Gerrymandering – the Self-Inflicted Cancer

We the people

At this point in our nation’s history, Republicans are the primary practitioners of gerrymandering. In fact they have computer programs to help them carve up the electorate to a fare-thee-well. But Republicans are not the only ones wielding the knife. It has been used by both parties to give themselves an advantage for as long as the Republic has existed. Whoever is in power when the National Census is completed gets to call the shots.

Many decry this practice, especially when it is used against them or their party. But when they’re in power do they try to end this reprehensible practice? No, they turn around and do the very same thing.  And so it goes…cycle after cycle…rigging the system so that a minority of voters can elect a majority of the seats in Congress. Will it ever end?

Probably not.  Not if it’s up to the politicians themselves. They are not trying to gain power so they can set everything up right and fair, they want power so they can be the ones doing the rigging. So I’m afraid it all comes down to us. If this is going to change, it will change because we citizens rise up and say “Stop it!”

Republicans and Democrats…liberals, conservatives, and moderates…EVERYONE benefits over the long term when things are fair and equitable. That’s why the Clean Elections Amendment (Section Two) takes redistricting OUT of the hands of the politicians and puts it under the authority of the Judiciary.

I certainly understand the desire on the part of politicians to keep the status quo. There is an innate desire to feather their own nests, but I will even grant that some want an  advantage in hanging onto power because they think their ideas are the best for the country. Letting the “other party” take control would send the country down the “wrong road”.

But are we as a country best served when one party is dominant over many years? My observation is that when a party is in power too long, they get sloppy. You see members of the dominant party getting caught up in graft or scandals or any number of careless peccadilloes. Is that because that party’s ideals or policies are inherently corrupt? No, it’s because they’ve been in power too long. It’s actually healthy for the country to bounce power back and forth frequently between the two parties, to keep each other on their toes and keep them from getting too full of themselves.

Gerrymandering is a self-inflicted cancer. We need to excise it from the body politic, and the Clean Elections Amendment is just the scalpel to do it. Make sure anyone you vote for this November has promised to vote in favor of the Clean Elections Amendment!

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How dangerous is money in politics?

One of the keys to convincing people that a change is needed is to learn how destructive and unsustainable the status quo is.  If you don’t believe we have a problem, why should we change?  If you don’t believe unlimited campaign donations by corporations, unions, billionaires and lobbyists are dangerous, why would you want the Clean Elections Amendment?  Over the next several articles, I hope to show you just how ugly and anti-democratic this is, so that you can better understand why we so desperately need to demand passage of the CEA.

One illustration is in the appointment of ambassadors.  For decades, presidents of both parties have rewarded their supporters with cushy ambassadorships.  In the current administration, 23 bundlers, fundraiser and donors who collectively raised and gave over $16 million to President Obama since 2007 are now ambassadors.  This has been routine practice for both Democratic and Republican presidents for many years, but is that who we want representing us?  Shouldn’t we expect our ambassadors to be career diplomats and experts in the countries they are posted to?

Sending obviously unqualified and unprepared ambassadors to foreign posts opens us up to ridicule at best and tragedy at worst.  One example:  in January, George Tsunis, founder and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, was before a Senate confirmation hearing for his appointment as ambassador to Norway.  Tsunis is one of the country’s top donors, raising almost $1 million for the Obama campaign.  His answers to some rather basic questions about Norway has made him a laughingstock, not only here but in Norway as well.  Do we want this person speaking as the voice of America in Norway?

But this is just a small example of the many dangers of unlimited campaign contributions.  More insidious is the lack of new regulations for banks and financial institutions in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.  In the early 1930’s after the stock market crash, government passed a series of new laws regulating the financial industry so that such a crash could never again wreck our economy.  In the 1990’s many of those safeguards were repealed, notably the Glass-Steagall Act.  And sure enough, we went through the deepest recession in the past 80 years.  Wouldn’t you expect similar safeguards to be put in place now, to prevent yet another collapse?  Why would we not do that, it’s so common sense?

Because of the millions of dollars pumped into campaign coffers by those same financial institutions!  It is legalized bribery that prevents us from being able to protect ourselves from a future disaster.  Lobbyists for these big financial institutions are actually writing the laws they expect “their” politicians to vote on, to keep regulations at bay and allow them to continue to profit from unregulated transactions!  How crazy is that?

