Reducing Cash in Government. Of, by, and for the people

(Abraham Lincoln)

Fixing the U.S. Congress

If even one Political Candidate announces a 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' attitude, specifically of announcing a Campaign Decision to NEVER accept more than $50,000 per year (as compared to the current $174,000 that the Senators and Congressmen pay themselves), the News Media will certainly ensure that Candidate gets massive free publicity and has a decent chance of Winning an Election! Imagine the attitude of voters about the decision between an existing self-centered, money-centered Incumbent and someone who clearly defines that wealth is not the center of the universe! Even massive Party and Corporate Lobbyist Campaign financing for the Incumbent probably could not overcome such an advantage in the minds of the voters!

The Mr. Smith Candidate would likely not need to spend a dime for advertising, as EVERY Reporter would stand in line to interview such an interesting person! Even better, the Incumbent Candidate might quickly learn to fear Reporters, as they would all ask the same question, about his or her massive annual Salary. And it might turn out that every slick and expensive TV ad for the Incumbent would remind the voters about that specific decision they will need to make! I wonder how Lobbyists will be able to try to figure out how to deal with that situation!

I have heard that a man spent a total of $35 to File for Governor of his State. He did not win but he got several millions of votes! I see that as a wonderful example!

There may be a really obvious way where WE might be able to fix how screwed up our Congress is. There IS a reason why Americans only have 6% or 10% satisfaction with Congress! Hundreds of millions of Americans SEE that Members of Congress really rarely ever think about the RIGHT ideas, where instead, all they seem to ever think about is THEIR OWN CAREERS AS POLITICIANS, that is, getting re-elected. And they all are really aware that the Marketing and Advertising businesses have gotten so effective that they realize that, given enough Advertising, that is, enough MONEY for a Campaign, they can ensure themselves of getting re-elected. That is, no matter what they ever want to do for their District.

In fact, most have even proven this fact, by Gerrymandering, that is, the bizarre ways that many Congressional Districts have been re-drawn. When Politicians discovered how effective it is to Gerrymander Districts, they quickly realized that virtually nothing else was important, regarding their single-minded goal of forever getting re-elected. In each given District, there are essentially ONLY two Parties, Democrats and Republicans. Statistics has advanced so amazingly that every Political Office now knows the EXACT address of every Voter who has been consistently Republican and Democrat. On a State level, whichever Party had won the most recent Elections looks forward to getting the data from the US Census, in this case, for the year 2010. So the Politicians in the Offices which won the recent Election simply play silly games with re-drawing the exact District boundaries, since they know where each reliable Republican and Democrat live!

Many States have Frankenstein-like maps as a result! Since THEY won the recent Election, THEY get to make the new maps, and there is no discussion about it. Gerrymandering!

They know they COULD select every single house to be in their District, where an opposing neighbor would be fit into a different District that they realized could not be won due to too many opponents there. In other words, they COULD create Districts where their Candidates ALWAYS WON spectacular landslides, with 98% wins! But both Parties know that that would be 'wasteful' of their available Voters! Both Parties know that it is far more beneficial to them IF they create the District boundary maps such that their Party only won about 51% or 60% of the vote. That would still guarantee that THEIR Candidates always won, but it 'waters down' the opponent Voters. Essentially, they are spreading out the opponent voters to be voting in districts where their Candidates have no chance of winning, absolutely ELIMINATING 40% of the opponents Votes from ever mattering!

So with the very carefully drawn Congressional District maps in most States, Incumbent Candidates are nearly always guaranteed of winning! As long as they collect enough Political Donations to guarantee massive TV and other Media advertising. And so, nothing ever changes!

And since the Incumbent Candidates have access to massive Campaign financing from their Party and from their Lobbyist (business) friends, they make it nearly impossible that anyone could spend enough for advertising to ever compete against them. That nearly guarantees that Incumbents nearly always win re-election.

I think there is an entirely new approach which might be used to quickly FIX both the Federal Congress and also many of the State Congresses.

To a significant extent, this idea is based on a really old Jimmy Stewart movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But with a twist!

This discussion will be centered on the Federal Congress situation, but most States could advance the same idea.

Senators now receive $174,000 every year, entirely because THEY decided to give themselves around a dozen pay increases in recent decades. We non-Politicians see that the Chambers of Congress are often nearly empty of Members, because all the Members spend the majority of their time in looking for more money, either through K Street Lobbyists or from rich businesspeople who look to get business advantages from Congress.

So here is the new idea. Say a bright-eyed Political Candidate would announce that he or she Would only accept $50,000 per year. Hopefully, the Candidate would express other desirable motives, but that single item would immediately and continuously be in the news media focus. Reporters would all decide to follow this Candidate around, reporting every time he sneezes! At NO COST for expensive TV advertising!

