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Money Talks . . . Money Rules

As the late, great Sen. Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there and soon you’re talking about real money!”  He must be rolling over in his grave at the amount spent during this election cycle.

Some candidates have put up more than 50 million dollars of their own money.  If there was ever any doubt that money talks, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission put that to rest.

Since corporations give money, and money is a form of speech, its use in political campaigns cannot be restricted; that would be a violation of the First Amendment.  Hence, candidates have received billions from corporate sources.

Have you considered how much a billion dollars is?  Stack up a million dollars in new $1000 bills and you have a nice little pile, eight inches high.  Stack up a billion dollars and your pile is higher than the Washington Monument.  A trillion dollars would be 121 miles high, the national debt over 2100 miles into space.  Use one dollar bills and it reaches half way to Mars!

In the quest for election/re-election 1.821 billion dollars have been raised and will be spent in the presidential race alone.  To think that the elected candidate will not factor that into every political decision made is naïve to the maximum.

Attempts to control election financing have been largely toothless tigers.  If we are ever going to get control of the financial power of PACs, and now, Super PACs draconian measures will be needed: i.e. Constitutional amendments.

There is one solution for election spending of which we have heard nothing: term limits.

President Eisenhower was in office when the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting the President to two terms, or not more than 10 years if he assumed the Presidency because of the death of the predecessor.

Unhappily, there are no limits on Congress.  The re-election rate for members of the House of Representatives exceeds 90% (2010 was an aberration); for the Senate the rate averages around 85%.  Many members of Congress have served for multiple decades and it is a peculiar hardship for the House, whose entire membership stands for re-election every two years.

From the first day in the House, one must be thinking about re-election and that is when money talks.  For the Senate, the term of six years means the incumbent might be able to give full attention to his work for several years.  The longer one is in office, the more money accumulates and the harder it becomes to unseat an incumbent.  The established campaign war chest is a major deterrent for challengers.

To change the terms of office would require Constitutional amendments.  Two-thirds of both houses of Congress must approve it and then it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.  Two thirds of the states can call for a constitutional convention and then it could be taken up there, but would still have to be ratified by three quarters of the states.

For the House of Representatives, terms of four years, not to exceed three terms would limit the influence of lobbyists and free up the Congressmen to vote his convictions rather than his war chest checkbook.  For the Senate, three terms of six years each might be a good thing.

For the President, perhaps a single six-year term would be appropriate. With that in place the entire first term being spent on re-lection strategies and fund raising would be eliminated.

The reversal of Citizens United v FEC would control the amount and therefore the influence of corporate contributions and Super PACs.

Given the approval rating of Congress there can be fewer institutions in the history of the world where the consumer—that would be we, the people—have gotten less bang for the buck.  If elected officials could realize they do not have a lifetime job at the public’s expense they might be able to focus more intensely on working for the good of the country rather than their re-election.

Is any of this going to happen?  No.  While the Constitution is in grave need of revamping it is so hard to accomplish that it seems unlikely.  The 27th and final amendment was passed in 1992.  It seemed fairly straightforward:  Any raise voted for Congress would not go into effect until there had been an intervening election.  It was proposed September 25, 1789.  Only took two hundred three years for that to pass.   Imagine what chance any of these proposals would have.

Money will continue to dominate the conversation of who governs us.  Somehow, I don’t think that was what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

by Hayden Hollingsworth

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