American Democracy 2014, part 2

The United States has the best Congress that money can buy. The funny thing about that statement is not the money, which is true, but the idea of the best Congress. The approval ratings for Congress among the polled population of the United States is in the ten’s or teen’s. If we were viewing Congress on Amazon or Zappos, we would not be clicking the “Buy” button.

Congress is not happy with themselves either. They will not sit in the same dining room with each other, nor exchange greetings in the hallway or even acknowledge the others’ existence except as caricatured villains. Why are they unhappy?

They have the same issue their constituents have – they despise the money that funds their legislative seat. Individual senators and representatives must spend hours each day raising campaign money. They must raise between $1,500 to $10,000 each day (analysts disagree on a number) to fund the ever more expensive, longer campaign season. Your legislators sit in a Democratic or a Republican campaign office just off of Capitol Hill every day trolling for money. They will spend more hours asking for money than they will spend legislating according to some commentators.

Almost everybody is unhappy with the system we have now. Almost everyone.

Our national legislators may be compared to hamsters on the wheel in a cage, a very nice cage to be sure. They have to keep going; they have to fill the campaign chest. They also have to write legislation and vote on it. People are on the other end of the phone telling the senators and the representatives how they should vote but it is usually not constituents. Constituents talk to the legislative consultants on staff. Their leadership is telling them how to vote for the sake of the party apparatus, which also needs money. Somewhere, far out there is in the field, is a press secretary telling the constituents that the representative and the senator is doing all he/she can to get it right for them.

The nature of American democracy is that there should be some money involved. People willing to put up money to fund a candidacy is a legitimate test of worth and electability. However, we are far beyond the reasonable test of money in campaigns. The extremely high bar for dollars that we have now has invalidated and corrupted what was once a worthwhile hurdle.

American democracy 2014 is the most expensive Congress that money can buy. We expect Congress to help us when it seems that we need to help them more.

American Democracy 2014

Every year I take High School students to Capitol Hill to lobby on issues of Social Justice. Watching the students engage and and argue their points with the legislative consultants in the offices is an uplifting experience. However, none of these students will be making donations to their legislator’s campaigns and that niggling fact pesters we as I walk the halls of the Canon and Rayburn buildings, especially after the Citizen’s United decision from the Supreme Court allowing corporations to make unlimited donations.

I was wrong. Citizen’s United did not change voting patterns in the U.S. Congress. The twist is that the voting patterns had already changed a dozen years earlier. A new study out of Princeton University compares opinion polls on issues and bills before congress with money spent by lobbyists in the employ of specific interests whose opinion was contrary to the constituents. The special interests won more often – a lot more often.

The radical conclusion of the new study is that the United States is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. Legislation is passed that reflects the opinions of the very wealthy and disregards the opinions of the rest of the citizens.

The study is found here:

A synopsis of the study is found here: