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January 18, 2006


best of all, no more incentive to do appalling things like let members of industry actually draft legislation in exchange for contributions.

the money would go to all the ostensibly independent advocacy groups (ex. MoveOn, SBVT) which would then work for their favorite candidate - indirectly, if need be. the candidate would, of course, know where the money for all that advocacy came from and would still be obligated (as they are now) to vote in ways that keep the money flowing.

This idea has a lot of appeal although it's obvious there are many issues to iron out.

One major problem is the 527 issue. Free speech means I will always be able to say, "I think George Bush should be elected." Presumably I can also go out in the town square with a megaphone and say I think George Bush should be elected. And then I'll want to run newspaper or TV ads saying I think George Bush should be elected. And then I'll want to accept donations from like-minded people who also think George Bush should be elected and want me to help get word out. And so on...

I wish.

Free speech means I will always be able to say, "I think George Bush should be elected."

True. OTOH, if finding any connection between the supposedly-independent groups and the incumbent (or the challenger) was sufficient to make the incumbent lose their seat or the challenger lose the election, then all sides would be eagerly looking out for connections. The Swifties, for example, were clearly linked to George W. Bush's electoral campaign, by money and by expertise.

With any luck, that might leave genuinely independent grassroots groups.

Some very creative thinking here, but one issue: I'm not seeing the connection between these proposed campaign finance reforms (which I like... a lot) and the $238,000 raise. They don't seem in any way connected. Not that I would necessarily oppose $400K per year for Congresspeople, I just don't see what one has to do with t'other.

By the way, hilzoy appears to be back...and with a vengeance.

Yay. We missed you.

xanax: I think the idea is that the combination of higher wages and no time spent fundraising will entice lawmakers to vote for it, as well as convincing any of them who are wondering how they will survive without e.g. free meals and skyboxes that somehow they will manage.

I like it. I like it bunches.

Gotta get rid of the 527 stuff, too, though.

You can't pass a law that unseats elected representatives. Didn't one of the Adam Clayton Powells litigate this forever?

Thanks, hil. 'Bout what I figured after thinking a second. Poor congresspeople... they'd surely need an extra $238-Large each year to cover their own lunches and golf.

(xanax holds his nose a bit) I'd still support it.

Uh, what happens in a race where there's no incumbent? No matching funds?

Am I allowed to publically say "Vote for Candidate X"?

Am I allowed to pay for a car to drive around the nation and say vote for X?

Am I allowed to pay to support my own website that says "Vote for Candidate X"?

Am I allowed to pay to support Gary Farber's website which says "Vote for Candidate X"?

Am I allowed to pay to support the ACLU's website which says "Vote for Candidate X"?

And what about primaries? The incumbent could have a shill run against him in a primary, have his corporate backers donate to the shill, and then have that money in his war chest for the general election.

And how do you handle more than one challenger? If there is a Dem and an Ind running against you, do you get 80% of their combined total? Again, it's possible to run a shill independent and reap the benefit.

I love it. Wonderful. Not a snowballs chance in hell of passing, but a wonderful plan anyway.

So, does the Socialist/Nazi/Warrior Women of the Lone Frontier Party candidate get a check when running against an incumbent who funds his own campaign, too? If so, I suspect the number of new parties will increase exponentially, with the majority of "candidates" looking for a nice big check at Uncle Sam's expense.

Oh, and constitutionally, either House of Congress can expel a member with a two-thirds majority. It couldn't be forced on them, but refusal to so vote when someone is caught red-handed could certainly be made a campaign issue.

M. Scott: If so, I suspect the number of new parties will increase exponentially, with the majority of "candidates" looking for a nice big check at Uncle Sam's expense.

Wouldn't it be great if the number of new parties did increase? The US has been locked into the two-party system, one right of center, one far-right, for far too long.

Again, it's possible to run a shill independent and reap the benefit.

i was thinking that too. but there's a huge risk of getting caught in a scheme like that. and it would take a $eriou$ly dedicated $hill to $pend that much time and energy $o that $omeone el$e can win.

it would take $ome kind of enticing incentive to convince $omeone to participate in $uch a $cheme.

it might leave a trail of $ome kind.

Jes: "The US has been locked into the two-party system, one right of center, one far-right, for far too long."

You're confused, it's one left of center, one far-left. Much too much freedom here by world standards.

JeS--Wouldn't it be great if the number of new parties did increase? The US has been locked into the two-party system, one right of center, one far-right, for far too long.

It might be wonderful, but without changes in the electoral system the results would largely be the same given federalism, current districts, and first-past-the-post. Those in and of themselves will entrench two parties around a collective political center (even if that center is currently right of the international center). The institutional rules don't reward anything else.

M. Scott: I think the usual solution to problems like this is to require some demonstration that you're a serious candidate -- say, by getting a reasonable number of $5 contributions -- before you get to participate. (Also, before those contributions get credited to your opponents.)

As has been pointed out, the family members of candidates might get some huge "coincidental" gifts under this scheme...

If we just appointed our Leaders for life, they wouldn't need to go to the cattle for support (money, votes, etc), and they could operate as uncorruptable Philosopher Kings. Damn civilians, polluting the purity of government with their grubby fingers.

Wouldn't it be great if the number of new parties did increase? The US has been locked into the two-party system, one right of center, one far-right, for far too long.

My heavens, yes! Lord knows I've always lusted after the awesome electoral stability of, say, Italy or Israel. IIRC, the Italian government fell once because Oliver North sneezed at an inappropriate moment--or something like that.

Thanks, but I'll take the two party system--warts and all--as opposed to seeing taxpayer dollars--or actual Congressional seats--go to "The Female Circumcision Party."

awesome electoral stability of, say, Italy or Israel

I think (rather non PC this) that it might have just a wee bit to do with the actual Italians and Israelis themselves rather than a symptom of multiparty system. Japan is supposed to have a multi party system, yet has an oppressive amount of political stability.

Despite the ostensible benefits, I am wary of attempting to sell -- particularly to Democrats and/or liberals, for whom the growing income equity gap and issues like CEO pay loom large -- a 150% pay raise for men and women of whom many are already independently wealthy.

We technically already have a multi-party system--with a "winner-take all" system that tends to prevent the fragile coalitions we see in countries that use proportional representation. If one party became dominant here, the other previously major party might well dissolve into a bunch of little squabbling parties that could manage to elect a few representatives here and there--but they would eventually recombine into a new second major party (perhaps with some defectors from the dominant party). As long as winner take all exists in the US, there will always be a tendency for two major parties to dominate all others, with only the form of each being in question.

The division of the executive and the legislative also adds a bit of stability to the mix--even if Congress were to become a multiparty institution prone to cataclysmic falls of governing coalitions, the Presidency would be unaffected--and might even be stronger than it is under the current system. Definitely something to consider for those who like the idea of Congress being run by multi-party coalitions as is the case in Israel.

Why do these idiots need a pay raise? I don't care if people think it might make the system more fair, I am as strongly opposed as I can be to seeing a menace to the Republic like Tom Delay buy yard signs with my money. Are they really trying to argue that Congressmen are corrupt because they're too poor? In that case, shouldn't wealthier Representatives be much less corrupt than comparatively poorer ones? This doesn't really seem to be the case.

Also, the ban on gifts seems either unenforceable or ridiculously extreme. So someone in Congress can't attend a lunch or event that they don't pay for? If a postage stamp is too much, can they accept thank you cards? Apparently this means that someone could be booted from Congress if they have a burger at a barbecue held by their constituents. Wouldn't this keep them from doing things like going to local potlucks or whatever where they actually are in contact with people in their districts and instead leave them in their Washington offices?

What about independent groups? If I'm an incumbent and my opponent raises very little money but the airwaves in my district are filled ads calling me a pedophile that are funded by groups that cannot be legally connected to the other candidate, apparently I just have to hope some other independent group on my side steps in for me. This independence is a farce. I thought we all hated the swift boat ads last time around and wished that instead ads were being run by campaigns so that the candidates would be accountable for the horrible things said in their names.

The corruption from the current Republican congress isn't the result of Tom Delay sitting around thinking about all the great golf he'll be able to play if he works with Jack Abramoff, it's from the ruthless desire to stay in power at all costs. A pay raise isn't going to change that attitude whatsoever, and people will find ways around these rules (as in the pathetic failure of McCain-Feingold to reduce the money spent in the 2004 election). Dealing with Gerrymandering seems like a much better way to increase the competitiveness of Congressional elections.

M. Scott: If so, I suspect the number of new parties will increase exponentially, with the majority of "candidates" looking for a nice big check at Uncle Sam's expense

Well a simple rule that a candidate has to get at least 1-2% of the vote or else they would have to pay back Uncle Sam's money -- or even paying a symbolic fine -- would be enough to eliminate those "candidates".

There is some merit to the idea but being an eternal pessimist, I would just quote a certain spoof movie tagline: "Greed is a Force of Habit."

May be what we need is term limits for the legislature.

rilkefan: You're confused, it's one left of center, one far-left.

You might be able to make a case for that if you considered every government in the world on a sliding scale from left to right, but in no way could you argue that this is the case within the US. Anyone left of centre politically in the US has no political representation at Congressional level, and hasn't had for decades: they're stuck voting for a right-of-center party as the lesser of two weevils.

So people who are already making more than 90% of their fellow citizens must be bribed to do the bare minimum of their jobs, as if they were wretched Russian policemen or Mexican customs agents or Nigerian bureaucrats not getting paid a pittance on a regular basis?

And this is the wonderful plan, to bribe our leaders to do their jobs by quadrupling their pay and putting them in the top 5%--?

I have another plan. A la lanterne - not literally, as I am opposed to capital punishment (although I wouldn't have many tears for these corrupt minions) but ban the taking of bribes and favours, and then to prison with any who violate it, and when they get out let them be forever banned from participating in politics above the rank of dogcatcher; and replace them with honest women and men who will not demand to be made potentates and plutocratic princes for the "privilege" of corrupting judgment.

But what else to be expected from such greedy losers as Carville and Begala of the dubious least, it's to their own social class, 'tis clear, and not to us Proles!

This is yet another opportunity to flog my reform package, which no one online ever likes:

1. Make Congressional salaries are the average salary in the U.S. They can just deal with it. The lesson being taught here is: if you want to get rich, stay out of Washington. Today it is not that way.

2. Any business or organization that donates to a congressional campaign can not do any business with the Government. This eliminates tons of corruption which is currently legal.

3. No organization or business with a formerly elected official as an Executive or on it's Board of Directors can gain a contract with the Government. This prevents the long-term favors that are doled out: give us a contract, Mr. Representative, and we'll give you a cushy job when you leave office.

4. No Congressperson is allowed to serve on a committee who received money from organizations or businesses, or their officers, that are regulated by that committee. So if you want to serve on the Energy committee you better make damn sure you don't take money from Energy companies.

5. I will add the "can't receive anything of value except from family" policy as well, as I like it. That family members are not allowed to be bribed by lobbyists goes without saying.

6. Make attempts/conspiracies to get around these restrictions a criminal Federal offense for both lobbyists and representatives - with jail time. Every politicians political enemies will be keeping an eye on them constantly for the opportunity to put them behind bars and have a scandal - which means that nearly everyone will be rightly scared enough not to try to get around it.

There you have it. No restrictions of individuals and organizations from spending money - only restriction of how the Government goes about its business. Not a perfect solution, but a significant improvement, if I do say so myself.

Hey, Jonas -- I like your plan.

I like Carville & Begala's plan too.


Thanks for the vote of confidence! I'd like Carville & Begala's plan more if it didn't subsidize campaigns with tax dollars.

Hope your stay on Fantasy Island was nice, Hil. Do we get a postcard?

Oddly I find myself agreeing with Charles here. We don't need a new campaign finace reform plan. What the Republican Corruption Machine is doing is already illegal. Thats why there are inditements.

What we need is to make sure that the media know that this is entirely a Republican scandal. And that all the Republicans are guilty.

ope your stay on Fantasy Island was nice

My feeling is that casting out these admittedly fantasy plans is a necessary step to moving public opinion to countenance doing something. After all, this is what the Republicans did with their 'Contract with America'. The number of ideas that were cast about that were so obviously unworkable and would have had incredibly bad ramifications were PR to get people to vote throw the bums out. Fantasize on, hilzoy, I'm with ya all the way and just to prove it, I would suggest that we reconstitute Abscam and make it a permanent part of the government. One talking head noted that they stopped Abscam not because they caught everyone, but because it was too successful. Keep the same rules, but make it so that the politicians never know if they are being stung or not.

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