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Editorial January 5, 2012  RSS feed

EDITORIAL

The average American voter believes in one of two things: either all elected officials are crooks, or just the ones who belong to the opposite political party are the true crooks.

These beliefs are largely the result of the public perception of government as being dysfunctional and controlled by lawmakers whose favor and votes are bought by lobbyists who have very powerful and wealthy connections.

All kinds of campaign laws are in place across this country which pretend to limit the amount of money that can be contributed to those who are running for office. Many of these laws, however, either lack the teeth to be effective, have loopholes that are easily exploited by lobbyists or have been successfully challenged in the courts (see the “McCain-Feingold” campaign reform law).

The fact that there is such a thing as a lobbyist makes any elected official suspect once they get into office. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a federal, state or municipal office. From both sides of the aisle, lobbyists promise boatloads of money to politicians in order to get their way on almost every issue.

As of 2009, there are approximately 40,000 registered lobbyists at the state and federal level. That’s a lot of persuasion, and some are strong enough to have laws enacted that specifically enhance the company or industry they are lobbying for.

To make matters worse, almost 79 percent of members of Congress who have left office since 1998 have become lobbyists themselves.

Lobbyists represent just about every American institution and interest group—labor unions, corporations, colleges and universities, churches, charities, environmental groups, senior citizens organizations and state, local or foreign governments.

On paper, the need for political action groups to compel lawmakers to act may sound good. But in practice, the lobbying system currently in place is killing our democracy and crippling government’s ability to get anything of worth done for the 300 million people it supposedly represents.

The only real way to end this legal manipulation of elected officials is to totally change the way money flows to those who want to run for office. Since voters are the ones who put legislators in office, they ought be the ones who control the money used to pay for campaigns.

How about requiring all citizens of legal voting age to contribute a set amount of money annually—such as $5 or $10—to an election fund in exchange for prohibiting lobbying groups from contributing to the campaigns of elected officials?

Under this system, each candidate would get the same amount and that would cover the cost of traveling, advertising, campaigning and necessary staff.

Eliminating the financial influence of lobbyists from politics won’t completely root out corruption in government or prevent elected officials from making poor decisions, but it would help government function much more efficiently than any other “campaign finance reform” law could. Some may see this idea as a tax, but we think a functioning republic is worth paying for.

It has been said that “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” The American people deserve the most efficient and hard-working government on Earth, and they should be willing to ante up to get it.