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writing for godot

The Gilded Age

Written by Walter Hecht   
Saturday, 29 December 2012 01:55
In The Gilded Age by Mark Twain, Congressmen sold their votes for cash, stock and property. Corruption in the current Congress takes different forms. It is difficult to tell whether the current Congress is more or less corrupt than those of the original Gilded Age (we are living in the second Gilded Age). In Mark Twain's day, US Senators were elected by state legislatures and therefore were more easily bought. Some on the Right want to repeal the 17th amendment that enacted the direct election of Senators by the people. That would be a bad idea, IMHO.

Corruption in Washington today is fostered by campaign contributions and the swarms of lobbyists who sometimes get their way by promising lucrative jobs after Congressional terms end. These are the five main lobbying groups that influence Congress to disregard the will of the people who elect them, listed in no particular order:

Wall Street
Military/industrial complex
Big oil/gas

I believe that there are two things we can do to reduce corruption in Washington and to return the control of our legislators to the voters who elect them. First, we must get campaign cash out of the picture. I would do that with public financing of campaigns. All candidates would be required to submit petitions to be placed on the ballot, the number of signatures to be some fraction of the registered voters in the district or state. Challengers would receive more campaign funds than incumbents because incumbents usually have an advantage in name recognition. This would a good first step, but it would not be sufficient as long as Washington is overrun with lobbyists; voters lack lobbyists of their own. This is how I suggest changing that.

As a start, I would limit the number of lobbyists allowed to lobby government in Washington to 1000. I would divide that number into two parts, commercial lobbyists numbering 750 and public service lobbyists numbering 250. Each one would require a lobbying license to be heard in Congress. Public service lobbying licenses would be free and awarded by lottery. Good for one year and non-transferable, anyone could apply, but only individuals and true charities would qualify. No PACs posing as non-profits allowed.

Commercial lobbying licenses would be sold at auction to the highest bidders. Also valid for twelve months and non-transferable. If the average price of a lobbying license were $50 million, then the US Treasury would collect $37.5 billion in revenue each year from individuals and companies wanting to lobby government. Purchasers of licenses would be in the public record, and all contacts with government would also be required to be made immediately public in print and online. To prevent lobbyists from promising jobs to retiring legislators or regulators, those retiring from government would face a lifetime ban from ever owning a commercial lobbying license.

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