General, Political Reform, Politics

For the People or the Elite?

“If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need to make our political representatives more quickly and sensitively responsive to the people whose servants they are. More direct action by the people in their own affairs under proper safeguards is vitally necessary… It is particularly important that all monies received or expanded for campaign purposes should be publicly accounted for not only after election, but before election as well. Political action must be made simpler, easier, and free or from confusion for every citizen.”     

This quotation from Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech about the need for electoral reform is as urgently relevant as it was in 1910.   It neatly summarized the goals such a reform should have:

  • The reduction of the influence of special interest money and power
  • Increasing voter participation, while also
  • Creating more confidence in the electoral process and outcomes
  • Strengthening ethics and conflicts of interest rules for political leaders

The Senate will soon be considering a package of political and electoral reforms called the For the People Act (HR 1) passed on a party-line vote by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.  It is a massive mash-up of changes in election law in the following areas:

  • Voter Registration and Rights
  • Election Integrity and security
  • Campaign Finance Transparency
  • Lobbying Regulations
  • Ethics Reform

The bill contains some necessary changes to achieve the four goals mentioned above. However, it also contains provisions that would actually reduce confidence in our democratic institutions and potentially increase the influence of foreign money and special interests. I will highlight the good, bad and ugly provisions over the next few posts. The ugliness of some of the changes will require significant amendments to the bill for it to achieve TR’s vision.

Unfortunately, I have to lead with one of it ugliest failings – the bill’s length.  It is an 886-page legislative monstrosity whose length and complex mandates makes any thoughtful consideration of its effects very difficult. While biased in favor of the bill, the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU Law School provides a good annotated description of all of the bill’s changes. Ironically, it also illustrates why such an omnibus bill was unnecessary because the descriptions under each title refer to previous bills or current laws that address related issues.  It shows how the bill could easily be broken down to a series of  amendments to past reforms. Instead, the Senate must consider changes to the most fundamental democratic rights we have in a process of legislative chaos. It is chaotic because many changes have a knock-on effect on the rest of them.

At the very least, the Senate should resist the siren call of liberal globalists to vote on the bill without first sending it to committee for open hearings and the consideration of necessary amendments. A bi-partisan bill could then be crafted or it could be broken up into a series of bills. It would also be an opportunity to educate the public about the underlying issues and thus insure that one of TR’s primary goals of increasing confidence in the electoral system is achieved.

There is no question that our political system is broken and needs reform. However, a bill that lacks legitimacy and reasonable input from the American people will automatically be doomed to failure.  My next post will concentrate on those provisions of the bill that enact true reforms, primarily regarding campaign finance and governmental ethics.

2020 Election, Politics

An American Nationalist Voting Index – Draining the Swamp

This is part of a series examining the issues in the presidential election. To see other articles in the series, click on the “2020 Elections” link on the Home page

Score

Biden 0 Trump -1

Trumps victory in 2016 was powered by a call to “drain the swamp” in Washington, which never consisted simply of campaign reform.  It sought to end the kind of cancer described by Roosevelt – the control of government by a privileged few that subverts the very nature of democracy itself.  We also now know it means different things to different groups.  In this campaign, the call for reform has focused on not just campaign reform, but also on federal administrative and policing changes.  

Campaign Finance Reform

The Citizens United decision and our loophole-riddle campaign finance laws have loosed a flood of money whose origins are opaque and very probably illegal. Democrats introduced a bill that would plug some of those loopholes.  It attempts to limit the impact of Citizens United by requiring disclosure of donations of more than $10,000 from certain non-profits that were previously exempt. It cracks down on digital ad spending on social media platforms by requiring the same kind of disclosure of the source of ads required for television and radio commercials.  The bill also attempts to limit the use of social media for the kind of election interference we saw from the Russians in 2016 by banning campaign contributions from corporations with significant foreign ownership. Finally, it also prevents foreign individuals from purchasing social media ads.  Former Vice President Biden has endorsed these proposals and President Trump opposes them. This earns Biden a +1 and Trump a -1.

However, there is a sleeper issue in campaign finance that has been ignored by both candidates.   If you are like me, your e-mail box has been deluged by appeals for campaign contributions from any number of candidates and partisan political action committees.  They seek contributions of as little as five dollars by simple completion of a form on the Internet and a charge via PayPal or by credit card. While the identity of the donors must be disclosed, there are no rules requiring the verification of their identities.  A former Kansas attorney general recently issued an analysis of the contributions to the ActBlue independent committee’s which raised over $900 million for Democratic candidates.  It showed how ActBlue has gamed the campaign finance system so that the true sources of their contributions is almost impossible to determine. This makes it easy for large donors to break up their contributions or foreign donors to hide theirs.   If Biden or President Trump are really interested in controlling dark money, this loophole must be plugged as well.

Federal Administrative Law Reform

The failure of Congress to address a pressing issue has now become an excuse for forcing action through administrative rulemakings.  As I mentioned in my post on the US Supreme Courts’ s opinion on the DACA rulemaking, current law makes it difficult to control an executive agency’s impulse to fill this perceived gap. This essentially creates a fourth branch of government whose inner workings are known and accessible to only a few.

Federal executive power needs to be reined in through new legislation that

  • Limits agency rulemaking to discrete subjects narrowly delegated to the agency;
  • Prohibit agency action if its impact on the economy or the number of people affected exceeds certain thresholds;
  • Allows more opportunity to challenge a agency ruling and repeal it.

The DACA and Clean Power Plan rules of the Obama Administration show that Vice President Biden is a likely opponent of such reforms.  Meanwhile, Trump has relied on and touted his executive power instead of pursuing legislation to prevent a future president from abusing those powers. President Biden’s’ implied approval of current agency power results in a -1 for him on this issue while Trump deserves only a 0.

Law Enforcement Reform

The death of George Floyd and other African-Americans at the hands of the police and the FBI abuses of the FISA warrant system revealed in the Russia investigation  has highlighted another swamp that needs to be drained – the excessive and unchecked power of law enforcement.  As mentioned in this post, policing reforms must be based not only reducing qualified immunity and other changes in tactics, but also a top-to-bottom review of our law enforcement strategy.

Former Vice President Biden supports proposals to reform police tactics, but never mentions the need for increased funding for the police necessary to do their job of maintaining order in our communities. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration’s acquiescence at the least, and encouragement at worst, of the FBI’s FISA abuses does not inspire any confidence that he would support reform in this area.  These two positions cancel each other out and earn him a zero on this subject. While the Trump Administration is vigorously pursuing the FBI abuses via the John Durham investigation, the President has ignored, and at times demagogued, the police brutality issue, Again, the two positions cancel each other out and thus he also deserves only a zero.

Conclusion

It is truly discouraging that neither candidate shares Roosevelt’s level of concern about the perilous state of American democracy and civil rights. Trump’s failures are particularly galling since his 2016 campaign featured the issue.  It is up to American nationalists to press these issues with congressional candidates and in future elections.