by Paul Hamlin
Our system is broken. The way we do elections, our political party system and the expectations placed on our congress people is so flawed that we need to make considerations about, not just how we fix it, but who should be permitted to fix it.
Congress has become a divisive and divided group of people with an eye on the next election and the other on harming their “enemy”. Remember that elected officials are the employees of the people, not the other way around. We do not need to answer to them, they need to answer to us.
As Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.“
We cannot allow the very essence of who we are as a people to simply fade away. We must fight it, because that is the American way. Sometimes we are slow to find the right thing, sometimes we are blinded, but when we discover our own injustices and flaws we fix them. THAT is what makes us great, that is why the American experiment persist, not because of the elected officials, but because of the goodness and ideals of the American people.
We have some work to do; here are just a few topics in our election process.
Political Action Committees need to be reformed. We need to stop the ability to donate to a political action committee and have that money funneled to candidates, effectively circumventing campaign finance laws. It becomes more and more difficult to hold our leaders accountable to their actions, their votes and their connections when we are unclear as to which master they serve.
Party financing of candidates must be controlled as well. This is again, another way to circumvent restrictions on individuals. A person can donate to a political party ask that it be designated for a particular candidate, that they have already donated the legal limit to. This is done because it is not that person which is assisting, it is the “Party”. This is deceptive.
Corporate entities should be given opportunity to donate, but it needs to be more transparent. We also need to point out any conflicts of interest. There should be a watchdog group that publishes transparently the amount donated versus their return on investment from each elected official. Candidates should have to put a page on their candidate website that is a “sponsored by” page and have full logos and amounts.
There also needs to be a full accounting of how much the corporation is giving that is audited, with comparison of their bank records to the bank records of the candidate. Right now, we basically have an honor system that ask for a report each quarter.
I am not naïve. I understand that money will drive elections. I am also not asking for major campaign finance reform. I am actually asking for transparency and accountability. Audits and explanations. PACs should be either eliminated or held accountable as they mask and shadow money. Parties should not donate to candidates, if a person wants to give to a particular candidate, they should give. I don’t care if we increase the personal giving limit to make this happen, but we need transparency.
Candidates that receive donations will be pressured to deliver something in return. That is the way the system works. We should know and understand who they feel like they “owe”. We also should know what actions, legislation is currently in process that will be impacted. What is the corporation or PAC buying with their donation?
We also should have seasons for candidates to seek donations. When a legislator, an incumbent, is spending 50% of their time raising money for their next election or for their party…something is broken. It is no wonder we aren’t solving the major issues of the day when our legislators are absent from the job.
When elected to the House of Representatives, party leadership asks for a few things in return for the support that the candidate just received from the party:
- Loyalty to the party,
- Commitment to party fund raising
- Patience on real solutions
All three of these are horrible messages. I have loyalty to my God, my family, my nation, to the Constitution that founded that nation and to the people I hope to represent to the best of my ability. If I am involved with a “party” that wants me to subvert my loyalties as I listed above, they are not good for the nation or the voters.
Fund raising is not legislating. Fund raising is not meeting the needs of the people, of the nation. If you ask me to spend my time caring for fund raising before caring for my role as a Representative for the people, the party is the problem. Fund raising as I stated above is important, but not more important than the job of representing ALL the people. Fund raising states that SOME of the people are more important.
“Patience on real solutions” means “don’t count on solving much”. Our Congress has resigned itself to inaction, to gridlock (which can be very healthy) and to partisan bickering, instead they should be focused on the role the Constitution spells out for them. They should be focused on representing the people.
Our Congress should be focused on healthy debate for solutions. They should be focused on creating the nation that we could be. Focused on ethical leadership, spending time with their constituents, speaking to the power and responsibility of a co-equal branch of the government.
These Tents Don’t Look Different
The political parties certainly know how to choose topics that they can focus on. Those that will divide the constituents and force a polarization of the voting blocks. It protects the voting base and the donation base. The people are told that they have a choice between those people over there who will destroy their way of life or us, and we will protect your belief in “X” (you pick the hot topic of the day).
The truth is that the parties do that intentionally. They never really look to solve these hot topic issues, because they use them to divide the people. The people in turn feel like they have no option than to vote for one of the two major parties based on their feeling toward topic “X”.
The parties are content to drive people into two corners when it comes to these topics, as long as they continue to vote for them. As long as the contributions keep coming in, nothing changes.
So, are the two parties really that different? Or do they use the same tactics, focus on different topics, but use the same fear mongering, bullying, and scare tactics? Does either party protect the overall betterment of the nation, or are they only concerned about their narrow platform?
At any point has either party in the last 20+ years decreased spending? Has either party really impacted change on entitlement spending? Has either party solved the immigration question? Has either party addressed the need to protect our Constitution? When was the last time you heard a Representative talk about their limited and enumerated powers as listed in the Constitution?
These parties are exactly the same. They may have a couple of policy differences, but they don’t even solve those. They work diligently to teach us to hate one another, to see other American citizens as the “enemy”, they teach us that they are the only solution (again, they haven’t solved anything), and they tell us that they are the only choice.
Time for Some Real Change
What can we do?
- Demand Transparency – Don’t be content with the status quo. When you go to the voting booth demand candidates that will be transparent. Transparent with their campaign finances, transparent with who they owe and what they owe. Nothing given is given freely.
- Expect Action – When you vote, ask the hard questions. Expect that the policy of our representatives will clearly delineate their policy on hard topics, not just the “slam dunks”. Look beyond the party talking points on their websites and expect more nuanced and complex conversations.
- Hold Them Accountable – If they make a promise, make them deliver.
- Look Beyond Their Party – Ask them “where do you differ from your party”, if they cannot answer or are not passionate about it, do not vote for them as they are dishonest or unthinking.
- Find Viable Independent Candidates – As a rule, independent candidates are not bound to the politics of party.They can be forward and honest about their opinions without worry of reprise from a political party. Make sure they are principled and honest, that they show signs of ethical leadership in an unethical political world.
- Demand Solutions – Do NOT vote for anyone who speaks in platitudes or outlines complex policy in one sentence. Life is not that simple; our system is not that simple. Educate yourself to the complexity of issues and understand that a candidate should do the same thing.
- Vote – The American people have become disenchanted with the political process of our nation. We feel unheard and disenfranchised, but the power of your voice is in the ballot. When we the people speak it is powerful…not just to those we elect, but to the world. Vote for people who will hear your voice, not ignore it. Vote for people who want to make a difference, not those who will simply continue down the same road.
If we are ever going to change the road we are on, it will depend on the people of this nation. It will depend on the coalescence of the American electorate, to say “we have had enough”. We are better than this, and we deserve better.
(Paul Hamlin is running for US House of Representatives as an independent candidate in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District. You can find out more about him and his candidacy at paulhamlin.com)