“There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
Low Confidence in Government
Only 7-8% of Americans have confidence in Congress, the lowest of all government institutions measured by several of the latest polls.(1) In the current political situation, this means that the growing number of political candidates for the 2016 presidential election will have a tough time inspiring confidence that they have any answers to the country's problems.
For most of the past several decades, Americans were largely optimistic. Most parents expected their children to have a better life. Today, virtually all polls show a steep decline in optimism since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The pessimism goes beyond wealth, gender, race, region, age and ideology. Americans seem united by only one thing: lost faith in their government. (2)
John Mauldin’s Thoughts from the Frontline is one of the very few economic newsletters I always read. In his September 19, 2015 epistle, John writes, “When more Americans see widespread corruption, there is something profoundly wrong. We may not see massive demonstrations here – except at the polls.”
John Mauldin then quotes Newt Gingrich from his, The Corruption of American Freedom, originally published in the Washington Times. Some may question New Gingrich’s politics, but few will dispute his intelligence and clear thinking. (3)
This was the third column that Gingrich wrote on political corruption. In the first, he quoted the Gallup World Poll that 75% of Americans believe that corruption is widespread in government. Says Gingrich, “Given this extraordinary level of contempt for American political and administrative elites, it is no wonder that non-establishment figures like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders are gaining such traction in the presidential nominating contests.”
In his second column, Gingrich compared the American view of widespread governmental corruption with the view in other countries. He writes, “It turns out that 82 countries have a better view of their government, although many of them not by much. For example, at 74%, Brazilians’ dissatisfaction with corruption in their government has led to nationwide protests. But there are many countries where the view of government corruption is far less: Germany (38%), Canada (44%), Australia (41%), and Denmark (19%).”
In his third column, Gingrich writes that America’s founders forewarned of “political acts that corrupt a constitutional system of checks and balances and corrode representative government. They were determined to create a Republican form of government that would pit special interests against each other so that constitutional outcomes would represent the common good.”
Book: The Rise of American Political Corruption
Gingrich quotes Weekly Standard writer Jay Cost’s his new book, “A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption”. Jay Cost writes, “Political corruption is incompatible with a republican form of government. A republic strives above all else to govern for the public interest; corruption, on the other hand, occurs when government sacrifices the interests of everybody for the sake of a few.” (4)
Jay Cost describes the vicious cycle that erodes public faith in government. When people stop believing that anything can be done to keep the government in line, they stop paying attention, or maybe cease participating altogether. They begin to hope that non-politicians can purge political corruption by coming from outside the system.
Campaign finance laws are supposed to preserve the integrity of elections and protect politics from corruption. The rules governing the use of money in politics were already in bad shape when the Supreme Court exacerbated the problems with their 2010 Citizens United decision that gave corporations the same rights as people to spend money in elections.
The new law led to the rise of independent political committees that support political candidates with unrestricted, often anonymous, donations. These groups, now known as Super-PACs, are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts because they are supposedly independent. They can't contribute directly to a candidate, but they can run favorable ads about a candidate – or negative ones about the candidate's opponent. Most of the ads sponsored by super-PACs are negative and take considerable liberties. (5)
Super-PACs spent $374 million on the presidential campaign during the 2012 cycle. As of September 22, 2015, 1,159 groups organized as Super-PACs have reported total receipts of over $300 million and total independent expenditures of over $20 million. It’s worth noting that this is only the start of the 2016 election cycle.
In the past, the top 1% of donors contributed more than 60% of the funds. It’s clear that a few super-rich individuals are using their wealth to influence American politics.
Today’s politicians cannot keep up with the increasingly complex social and legal context and rely heavily on a huge numbers of lobbyists, policy institutes and well-organized partisans.
Since the 1970s in the US, lobbying activity has grown immensely. A 2014 report suggests that lobbying activity is increasing and "going underground" as lobbyists use "increasingly sophisticated strategies" to obscure their activity. It is estimated that the actual number of working lobbyists is close to 100,000 and that the industry brings in $9 billion annually. (6)
The core of the corrupting influence that has evolved is that too many politicians view their position in congress as a launch pad for a job as a lobbyist, with a potential salary increase of significantly more than 10 times. For many, that is the real prize.
Under the Constitution, members of the United States Senate may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives may serve an unlimited number of two-year terms.
