Ending PAC and Corporate donations to political parties and election campaigns is the first step to solving Washington’s problems and returning the government to the people. Candidates from both political parties agree that “Washington is broken.” At left is an image of Mitt Romney saying this on his campaign tour. President Obama made similar statements when he was running. There are many systemic viruses in the U.S. government that need fixing. Many unprincipled laws and constitutional amendments have been passed since the U.S. founding. However, people work for those who pay them, and currently our political parties and platforms are funded by special interests and not average citizens. Reforms that change this funding stream are necessary to return the U.S. government to its citizens.
Neither political party has the incentive to promote these needed changes because they would be dramatically reduced in size if they did. Elections would involve less advertising dollars, and large advertising firms and media conglomerates would suffer from the loss of advertising. They do not have an incentive to promote the needed changes. The large labor union PACs that control the Democratic Party and the large corporations that fund the Republican Party do not have the incentive to reform the government because they profit from the present system at taxpayer expense. Both sides say they need to raise more money because the other side has more. This mirrors the legislation that broke Washington in the first place.
What has taken place is exactly what George Washington warned against in his Farewell Address:
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts [e.g. a political party] can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. [emphasis mine] They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Washington understood that groups of people would organize, pool their resources together, and espouse rhetoric that purported to be in the common interest in an effort to usurp the reins of government. This has taken place. Not only are political parties coalitions of interests, but the entire legislative process has been subverted so that bills can be passed by combining them into large multi-purpose bills that support several special interests that have nothing in common except the desire to get taxpayer funding for their personal projects.
I have addressed this problem of combined legislation in a previous blog post. When I wrote the earlier post, I called ending combined legislation the first step toward fixing Washington, but upon reflection, that might be the second step, with the first step bring to an end the funding of political campaigns “by projects of faction.” Ultimately, the role of government is to provide rule of law, not funding for special interests. The present campaign contribution system promotes oligarchy and legalized theft.
If we want a government of the people, then those who hold political office must work for the people. However, when those who hold the reins of power are paid for by special interests, they will profit at the expense of the people.
Immanuel Kant was famous for his categorical (moral) imperative, in which he stated that we must treat other people as ends in themselves, not as a means to our own or another’s ends. This dictum to treat others as an end-in-themselves is the underlying basis for viewing other people as having inherent rights and protections. This was the basic premise of the Constitutional Convention that George Washington chaired.
However, when a “citizen” becomes a “voter,” he is transformed from being an end-in-himself to a means to a party’s end. When a “citizen” becomes a “consumer,” he becomes a means to the end of the producer. When a “citizen” becomes a “viewer,” he becomes a means to the end of the television station. When a statistician gets involved and combines data on individual behaviors or preferences, the result of the analysis is depersonalized and is sold to people who would use the results for their own ends. Large-scale society, by its bureaucratic nature, is unable to treat citizens as ends-in-themselves.
The existence of two large Political Parties are a symptom of what is wrong with America. They present themsleves to us as “father” and “mother,” with the Republicans saying they stand for hard work, sound moral principles, and a solid economy that will create jobs. They promote self-sufficiency. The Democrats claim to care for those who are not self-sufficient, those who need to be raised, educated, or helped in some way. That is the rhetoric of the parties that Washington said “may now and then answer popular ends.” However, if you want to know the real ends, then follow the money. You will find that it flows from “citizen” to special interests.
Now, many of the special interests that exist are not wrong to exist in the cultural or economic spheres. Evil comes on the scene when government force is used to make citizens pay for things that they do not assent to. This is what eventually happens when large financial contributions are allowed to political parties and political campaigns. You will find Pfizer, Cargill, or Goldman Sachs professing to support a free market, but ending up making billions as a result of government laws that protect them from genuine competition. You will find Democrats saying they support the middle class, but their idea of a middle class is those who receive government jobs and pensions that has turned the traditional middle class into a lower class. Follow the money.
Would it be so bad if every citizen was limited to a $100 personal contribution to a political campaign, and all PAC and Corporate donations made illegal and disqualified candidates who took them? Personally, I don’t think so. Rather than producing advertisements filled with biased rhetoric and aimed at uneducated voters, and viewing political conventions as staged pageants, the candidates would be forced to spend their time in real interviews and group discussions with citizens. Then when citizens went to the polls, they would know how the candidates had answered their questions, rather than the slogans someone prepared for them.
Reforming the election campaign process to once again become a bottom-up process is necessary if we are to have representatives that represent the people. If the citizens, not the interest groups, pay for low-budget grassroots political campaigns, they will get candidates that represent them. If we continue the top-down funding process that sets the agenda of special interests before that citizens as two options on a menu, we will get—and have gotten—a government of the special interests at the expense of the people.