The US political system is broken because politicians are serving two masters: Their constituents who vote them into office and the special-interest lobbyists who influence them on legislation.
Leon Panetta said, "Legalized bribery has become part of the culture of how this place operates." Today's members of the House and Senate "rarely legislate; they basically follow the money...They're spending more and more time dialing for dollars...The only place they have to turn is to lobbyists."
The American people want their interests served, and Congress needs a better option for raising money. Let's realign Congress's interests with the people's.
When the people vote a politician into office, many think that the politician is going to fight for their interests. But they don't realize that once the politician has been elected, lobbyists vigorously work to influence legislation for their clients' interests -- the "special interests."
Senator Chuck Hagel said, "Health care, immigration reform, environment--you name the big issues today, we have not been able to move on any of them, because of the power of the process, the power of the special interests...."
Corporations spend twice as much on lobbying as they do on campaign contributions. Lobbyists help draft legislation, raise campaign funds, and they produce propaganda. The US tax code, IRC 501(c)(3), even describes lobbying as "carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation."
For lobbyists to influence Congress to support an issue, sometimes they must first pave the way by manufacturing support of the voters. Politicians who vote against their constituents don't remain in office long so lobbyists work to influence public opinion to support their policy agendas. As a result, many voters are conned into supporting things that are not in their interest.
This is nothing new -- it has been going on for at least a century. On July 6, 1913 the New York Times headline read: "Hold Lobby Exists, but of a New Kind; It's the Organized Propaganda, Say Senators, Justifying Wilson's Charges." The article said, "The lobby that has been disclosed, he said to-day, was different from the old-fashioned lobby in that it worked through an artificially created public sentiment."
If politicians don't cooperate, lobbyists may threaten to throw their weight behind the politician's challengers. In today's Washington, "money builds bulwarks that defend the status quo," even when political power changes hands because of election results so we can't rely on Congress to fix the problem from within.
In the 2008 election, there were 146 million registered voters in the US. Organizations spent $3.3 billion on lobbying, and Congress raised $1.3 billion in campaign contributions.
As Adlai Stevenson said, "In a democracy, people get the government they deserve." However, if registered voters united, for $3 per month we could change the game. For $3 a month we could outspend special interests and campaign contributors combined. For $3 a month, we could influence legislation for our interests, restore American democracy, and change the world.
Let's create an online platform that will enable the American people, the electors, to unite and form the largest, most powerful political lobby in history. The platform would initially consist of five services:
Enable you to submit policy issues that you want to see in place. The community can vote on the items so the most popular issues rise to the top. An example issue might be, "You can't be turned down by an insurance company for a pre-existing condition." The system will keep tabs on how politicians have positioned themselves on each issue.
Provide a forum where you can ask political questions and get answers. You can vote up or down the answers to separate the good from the bad (similar to Stack Overflow), and the system will use algorithms to help keep the system free of cruft.
For questions only the government can answer, the most popular ones will be compiled, and we will arrange for a qualified reporter to interview the appropriate officials, similar to when Alan Murrary of the Wall Street Journal interviewed Timothy Geithner for a Digg Dialogg.
Post political news and content for comment (similar to Digg). You can vote the content up for quality reporting or down if it has been tainted by lobbyist propaganda. If you identify propaganda techniques, you can tag the content from a list of known techniques.
Donate to the politicians you feel are addressing the issues that concern you. The system will help you identify politicians that are supporting your issues and allow you to distribute a portion of your contribution to all supporting politicians. You could set triggers that specify that your contribution should be contributed only if certain events occur. The total amount accruing for each issue will be publicly displayed so politicians know what's important. We will set up a non-connected political-action committee (PAC) to bundle user contributions and distribute them to each politician.
For example, if you choose to allocate $1 to the issue, "You can't be turned down by an insurance company for a pre-existing condition," and the system has identified 100 congresspersons whom support the issue, you could specify that each congressperson gets $0.01. You could also set a trigger specifying that your contribution should only be made if support for the issue reaches a critical mass or some other event occurs. This gives you the freedom to support issues you care about without worrying you are spending money in vain, on an issue few support.
Allow special interest groups (SIGs) to use the platform for their causes, but with the understanding that their content will be subject to scrutiny by the community. We will not lobby on behalf of SIGs, but it is possible that an issue supported by a SIG will also be supported by the people, in which case we would lobby for that issue on behalf of the people.
This will raise the political activity of individuals in the United States by empowering them to take action in non-election years. When you make a payment toward an issue, you would specify how much to allocate for lobbying and how much for political contributions. We will hire top lobbying firms that specialize in the policy areas supported by the community.
The US population is 307 million, of which 206 million are eligible voters and 146 million are registered voters. We will use social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to generate word of mouth.
Facebook has 300 million users, of which 90 million are in the US. We will integrate Facebook Connect, Twitter Connect, and Google Friend Connect to encourage individuals to recruit their friends to support their issues.
In 2008, $1.39 billion was contributed to Congressional campaigns and $3.3 billion was spent on lobbying. Our goal as a community would be to beat that to shift the balance of power.
The competitors are special-interest groups, especially politically-active corporations. However, corporations do not have the right to vote, they are limited by how much they can contribute to campaigns, and if they have a connected PAC, they can only solicit contributions from people in their organization -- not the general public.
As more people get involved and friends connect to support their friends' issues, the people's power will grow. It's a classic network effect. We are enabling the people to use the system to their advantage.
We are leveraging previous social waves to enable people to take action, to do something about the problems, rather than being relegated to spectators in the political game. And they can do it from the comfort of their homes as they watch the issues debated on the news. We are competing with special interests. Corporate interests. But unlike corporations, we have the right to vote.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed souls can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." &mdashMargaret Mead
Make the plan better. What are your thoughts? How should we deal with competing interests? Is it sufficient to combat corporate interests? As someone once said, "You don't have to have the answers. You have to have the question."
Help build it. To make this happen, we would need developers to help build it -- like an open-source website built by the community.
Contact us at email@example.com.
—James Thornton, October 1, 2009