Since Congress would be unlikely to propose and adopt any amendment that limits its own power, other means will be required to institute a change. Some argue that term limitations would create an entire congress with little experience and would not allow enough time to get things done. The most common argument against term limits is that elected officials in the House and Senate must face their constituents every two years or every six years in any case to get their approval for re-election. (7)
Political Corruption Solutions
There are three primary solutions to the problem of corrupt politicians: Term-limits for all politicians; disallowing politicians from joining lobbyist groups after leaving office; overturn the Supreme Count’s Citizens United decision.
Few political issues unite Americans more than congressional term limits. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 75% of Americans support limiting the number of terms that politicians can serve. (10)
Current law allows senators to become lobbyists two years after leaving office, while House members only have to wait for a year. But a bill introduced in 2014 would, if passed, institute a lifetime ban on lobbying for lawmakers. Congress has typically not enacted ethics or lobbying reform legislation unless a major scandal adds momentum, so this bill is not expected to receive legislative action. But, who knows – perhaps when a non-politician is elected as President, things will start to change. (11)
Surveys show that a large majority of American citizens across the political spectrum oppose the decision to allow unlimited political spending. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has openly expressed regret over the court's 2010 decision, "I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be." She says that it is the one decision she would overrule if she could. (12)Citizens United
An amendment to the US Constitution is necessary to overturn this law. Americans have previously used the amendment process six times to overturn the Supreme Court.(13) This can and should be done again.
Ongoing Election Debacle
For the 2016 presidential election, from the current field of more than a dozen Republican candidates, the top 3 are not professional politicians. On the Democratic side, the ardent socialist Bernie Sanders has avoided big donors and Super-PACs, and he is leading in some places. (8)
All the others candidates are career politicians. Jeb Bush is already known to have more than $ 100 million direct Super-PAC backing. Hillary Clinton is next at $ 20 million, and all the others have growing patronage. (9)
Americans are tired of the status quo and want decisive change. How else can anyone explain the Donald Trump phenomenon? The billionaire real-estate developer and reality-TV star, has surged to a commanding lead in the Republican nominating contest using anti-Washington rhetoric and showman’s flair. One of his major talking points is that he has his own money and does not need to kowtow to donors. He points out blatantly that Super-PACs dominate all his opponents. No one corrects his statements.
Undoubtedly, there is something different going on. It remains to be seen how far this current revolution will go. The 2016 election cycle will surely change something.
An overwhelming number of Americans are frustrated with the abuses of the political ruling class: incumbent politicians, lobbyists, the elite media, big business, big banks, big unions, lobbyists and big special interests. They agree that the political system is broken and needs to be fixed.
Revolution comes through the ballot box. The message for political elites today is much the same as it was when America was founded in 1776: politicians ignore the people's contempt at their own risk.
Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.
- Are you tired of American politics? Is it getting worse? Will it get better?
- Will you cast your vote in the next presidential election? Or will you abstain?
- In the 2016 presidential election, do you support any one candidate? Do you support a politician, or non-politician?
- Will you vote for Donald Trump? Does he have a chance of winning the Republican nomination? Could he possibly become President? If he did, what would be your response?
- Do you support term-limits for all politicians?
- Do you think that politicians should be barred from ever becoming lobbyists?
- Would you support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited Super-PAC funding of political campaigns?
- Do you have any other ideas to help re-vitalize American politics.
- Public Trust in Government -1958-2014: http://goo.gl/EH2uyg
- Americans Have Lost Confidence ... in Everything: http://goo.gl/671Dtj
- Newt Gingrich - The corruption of American freedom: http://goo.gl/H9TDSD
- Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption: http://goo.gl/5gco5h
- Super PACs Explained: http://goo.gl/tb8l9u
- Congress Relies on Lobbyists Instead of Thinking for Itself: http://goo.gl/kRPsqk
- The Term Limit Debate: http://goo.gl/pvsxjo
- Super PACs Dominate 2016 Republican TV Ads: http://goo.gl/o17Tca
- Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning the Money Race: http://goo.gl/S53ODt
- Term Limits - The Only Way to Clean Up Congress: http://goo.gl/Q2ovu1
- We Urgently Need Congressional Term Limits: http://goo.gl/wlI9uG
- When the Supreme Court is this wrong, it’s time to overrule them: http://goo.gl/uPE1JP
- The Citizens United Decision Was Wrong: http://goo.gl/xFvLIo
23 September 2015