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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The US political system is corrupt - but maybe we can fix it

   
Author Topic: The US political system is corrupt - but maybe we can fix it
Lyrhawn
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TED Talk by Lawrence Lessig

So how would you solve it?

I've seen some interesting ideas out there, and for the moment, this is what I'm thinking. The problem is threefold: Regular people simply don't have the money to compete with the megafunders, the media is the battleground where these battles are fought but getting a ticket into the fight is incredibly expensive, megafunders have unequal access to the system.

Solutions:

1. Vouchers for every American citizen. Every American citizen of voting age gets $2,500 to spend in presidential election years, and maybe $1,000 to spend in Midterm years. They can also spend up to $2,500 of their own money, as the law currently allows. This money would go directly to a campaign, and cannot go to a PAC or SuperPAC. That puts a couple hundred billion into play. Chump change, right?

2. The US government has held that the airwaves are PUBLIC airwaves. We allow private corporations to control them, but have never relinquished the belief and more importantly the legal principle that the airwaves are the public domain. So, for official campaigns, airtime will now be dramatically cheaper. This will allow them to get more bang for their buck. Now they will have to actually cater to individual citizens, and in return for the money they get, they will get cheaper air time to purchase with, which makes that couple hundred billion go much, much further.

3. The other half of that coin is that there will be a new tax on anyone outside of an official election campaign who tries to buy airtime. If a PAC wants to buy a TV ad, the cost is going way up. This heavy tax will attempt to dissuade the use of this kind of money, and the tax collected will go to fund the public voucher system.

Of course, this is an end run in many ways around Citizens United. The ideal solution would be to pass constitutional amendment or get SCOTUS to reverse itself, but that doesn't seem likely, so we need something more creative.

Now, even if we ONLY did this reform for Congressional campaigns and not presidential ones, this of how it would alter an election.

The average Congressional campaign winner spent $1.4 million in 2008. The average Senate winner, $8.5 million. The average congressional district (this varies widely by state of course, some of the small population states bend this curve quite a bit) has 700,000 people! That means only two dollars from each person would trump all that lobbyist and secret donation money the average congressman gets. Imagine if we gave them a thousand dollars to play with in a midterm election cycle. It would mean congressmen wouldn't have to look twice at lobbyists, because the big money would be with the people. It would also mean more candidates. With such a low barrier to access for House elections, and that much money in play, we could have a dozen well-funded candidates. Money would no longer be an issue, and parties would no longer be gatekeepers to government office.

We've played around with the idea of publicly funded elections before, but a voucher system takes all the decisions out of the hands of candidates or government and puts it in the hands of the people. Instead of Obama hemming and hawing over whether to use public funds or private funds and having to choose the fuller cookie jar, we give the money to the people to choose, and then we put up a wall to try to keep secret money out.

Thoughts?

(Edit to add: Okay, I might have gotten my math dramatically off there. Scale down the free money considerably to something more practical. Maybe $200 per person).

[ April 07, 2013, 05:32 PM: Message edited by: Lyrhawn ]

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Elison R. Salazar
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I feel doubling the size of Congress to reduce the power of lobbyists would be a good start.

Or Mixed Member Proportional, I don't think publicly funded elections would make much of a dent before its co opted in some way or legislated out of existence.

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Lyrhawn
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Doubling the size of congress just means more people to feed lobbyist money to. Until you put that power back into the hands of the people, that doesn't matter.

And we could make it the new third rail. Anyone who attacks publicly funded elections means attacking the power of the people.

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Elison R. Salazar
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On the other hand it also means that the system is less prone to being gerrymandered; additionally it means "bought votes" have correspondingly less bang for your buck.

I don't think Lobbyists can promise executive positions and a hefty retirement fund for over 100 new individuals versus the one or two they needed in the past.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Elison R. Salazar:
I don't think Lobbyists can promise executive positions and a hefty retirement fund for over 100 new individuals versus the one or two they needed in the past.

You don't think corporations across america couldn't afford as much indolent kickbacks to a mere 100 more people?
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Elison R. Salazar
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Doesn't address the point regarding Gerrymandering; nor does it address the inherent point that it makes it more expensive for less result.
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Lyrhawn
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Actually, the cost of buying congressmen in a smaller district would probably stay either the same or decrease. The thing is, you wouldn't even need to buy 100 congressmen. I mean you could, but you only need to buy maybe 60 to keep the status quo. And for how cheap congressional elections are to multi-billion dollar companies, you're talking about a rounding error in their stationery budget. It simply isn't the barrier you think it is.

And I also don't see how it would affect gerrymandering. The basic principle remains.

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Tittles
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This is an excellent plan except for the part where it has to be voted for and implemented by the people who are benefitting from the current system.
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Lyrhawn
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Well, is there any solution at all which changes the status quo that they WOULD vote for?

At least this one injects more money into the system which they could conceivably benefit from.

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Elison R. Salazar
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Democrats I imagine might support MMP as it benefits them, obviously Republicans would oppose it for the (true!) reasons that it would pack the House with Democrats.

So Republicans won't back any reform because they know they can't get elected based on "popular support" and Dems won't because they're spineless.

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Darth_Mauve
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Supply and demand folks.

You increase the supply of politicians (Congressmen) you decrease the value of each of their votes-the result being that all the congressmen are cheaper. Congratulations, you've just saved the corporations big bucks in their quests to buy legislation.

Meanwhile the honest statesmen, who won't be bribed, are faced with the new phrase, "If you don't take our cash there are now plenty of new congressmen who will."

More importantly, my vote is my limited influence on any given elected official. Double the number of elected officials in Washington and you've halved the power of my one vote. (Actually not quite halved. My vote will become doubly important to my congressman, because there are fewer people voting in his smaller district, but his influence will be halved, and 1/100000 of 1 is stronger than 2/100000 of 1/2.)

So the power of the individual voter shrinks while the cost to the lobbyist remains about the same. Not a solution--just another problem.

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stilesbn
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quote:
Originally posted by Darth_Mauve:
Supply and demand folks.

You increase the supply of politicians (Congressmen) you decrease the value of each of their votes-the result being that all the congressmen are cheaper. Congratulations, you've just saved the corporations big bucks in their quests to buy legislation.

I think you are misapplying the economics here. The marginal value decreases yes, but that doesn't mean the total cost decreases. While it the total cost to corporations still remains a drop in the bucket it would in no way save them money. That just doesn't follow.
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Lyrhawn
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Regardless of whether or not the plan itself is politically viable (because I think we can all agree that ANY plan is probably DOA given the climate in Washington), what do you all thing of the viability of the OP? If implemented, would it work?
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stilesbn
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It seems to me that it would then turn into a campaign to get donations before the campaign season started. Your scenario would play out well for people like you who follow politics and know who is running but before a campaign season starts I wouldn't have a clue who I would want to send my voucher to.

So would there be a pre-campaign season campaign?

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Lyrhawn
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See that's the problem, there's ALREADY a pre-campaign season, they're called primaries! But very, very few people actually show up for them. I know they tend to drag on and on and on on TV (and they do), but studies still show that the average voter tends not to tune into an election until the last couple weeks, but by then, most of the decisions are already made for them.

Campaigns are constantly in motion because people are constantly looking for cash. Congressmen have to raise like $50K a month every month to have enough for their next election.

People need to get more involved in the process, but I think they don't because they feel they have no power to do so. If we gave them all power in the form of these vouchers, then candidates would flock to earn their votes. It would create much more of an interactive process.

Right now you are an afterthought. Candidates don't care about you because you don't have any money, and you don't care about them because you feel like you don't have any control. That's no way to run a democracy.

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stilesbn
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So in order to get these vouchers you need to make it through the primaries. In order to make it through the primaries you need to run an expensive campaign. So you need to be rich already...
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theamazeeaz
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I feel like we could save a lot of money if campaigns were restricted in time. Perhaps if the primaries were compressed into a period of five weeks instead of five months.
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Samprimary
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All my lofty ideas for restructuring the system to avoid corruption and keeping the system moving forward all pretty much have to do with providing for proportional assurances in democracy.

Things that would help, in order of viability:

- ending the electoral college
- eliminating gerrymandering
- complete transparency in campaign financing
- campaign finance limits per individual
- mandatory voting
- removing the Senate entirely


Some of these are hilariously made to be partisan issues.

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Lyrhawn
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stilesbn -

Not necessarily. What if you canvassed a few neighborhoods with volunteers and drummed up a few thousand dollars of support that way? You stop by, engage people directly, tell them who you are, that you need their support, and explain how to use their voucher money to support you. Then move on to the next house. Normally this would be more or less fruitless because it would depend on them voting for you weeks or months later, and that's hard to hold onto. But if they donate immediately, it fills your coffers.

Besides, running in a primary for a congressional campaign doesn't have near the barriers to access that it does for the presidency.

I was thinking the money would be split to some degree between the primaries and generals.

theamazeeaz -

I tend to agree, but then, I'm in favor of doing an end run around the two-party system in general. I don't think a five month primary serves anyway, though in reality it's usually only two months. Anything after Super Tuesday is usually a victory lap.

Sam -

Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed, I'm not sure about that, and I tend to disagree.

The senate needs to be heavily, incredibly, fundamentally reformed. But I'm not sure it needs to be eliminated. The problem, I guess, is that it's really lost its original purpose. It was supposed to the the chamber of Congress with the smart, qualified, best and brightest, which is why the Framers didn't trust the regular common folk with the duty of electing people to it. But now they ARE directly elected, which means the only function they serve is to give undue power to tiny or unpopulated states.

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Samprimary
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And therein lies the issue. We don't really do better WITH it than we do without it; the two house system now just generally contributes to lockup of the legislative body, to which the nation seems to have organically responded to by an expansion of the executive.

If we're talking about all sorts of solutions no matter the likelihood of them getting pulled off, chucking the senate out there goes in, so that a bogus exercise of a roadblock house of congress where wyoming's half a million population has the exact same amount of voting power as California's thirty eight million is removed.

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Samprimary
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As for mandatory voting: it flat-out wouldn't fly without a constitutional amendment, but everywhere where it has been implemented the TERRIBLE SAD NO GOOD STATE COERCION has not turned out the horrible effects of this TERRIBLE SADNESS OF ANTI-LIBERTY and has been, in general, a good idea, which now the vast vast majority of aussies (over 80% iirc?) approve of.
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Lyrhawn
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Getting rid of the Senate would require a Constitutional amendment as well.

At least mine is only an impossible act of Congress. Yours is an impossible act of Congress, the White House and 3/4ths of the states. [Smile]

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Samprimary
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let's start with stabbing the horrid practice of gerrymandering to death first, and time will do the rest.
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Lyrhawn
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That one we're at least making progress on. Lots of states are adopting non-partisan commissions with smashing success. We just need more states to pick up the practice.
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Juxtapose
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Rather than chuck the Senate, I would see it merged with the House.
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Lyrhawn
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How would that work? You just make all senators into congressmen, so every state gets at least 3 Reps, regardless of size?

That's an interesting way to keep the concept alive while streamlining the process. All states get 2 representatives automatically, and the rest are apportioned by population.

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Juxtapose
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Yeah, basically. As you've noted, the Senate gives undue power to the rural states. I think merging the houses would limit that effect without rendering those states utterly powerless.
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Samprimary
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If it was that "the senate gives undue power to the rural states" then you would need a compelling argument why a person living in a rural state should be categorically granted more representation in the senate.

But it isn't even a rural/urban divide. Rural californians are just as dicked in this scenario. People living in a ten story apartment complex in Providence are just as over-represented as a wyoming corn farmer. Multiple factors go into it.

And on top of that I really am not convinced that people should get more voting power because they live in an area where there's more acres per capita available to them. The idea is rooted in anachronistic mores. It's functionally useless. If we were designing a system from the ground up in the modern world the idea would not even be remotely considered.