Is this the kind of world YOU want to live in?  If not, what are YOU willing to do about it?

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How much would the Clean Elections Amendment cost?

We the peopleOne of the first questions that must be answered about full federal funding of elections is, “How much would this cost?”  Common Cause, Inc., a citizen’s advocacy group, has looked into that question, and this is what they said: (http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4773849)

“Public financing will likely result in a net savings of money by reducing the waste that results from inappropriate giveaways to big campaign contributors. It can also reduce waste by allowing elected officials to focus more on running government rather than raising money. This program will only cost about $4 per voting-age citizen per year. That’s approximately 1/25 of 1% of the Federal budget, a sum that will likely be saved many times over through cleaner and more efficient government. For example, congressional “pork barrel project” earmarks have averaged over $20 billion per year for the last four years.  Approximately $70 billion to $100 billion in tax revenue is lost each year through the use of offshore tax schemes and loopholes that could be closed by Congress.  The bill for a Fair Elections system is estimated at $1 billion per year, a fraction of those totals and a bargain for accountable, responsible government.”

I believe the estimate Common Cause came up with for election funding may be a bit low, after all, in the 2012 elections, over $6 billion was spent in the congressional and presidential campaigns combined.   (http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/)  But even if we funded every race at that same bloated level, that’s still just a drop in the bucket, compared to how much taxpayer money our elected officials give away to corporations and billionaires every year.

And when you add the other benefits, such as removing the burden of non-stop fundraising from our elected officials, keeping our representatives accountable to us instead of their corporate masters, and making public office accessible to a person of average means, the Clean Elections Amendment makes perfect sense!  Don’t vote for ANY CANDIDATE this year unless they endorse the Clean Elections Amendment!

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Will YOU get on board?

YOU are the most important factor of all.  The Clean Elections Amendment doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of seeing the light of day unless YOU decide to get involved.  As I’ve already said in previous posts, no one at any level of power in the country wants this to become law.  All current officeholders of both parties got their power thanks to the donors in the current system.  They’re not looking for change.  Wealthy donors, banks, corporations, unions, and lobbyists definitely don’t want anything to change…this whole thing is perfectly rigged right now, just the way they want it!  Look for this bunch to come up with all kinds of arguments against it.  And failing that, look for them to attempt to discredit or intimidate those leading this effort.  The media doesn’t want change…where do you think all that money goes?  The lion’s share goes to pay for media time on TV and radio.  I know this first hand from my years in commercial radio…presidential elections years are when you can expect a big bonus at the end of the year.  Therefore, don’t expect media companies to give this any publicity…it would eat into their election year largess.

I personally have no money, power or influence to get this passed, or even noticed.  This may very well be a dead-end project.  My only hope in even attempting this “fool’s errand” is that people like you will see the good that this could do. ..and that people like you will be willing to share and re-post and link to our Facebook page and “follow” this blog (see the button in the lower right corner)…and do everything you can to get the word out to the people in your circle of influence.  It is ONLY when all of us ordinary people, who are sickened by the buying and selling of elections year after year, are determined to do something about it, that change will come.  If it’s just me, this is doomed.  But if you and your friends, and their friends, and their friends all band TOGETHER, only then does it stand a fighting chance.

For my part, I will keep posting reasons why America needs this amendment.  The CEA won’t cure all of the problems in our electoral system, but I believe that if the CEA is passed and implemented, it will draw the right kinds of people into office who can continue to clean up the election process until all of the problems are solved.

Will YOU help?  Do you care enough to take a stand?  If you do, send your elected representatives a notice TODAY that you, as their boss, are instructing them to vote in favor of the Clean Elections Amendment, and that if they refuse or if they ignore you, that you will withdraw your vote from their next election, and it will go to any other candidate, regardless of party, who will unequivocally support it.

Help get the word out!  Use Facebook, Twitter, and all other forms of social media to let your friends know that there is a way to get our Democracy back!  Please do all you can to see the Clean Elections Amendment through to ratification.  Thank you.

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Sick of Election Ads?