EVERY VOTER would immediately and continuously be aware of THIS Candidate. As long as he or she did not make too many stupid comments, the wealthy and powerful Incumbent would never have any good way to respond to Reporters' questions about the enormous disparity of wage rates, $174,000 and $50,000. The Incumbent would certainly NEVER offer to drastically drop his or her income down, as his or her ego would be challenged, to find themselves in a situation not very different from the situation of average voters! They LIKE the fact that they are overwhelmingly powerful and famous! A big ego would not allow letting any of that slip away!

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The wonderful center of this idea is that the basic premise of unilaterally OFFERING to reduce one's income rather severely would CONSTANTLY be at the center of EVERY day of a Campaign, both for the Candidate and from the Incumbent! In other words, this Candidate would NOT need to amass tens of millions of dollars of Campaign donations (in order to be able to buy expensive TV advertising), as Reporters would PROVIDE all the media exposure FOR FREE!

Mitt Romney definitely demonstrated the existing system. Each time a Republican Primary Candidate showed any serious threat to Romney's plans, he or his rich business friends would simply throw millions of dollars into aggressive negative TV ads, which the opponent could never match! Whether Romney or any of the nine others had any good ideas was never important, and only the fact that Romney made clear that he was willing to spend astronomical amounts of his own money to become President! Clearly the ideal Poster Child of how our modern political system works, where nothing matters except who has the most money!

Washington sometimes briefly talks about 'Campaign Financing Reform' but all such comments quickly vanish from the scene! But this is very different! A Candidate simply BEGINS a Campaign by stating something that seems outrageous, of an enormous reduction of wages (which does NOT cost anything to do!) And EVERY Reporter and public encounter from then on would be centered on WHY and HOW the Candidate plans to do that!

Worse, the Incumbent opponent would be constantly be forced into a corner regarding always having every Reporter bring up the $174,000 he or she currently receives. Just a simple question like 'would it be possible for your opponent Candidate to actually live on that amount, would again force the Incumbent into an even tighter corner!

The Mr. Smith Candidate could show a Reporter a brown bag lunch or eat it while sitting on a Park Bench. The political value of such events would be so huge that the wealthy and powerful Incumbent Candidate could just watch and squirm!

When Election Day arrives, EVERY Voter would be very aware of the 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' Candidate! It is hard to see how he could lose, no matter WHAT the wealthy Incumbent Candidate would ever say or claim. In fact, if you think about it, it would even be hard for an Incumbent Candidate to do any of the mud-slinging that is central to all modern US Election Campaigns, without coming across as being really vicious in the process. Exactly WHAT could the wealthy Incumbent even ACCUSE the 'Mr. Smith' guy of? So even though the Incumbent would still have the massive pile of campaign money, it is not really clear WHAT he could even spend it on!

You might have noticed that the 'new guy' being described here is NOT necessarily identified as a Democrat OR a Republican! I think the Voters would consider THAT to be less important when compared to the '$50,000 per year salary' that would be on their minds.

I really do not see how our 'new Candidate' could possibly lose the Election!

Now, it could be that ONE Candidate could present this idea, or it could be a HUNDRED Candidates might. Whether ONE won the Election or whether one hundred won, the very basis for future Elections would be established. The Arrogance and Self-Centeredness of all current major Politicians would suddenly see very out-of-place!

Note another detail! Once this Candidate won the Election, everyone would KNOW that 'money is NOT the center of his life'. So the Wall Street rich people MIGHT see less reason to try to bribe him. Same with the K Street Lobbyists and the associated Corporate Organizations. Much of what is now the CENTER of Politics might suddenly be seen as far less important. Senators and Congressmen MIGHT start thinking of ideas which are IMPORTANT TO THE PEOPLE, regarding the future possibility of ever being re-elected again. NOT due to overwhelming power of Wall Street or Lobbyists, but actually because of motives which 'Mr. Smith' might have endorsed! In other words, a government BY THE PEOPLE and FOR THE PEOPLE, as was originally planned!

Additionally, please note that ANYONE could fulfill the paperwork requirements to become a Candidate for the Senate or House. It would NOT require a 'war chest' of $50,000,000 for someone to consider running. Yes, it would likely cost several hundred dollars to get all the required Signatures on the needed paperwork, but that is NOT a ridiculous restriction.

Yes, Politics includes many dark corners, and a really wealthy and powerful Incumbent MIGHT decide to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to throw mud on such a Candidate. It might even be possible for such an Incumbent to win an Election. But the entire American Public would have been watching. And IF an Optimistic Dreamer even came close to winning such an Election, THE PEOPLE might begin to again have hope!

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 2013.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago