How to change DC's culture of corruption
Restricting gym access by former house members. That is supposed to change the culture of corruption that pervades Washington, DC? Excuse me?
We need to go a bit deeper.
Who pays the piper ... If elected officials have to raise hundreds of thousands to run for election or re-election, where will they turn? To people with money--people who need something in return.
If we want them to be accountable to "we the people," we are better off if they turn to us, the citizens, for their funding. Arizona and Maine are two states that have achieved impressive gains through clean election funding. Because ordinary people are funding the elections, politicians can focus their time on meeting our needs, rather than those of large corporations and the small sector of extremely wealthy individuals.
Electronic town meetings But why has it become so expensive to run for office? In large part, it is the cost of running television and radio ads, and those ads have become unavoidable in the larger races.
So here's an idea that election reform activists talk about. Since we are letting the broadcast stations use our airwaves (they belong to the public) and allowing cable companies to use our rights-of-way for stringing their cables (they belong to the public, too), why not require them to give us time to run our elections. They could simply set aside time during the campaign season for the candidates to speak directly to the voters.
Imagine--if people could run for office for a fraction of the current cost, we might have candidates who run in order to make a contribution to society, and who represent the diversity of means and interests that makes up this country. The United States might start functioning as a democracy again.
Democracy relies on distributed power and distributed wealth ... and transparency Even if we did all that, any country that has huge gaps in wealth, will find those who control the wealth have an un-due influence on decision making. After all, corporate executives have the means to make lawmakers very well off, even if the payoff doesn't come until after the lawmaker leaves office. And the investment of a few thousand or a few million can produce payoffs orders of magnitude larger in the form of contracts and sweetheart regulatory deals.
Wealth concentrates power and power concentrates wealth. Concentrated power corrupts.
The only proven way to prevent corruption over the long-term is to distribute power broadly and transparently. The participatory budgeting process in Porto Alegre and other cities in Brazil is an example of how this can work.
Regaining our democracy will take more than a few token restrictions on perks for lawmakers past and present. It can be done, but only if "we the people" insist on it.