of
income—typically about 8 percent. Thus, the amount of value received from all
this lobbying must be worth over $25 billion of business just to cover the known
lobbying expenses. For the profit to be worth the effort, the actual value
must be many times greater—over a hundred billion dollars.
As a result,
is placing wealthy special interest's interests ahead of the People's interests. This
is dysfunctional and creates
many harmful Problems for the People. Wealthy special interest benefits generated by
lobbying is in part derived from the documented
hundreds of billions of dollars
in waste, inefficiency, inappropriate use of funds, and
imposed on the States and Cities.
Thus, by exacerbating instead of resolving these problems,
Congress denies the People their
right under the Preamble to the Constitution that Government must promote
the general welfare (well-being and happiness) of the People.
Deny the People Their Right to Choose
Congresspersons go to great lengths to be re-elected. 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
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.
In 1787, our Constitution’s Founding Fathers could never have
imagined today’s 500-channel 24x7 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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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,
1891 when the Swiss used the
U.S. Constitution as a federal model, they also adopted nationwide
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 Article1 Section 2 of the
constitution to choose their representatives.
Act Against the People on Social, Ethical
and Legal Issues
act against the Peoples’ interests on vital long-term social, ethical and legal
issues. For example:
allowed special interest groups
increasingly to filter and manipulate news
information—and thereby their excessive influence over
our government. This is part of a trend to ignore monopoly
laws. For most of the last century, these laws were the People's assurance that
our capitalist system
would remain competitive and efficient.
are available in other countries at international pharmaceutical prices
but not in the U.S. Moreover, congressional legislation
the federal government from negotiating the prices of
drugs supplied through Medicare.
In both cases, the congressional legislation ignores American free-market anti-monopoly ideals.
Congress is unwilling to propose
a constitutional Amendment setting
term limits that would prevent
their own almost-permanent
reelection. In January 1997,
a proposed Constitutional Amendment set House and Senate limits
of 12 years each, for a combined total of 24 years in Congress. However, it failed
to get the necessary support to pass. Public opinion is strongly in favor of congressional term
Many States have term limits for their State legislators.
States set term limits for their congressional representatives. However,
in 1995, the Supreme Court's five-to-four decision (U.S. Term Limits v.
Thornton) determined that states do not have the authority to limit the
terms of their Congresspersons.
In the absence of an Amendment,
limit their terms. Less than two dozen congresspersons chose
National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) found that self-limiters
proposed budget cuts
of about $15 billion annually. On the other hand,
non-self-limiters with the same seniority proposed average
over $15 billion. Furthermore, the eleven longest-serving
congresspersons proposed increases of
nearly $60 billion
a year. Though these data are not statistically conclusive, they are
Under the influence of special interest and political obligations, the
Congress has come to focus excessively on short-term issues, expediency
and party politics. As a consequence, Congress inadequately addresses
its long-term leadership responsibility to ensure that government comply
with the Constitution.
As the top legislative branch of Government in the nation, Congress sets
moral and ethical example for the nation. Congressional failures are
publicized and apparent to every person and organization in the U.S. By
their tolerance of excessive influence in high places,
Congress encourages a decline in moral and ethical standards
cascading throughout government, business and the nation. There is no way to evaluate the
financial and moral costs of this decline, but many
Citizens believe them to be pervasive and appalling.
Increasingly, the companies that employ us are the same specials
interests that control us through their surrogates—our elected
representatives. The flat playing fields needed for an effective
capitalist system yield to competition by paid political influence. We
know that some of this is inevitable, that it has always happened, that
it is part of our human nature, but today it is far worse and growing.
Without adequate adjustment to our system of checks and balances,
special interests' control of government steadily transforms the U.S.
into a surrogate plutocracy
and, if their power consolidates over time, perhaps a form of
Creates Hidden and Unfunded Debt on Our
huge government overspending in
financial obligations unilaterally imposed on the States, Cities and in debts upon our
children. For example:
(National Conference of State Legislatures)
identified at least
$29 billion of cost shifts that require state
expenditures for federally mandated programs
A typical family of four owes
national debt of $104,000
that the government has borrowed in their names. Their
family's national debt
increased by $8,000 in 2004 (debt
increase was $595 billion and
about 295 million).
Apply Policies that Harm the People,
Favor of Top Executives and International Special Interests
interests help send our middle class into decline. Export of jobs to
pay and boost corporate profit—2.7 million
manufacturing jobs lost
from 2000 through 2003—will continue if
unresolved. Many major U.S. corporations have now become multi-national, so they
look for the lowest costs and the
nationality of their employees does
not affect them significantly. Their special interest groups and lobbyists have a
multi-national rather than U.S. agenda.
Between 1978 and 2005,
CEO pay increased
from 35 times to nearly 262
times the average worker’s pay. In contrast, men who were in
their thirties in 1974 had
median incomes of about $40,000, while men of the same age in 2004 had
median incomes of about $35,000 (adjusted for inflation). On average,
income of men is 12 percent lower
today than income in their fathers’ generation. These recent U.S. Census
data contradict the
every generation will be better off than their parents.
Instead, our current
standards of living require multi-worker families.
An increasing income gap between rich and poor tends to destabilizing
society. These economic issues are serious enough to cause U.S.
chairperson Bernanke to issue a warning on
the increasing social inequality.
Prior to 1980,
economic productivity and median family income grew at the same
rate—meaning that government policies fairly shared the benefits of growth
between the rich and the average Citizen. However, since 1980 the policies
have constrained the average Citizen's benefit to about 25 percent while
U.S. productivity gains were 80 percent. The trends have accelerated since
2000; income has dropped by about two percent while productivity gains have
increased by about fifteen percent. (Economic
U.S. government policies now send
the benefits of U.S. productivity gains to the wealthiest Citizens and
Corporations, whose special interest groups and lobbyists have been very
Fails to Consider Critical Long-Term Issues
Congressional planning is primarily concerned with short-term issues, often
political re-election cycles. However, we live in a time when
changes are occurring over one or more decades. Such issues are often
global and difficult to solve politically, though they will have profound
affects for all Americans whose much-loved decedents may live perhaps 30 to
60 years into the future.
Domestic examples are social security and health care, which periodically
become political-spin issues of considerable obscurity without progress to
long-term solution. Global examples are
consumption in critical areas that already exceed stable resources and
climate change that compounds the problems. Some examples are depletion of
fresh water and fossil fuels, soil exhaustion, deforestation, and fish
depletion. Globalization enables less developed countries to under-cut the
U.S. in some areas. Long-term policy will have to
respond either by proactive planning that can control some consequences or
by last-minute reaction with potentially disastrous results. Four credible
authors and a website of references present disturbing analyses:
Diamond explains future scenarios by looking at the reasons for the
historical collapses of civilizations,
Homer-Dixon analyses the
stresses causing changes
and their effects on our society,
presents an evaluation of possible catastrophic changes, and
that solutions to some long-term
problems are uneconomical and that some less obvious solutions can be
Heinberg explains the potential
timing of the intersection between growing population and declining oil
A web site of general references is
available on the Internet.
These add weight to the critical need for
long-term planning and for very tough decisions—the type of decisions that
politicians cannot face because they will probably lose votes (not to
mention their opportunities to isolate themselves from the problems by their
wealth), but decisions that the people can make because they realize that
not making them only causes the problems to get worse. Based on information
in the above references, there are several "perfect storms" that will hit us
hard in the next decade or two. For example:
In the U.S., the
"perfect collision" of:
A growing elderly
population, especially when the baby-boomers retire, have Social Security
entitlements owed by the government but paid from current tax revenues.
medical costs as life-extending medical technology improves.
as increasing deficits, national debt, and inevitable inflation take their
In the entire
world, the "perfect collision" of:
(Party's Over p90) is
peaking or will peak in a few years time and decline thereafter.
expectations and growing income in developing countries (e.g., China and
India, with over a third of the world's population) demand increasing
per-capita consumption of everything.
The majority of
scientists now agree that global warming
will disrupt economies, eventually changing food production and flooding highly populated costal areas.
now 6.65 billion
and growing (more slowly) at about 1.2% per annum. Many scholars believe
that today's population is more than
twice (Party's Over
p30, Population) the long-term, steady-state level.
problems looming over our future, now is not the time for our government
to procrastinate or to squander our resources.
People need the right of an effective voice
in these long-term policy issues and decisions. Viability of the
economy is the corner stone of our prosperity. However, when short-term-profit motivated industries excessively influence our elected
representatives, we cannot rely on Congress to make balanced decisions for
critical long-term issues.
Morris and Aileen McGann, in their 2007 book "Outrage",
estimate that the total wastage cost is at least 369 billion dollars
per year and climbing. This is consistent with the grand total of earlier estimates by the
authors, most of which are discussed above.
Our nation can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring
these huge Problems. Though we expect our elected representatives to heed our
concerns, they cannot for the following reasons:
A candidate's media image has become the primary
factor in winning an election in this information age.
consumes two-thirds of election
funds. Only wealthy special
interest groups have the
discretionary money to fund political campaigns in today's political environment.
their members own the news media that
profoundly influence the elections. Thus, without special interest
support, the Congressional candidates who might be willing and able to solve the Problems
almost inevitably lose their elections.
No matter how much congresspersons may wish to serve the People, when the reward
for attempting to correct the Problems is to lose their special interests
support, and consequently their next election (including their congressional power and perquisites) it is no wonder that the
Congress cannot solve the Problems.
Moreover, neither the
Executive nor the judicial branches of Government have any power to solve these
congressional Problems—our present Constitutional system of checks and balances
find the Problems intractable.
America has repeatedly been said to have the best political system in the world
despite its imperfections—an ideal that congresspersons and wealthy special
interest groups reiterate in the
hope that the People will ignore current Problems. Since independence,
America has outperformed all others
for two centuries. During this period, some politically instigated waste has
been inevitable. Nevertheless,
it has never been great enough to undermine America's success.
However, convergence of unprecedented special interest influence and the
astonishingly persuasive power of today's media technology have created a
government by and for the special
interests rather than by and for the People. Never before in U.S. history have the consequences for our nation been so great and so damaging.
Our nation's and our children's futures are bleak if we take no action.
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