As we approach Election Day, the lunacy of our current election funding system is becoming painfully apparent. There is so much cash in the system that candidates have no problem saturating the TV and radio airwaves with vitriolic commercials, clogging up our mailboxes with junk mail, and calling us multiple times every night with robo-calls. Is this the way we want elections to be held in our country? If we do nothing, it will be even worse in 2016.

This is the logical end of the decisions by the Roberts Court to open the floodgates of money to corporations and billionaires. There are currently no limits on the amount of money they can pump into campaigns. Naturally, they want nothing in return for all these campaign contributions! They are just civic-minded citizens who only want to …oh, who are we kidding? Of course they expect something in return!

And that’s the truly diabolical part of all this. We see the effect money has on the election process, and it makes us sick. But what should make us very sick are the favors and votes and access and loopholes these donors expect once their candidates get into office. A donation of a couple of million dollars to the right campaign can yield billions in tax write-offs and favorable laws written just for them.

That’s why, even though some may complain that the Clean Elections Amendment would be a big expense in the short term, it will ultimately save the taxpayers billions of dollars! And more than that, it will free up our elected representatives to actually spend time doing their jobs instead of fundraising all the time!

But here’s an important question…how will we accomplish this? I have no money and no influence. For this idea to get any traction will require your involvement. If this makes sense to you, you need to be an advocate for this. Share this with friends and family, share it on Facebook and other social media, and let those around you know that we don’t have to take this! Our elections don’t have to be like this!

P.S. – Even though Professor Lessig doesn’t recommend public financing of elections as a specific strategy, I do recommend his TED talk as a way to understand the magnitude of the problem: http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_the_republic_we_must_reclaim?language=en#t-999467

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Objections to the Clean Elections Amendment

We the people

I’ve discovered, much to my surprise, that not everyone is reacting to the Clean Elections Amendment with universal acclaim. (OK, maybe not a big surprise.) I have tried to point out that this is not a partisan issue…both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, should find the CEA to be far superior to our current system of funding elections. I suppose it’s natural that whoever is benefitting most from this system at the present moment might be reluctant to change, but things always change…the shoe always moves to the other foot eventually. Over the long term, it’s in everyone’s best interest to change to the federal funding paradigm, so that elections are always about the character and the ideas of the candidates, rather than about who can sway the most billionaires to their side.

The most cogent argument against the CEA to date has to do with freedom of speech. Does the principle of freedom of speech extend to corporations? Does freedom of speech allow everyone to amplify their speech to the greatest extent that their money can buy? These are not trivial questions…they are at the heart of what motivated the Supreme Court to rule as they did in the Citizens United decision.

I am not a constitutional scholar, but many who are have weighed in against this decision, because they disagreed with this expansion of the meaning of freedom of speech. In our Constitution, freedom of speech is not unlimited. Exceptions include obscenity, defamation, incitement to riot, fraud, and many others. So the issues here are not clear or obvious. Five members of the Roberts court decided that free speech entitles corporations, unions, and other associations to spend money independently from political campaigns to help elect or defeat certain candidates.

Justice Stevens wrote a blistering dissent to Citizens United which argued that legal entities like corporations are not the “We the People” for whom the Constitution was established, and therefore should not be given speech protections under the First Amendment. He argued that the Court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.” He wrote: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.” Which is precisely what is happening today.

The Clean Elections Amendment is designed to correct these problems. It doesn’t discriminate against any source of funding…ALL sources except federal funds are excluded. Corporations, unions, PAC’s, non-profits, political parties, even personal wealth are all excluded from campaign funding. However, no one is prohibited from buying commercial time and campaigning for or against the issues in any given election. The only restriction is found in Section One, Point D: “Issues-based advertising by any advocacy group or political action committee shall not mention the name or use the face, voice, or likeness of any candidate.”  As long as no candidates are named, seen or heard in the commercial, outside interests can spend as much as they want. If they want to promote gun rights or gun restrictions, for example, these organizations can continue to advertise. They just can’t go after specific candidates.

Everyone is entitled free speech, period. Nothing in the amendment stops that. All it says is that billionaires, corporations and advocacy organizations can’t ENHANCE their speech, when it directly affects our electoral process, beyond the ability of everyone else through massive media buys.