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Elison R. Salazar
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When internet voting and edemocracy becomes A Thing, then we'll need the concept of a "Senate" to act as a brake on silly populism.

Heck right now the Senate (being state wide and thus can't be Gerrymandered) in the US is keeping the House from dismantling the State.

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Lyrhawn
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I think you're confusing process with structure. America isn't a direct democracy, and I doubt it ever will be, no matter what tools are available.
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Elison R. Salazar
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They are analogous situations.
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Lyrhawn
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No, they aren't. Internet voting might make it possible for people to vote directly from their homes, but other than possibly increasing participation rates, it doesn't change anything concrete about how decisions are made or the structure of government. It just changes the process.

I think changing the process that was is important, but it doesn't mean people will start suggesting and passing legislation, as you seem to be implying.

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Tittles
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The Senate and the electoral college exist because the US is a republic, right? The feds are supposed to have accountability to the states, all of them, even the little or underpopulated ones.

If we're saying republicanism is outdated and doesn't work in todays world, I could maybe see that. But is that what we really want?

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Lyrhawn
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Well, I'll grant you the point that that's part of why the Senate was set up the way it was originally, but they lost that power as soon as we changed the rules to allow direct elections. Senators are beholden to individual voters (and corporate sponsors), not state legislatures like they were originally intended to be.

The electoral college is an anachronistic mess. If you look at the argument made about why we needed it when it was first invented, NONE of them apply.

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Tittles
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Would it really hurt so much if we went back to having Senators be selected by state legislatures? The states have given up a lot of power to the federal government in the last century. Why not at least give them a bigger hand in selecting the people who tell them what to do?
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Lyrhawn
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The states didn't give up that power to the federal government, they gave it up to the people.

Good luck clawing it back.

I think it would have positives and negatives. On the one hand it might mean a return of the Senate to an honest to goodness body of superior individuals not incumbent on placating the masses. But in a 21st century reality? More backroom politicking and corruption. I wouldn't trust the state legislatures.

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Tittles
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You're probably right. Still, though, the process is full of backroom politicking and corruption now, without the potential upside that you mentioned. So why not, in theory? I know the amendment wouldn't get overturned, in reality.

At the very least, the Senate should not be abolished. When the federal government comes knocking on your door to say, "Hey, we're just going to bury this toxic nuclear waste over here," people living in small or underpopulated states should have an effective way to say no. Representation in the federal government being determined purely through population takes away one of the last remaining ways.

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Parkour
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nuclear waste always ends up in low population states anyway.
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Lyrhawn
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Well, most of it ends up buried on site, rather than trucked across the country to low population areas.

I'm all in favor of protecting the rural folks from being run roughshod over. I'm not in favor of them having undue influence over the rest of us on totally unrelated matters though.

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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Well, most of it ends up buried on site, rather than trucked across the country to low population areas.

I'm all in favor of protecting the rural folks from being run roughshod over. I'm not in favor of them having undue influence over the rest of us on totally unrelated matters though.

Sometimes rural people don't even know what they need. Senators of rural states should be demanding better rural internet access, and their constituents should be clamoring for it, as well. However, the senators are either

1. bought off by AT&T, Verizon, etc.
2. too elderly/conservative to trust the internet

to do THEIR job, and their rural constituents are simply too damned uneducated/ignorant, elderly, and/or conservative to do theirs.

Better,cheaper internet access is one of the MOST important things that rural areas need, but I'd guess it's going to be at least 5-8 years, and probably more like 15, before internet access in most rural areas is barely adequate, in terms of price and quality.

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Lyrhawn
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Maybe not that bad. Funds are still circulating from a rather large investment Obama pushed for under ARRA.
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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Maybe not that bad. Funds are still circulating from a rather large investment Obama pushed for under ARRA.

Oh no. I've gotten my hopes up with lightsquared, Sprint's 4g, etc., and I refuse to be optimistic about this anymore. I will believe it when I see it. [Smile]
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