The United States Congress does not work for us.
Us, as in you and me.
I have come to this somber conclusion after reading enough articles, blogs, facts, and budget numbers to make an actuary cross-eyed.
And I feel more at peace now because I can say wow, that explains a lot. That explains everything.
I wont inflict blindness on you by citing every possible statistic here (I do have support for all of these, but not published here).
Heres a few:
- Starting Congressional Base Salary $174,000
- Average First Year Attorney Salary - Washington DC: $160,000
- Total Congressional Pay + Expenses (not including office expenditures): $233,000,000
- Estimated Total Campaign Funding in 2014: $1,049,000,000
The amount spent on Congress includes expenses and benefits for active members (not including pensions and other fringe benefits that cant easily be tracked).
It costs 4 times the amount the government spends on Congress to elect them to office every 2 years (6 years for Senate).
The parties have a $74 million war chest, after raising $364 million in 2013. The Super PACs raised an additional $141 million so far.
Common sense rule: you work for who pays you.
Politicians get to keep the money they raise, its cash. The campaign finance rules have enough loopholes you can drive a Brinks truck through (and they do!). A billion dollars will run through the hands of these politicians in the 2014 election cycle. This is money raised by PACs, their own organizations, but really, mostly, and under the control of, the political parties.
Theres such a web of cronies who work for the parties, for their own PACs and consultancies and committees and campaigns, that Sherlock Holmes might not be able to sort through. But one thing remains true: follow the money, and you find the bosses.
Our Congress works for the parties
The Democratic and Republican parties are the bosses of Congress. They control the money that keeps these people elected. The movers and shakers are with the parties. The front-men and women are in Congress, doing their bidding.
Not our bidding.
They throw us bones, call us constituents, play for our votes.
But they dont work for us.
This is seen in practice. Try to run for Congress. Join the local party. Go to all the meetings. Work for the party, help get out the vote. Do your part.
When you announce you are going to run, and start raising money, youll get a phone call. Theyll tell you where their money is going. Probably not to you. Theyll recommend that you dont run, why split the party, why rock the boat? Back the guy or gal were backing. If you dont, then expect nothing from us. Zero. And without us, you cant win, thats what theyll say.
And most of the time, the great majority of the time, its true.
Theres a great potential for tyranny when the officials we elect to represent us in our national legislature dont, in fact, represent us.
A radical solution
Allow me to suggest a solution. No, its not to dismantle the parties. No, its not revolution, although it might seem like one.
Its very simple.
Pay Congress what they should be making in Washington D.C., in the job we, the people, have hired them to do. Then severely limit the power of the parties to funnel all that cash.
Members of Congress and Senators make between $174,000 to $225,000 per year. Thats about what a third-year non-partner lawyer makes in Washington D.C. Partners in law firms and senior attorneys make upwards of $300,000 to $1.2 million (or more). Lets increase Congressional pay to $500,000 to $750,000 for leadership. Lets increase their expense accounts to $300,000 per member, and let them spend it on travel, clothing, whatever they need to do their jobs.
Then lets limit the amount that can be spent on campaigns. It currently costs $1.6 million to run for Congress. Thats ridiculous. It costs over $10 million to run for Senate. Preposterous. A complete waste of money, and a sinkhole fraught with corruption.
How about $500,000 maximum for a House race, and $4 million for Senate? And the Super PACs can raise whatever they want (the Supreme Court took care of that). But if they cant spend it in direct support of any candidate, their role would be limited to attack ads, and agenda-setting.
The goal is simple: attract people to Congress because its a job to be done, to serve the people who elect them, and compensate them for that.
We need to correct the grievous imbalance in money and start to disassemble the web of cronyism and corruption in election funding.
How it can be done
The only sane way to do it is to find candidates to run in districts where the parties have less control, where they are not putting a lot of money in, and get those candidates into office. Candidates who are committed to working for us, and willing to take up this effort, session by session.
Yes, the parties will resist, but if this is possible at all, it has to start with us, the people.
I am worried that it might be too late though. We might be past the point of regaining control. We might be where England is, where the parties control a slate and if you dont toe the line, they run you in a district where you are guaranteed to lose.
But its possible that we can succeed.
At least its a dream, and dreams are powerful things.