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Campaign Cash = ZERO tax bill

Why do I believe unlimited campaign donations are so damaging? One major reason is because the contributions of our major corporations buy them the ability to evade taxes. Don’t believe it? Here are the top 5 companies that paid ZERO taxes in 2013, listed in order of the profit they made in 2013. Next to the profit figure is the amount they contributed to various candidates in 2013, according to the Federal Elections Commission:

  1. Verizon Communications: Profits: $19.8 billion   Total Spent: $1,425,490
  2. General Electric:                  Profits: $19.6 billion   Total Spent: $2,829,453
  3. Boeing:                                   Profits: $14.8 billion   Total Spent: $2,001,970
  4. NextEra Energy:                   Profits: $8.8 billion    Total Spent: $765,876
  5. American Electric Power:   Profits: $8.2 billion    Total Spent: $792,450

What does your common sense tell you? The amount they spent on campaign contributions surely made a difference in their ability to evade their taxes! I’m sure this is perfectly legal, and the companies made contributions to both Republicans and Democrats, so this is not a partisan issue. But is it right?1888498_638687449513400_641569814980708742_n

Do we have to just accept this? Is this one of those things we complain about but can’t do anything about? Yes we CAN do something, but it will be a long, hard battle. We can end this corporate welfare when we require Congress to pass the Clean Elections Amendment.

These abuses of the tax system will continue as long as we allow it. We can tinker around the edges or we can do major surgery and cut out the cancer infecting our nation. That cancer is the ability to garner special favors from lawmakers in return for campaign contributions. Take the money completely out of the equation, and justice, sanity and fairness will finally return to Washington.

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More Evidence That the CEA is Needed

Things keep getting worse for democracy. The Citizens United decision crippled previous campaign finance reform, the work of purging election rolls continues in many states, and now, the Supreme Court has lifted the lid on total campaign contributions in its recent McCutcheon decision. Billionaires are free to pour as much money as they want into the electoral process. Common sense (and experience) tells us this is wrong, that money buys elections (manipulation of the voters by advertising), and the money that buys winners also buys access to the levers of power and favorable laws drawn up by and for the wealthy.

The billionaires of which I spoke are already in action.  A couple of weeks ago, several of the Republican hopefuls for the nomination in 2016 trouped off to Las Vegas to try to win billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s blessing, and his  8-figure donations.  He loves the McCutcheon decision!  And he’s ready to implement the ruling by buying himself a winning presidential candidate!  I would ask my Republican friends…is this how you want your standard bearer in 2016 to be selected?  By who can befriend the most billionaires?  Or would you prefer the nomination be settled by who has the best ideas?

So how do we answer this foolish and short-sighted decision? Do we just shrug and carry on…business as usual? Do we angrily lash out in an impassioned but unfocused way? Do we propose new laws to try to correct this ruling, knowing that new election reform laws are all but doomed? OR…do we take steps to begin the long, slow, and necessary process of taking back our democracy?

I have proposed what I believe to be the ONLY possible remedy for change…the Clean Elections Amendment. It has to be a constitutional amendment, because we can very clearly see that nothing less than an amendment can stand up to the majority on the Supreme Court. And the answer can’t be simply more incremental change, like limiting donations of certain amounts from certain sources, or requiring full disclosure of all donors. It has to be a sweeping change to move all of the donors, big and small, and their agendas, out of the way. Federal funding for all federal elections is the best and, in my view, ONLY way to take back our democracy.

The only question is, do we have the guts and the tenacity to push for this change over the long term? It may take years just to get to any level of public awareness of the CEA. And if it reaches that stage, we will be in for the fight of all fights, against the most powerful people in America, who will be determined to hang onto their power at all costs.

If you see the need, and you’re ready to take action, here’s what you do. Send the text of the Clean Elections Amendment to everyone you know. Send it to any politicians at any level and see if they’re willing to champion it. Advocate for campaign finance reform on social media and in any forum you have access to.

Our forefathers decided that if they wanted democracy and self-governance, they would have to fight for it themselves.  Nobody was going to just give it to them.  At great personal sacrifice, they fought and won the democracy that has served us so well until it was undermined by big money.  Now we have to fight to get it back! I want democracy back!  Do you?

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