Today, a friend shared the following video:
I crafted a ridiculously long comment about 45 seconds in, then watched the rest of it and opened the affiliated website to learn more about the proposed “Act,”and promptly decided the idea merited its own blog post.
1. At approximately 45 seconds in, the video makes a dangerous assertion about what an “ideal Republic” would look like.
This is not an ideal Republic. In fact, this graph does not depict a Republic at all. This is a graph of ideal Direct Democracy. That is, if 51% of the people are for it, Congress would pass the law, even if the other 49% think it’s a terrible, no good, very bad idea.
In an ideal republic, representatives vote not based on what people want, but on what is best for the country, regardless of whether it is popular. In an ideal democracy, representatives vote perfectly based on what people want.
Originally (prior to the 17th Amendment), the United States was a split Republic, or a Democratic Republic, or a Republic with Democratic leanings. “We the People” elected representatives, and they were accountable directly to We the People, but representatives elected United States Senators, who answered back to the Representatives, not We the People.
The Founding Fathers intentionally avoided “ideal democracy,” because in an “ideal” democracy, the 51% rules the 49%. Our founding fathers wanted minority groups to have a voice, and they wanted US Senators to be elected by other representatives specifically because the 51% might revolt and vote out the representatives closest to them for making a decision that gave long-term stability for the country, even if it was unpopular at the moment. Senators were a check to the power of “We the People.” Senators chosen this way were still subject to term limits, but on a six year cycle instead of a two year cycle, so that by the time representatives needed to choose a new Senator, We the People would have had three elections to decide whether or not the law in question was actually worth a full changing of the guard.
2. Each video I’ve seen that gripes about the influence of money in politics neglects some extremely important details.
- Economy of Scale
- The Role of the Individual in Special Interests
Economy of Scale
In Washington’s 6th Congressional District, 233,582 people cast ballots in the 2014 election. That’s not counting registered voters (there are over 400,000 of those in the 6th CD), which means my US Representative, Derek Kilmer, has 233,582 constituents that care about what he does. Of those, 83,025 voted for Marty McClendon. Marty was an exceptionally conservative candidate, so it’s fairly safe to presume those 83,000 people are always going to dislike Congressman Kilmer. Theoretically, he’s still supposed to represent them, but winning votes is important, so Congressmen don’t typically waste time with voters that refuse to vote for them “on principle.” Simple math leaves us with 150,582 voters that are generally congenial to Congressman Kilmer.
Wikipedia says each US Representative can hire a maximum of 18 full time staff and 4 part-time staff. Their data is from 2000, and the footnoted link is broken, so I couldn’t independently verify it, but for now, I’m going to make my calculations with it anyway. If there are 22 staff people, in order to hear from everyone that voted for Congressman Kilmer, each staff person is responsible for meeting with approximately 6,844 constituents. Each staff person would need to meet with 570 constituents a month, or around 19 constituents a day, if they took no days off throughout the entire year.
The above calculations should make it clear that there is not enough time in the day for each Congressman/woman and their staff (assuming they have the maximum number of 22, and assuming Wikipedia’s numbers are accurate) to meet with all constituents that have an interest in Derek Kilmer’s decisions and do anything else. This leads to my next point:
There are 150,000 constituents that think their ideals and requests are the most important. It doesn’t matter how many bills are passed, you will have to do something to stand out from the crowd and convince your representative that your ideas are most vital. As an individual, your voice will not matter unless you are independently wealthy or are a personal friend of said representative. It never, ever, ever, will unless the United States shrinks enormously in population. You probably don’t have time to lobby the government to let you do what you want. Neither do the majority of other people, so their individual voices get muted.
The Role of the Individual in Special Interests
Forgotten in this video, and in many others, is the reality: You are a special interest. Not you, individually, but your ideas, goals, and values are all represented by different PACs.
Do you like dogs? There’s a PAC for that.
Do you think Washington should secede from the United States, along with OR and part of ID and become “United Cascadia?” There’s a PAC for that (even though they don’t believe they need permission to do it, they’ll still take your money).
Are you a socialist who doesn’t think anyone should have more than a defined amount of wealth? There’s a PAC for that.
Are you a corn farmer? Do you raise goats? Are you a biologist? Do you breed reptiles? There is a PAC for each of those causes. When you don’t have the time or the ability to influence the government, because you’re too busy feeding your family, pay a PAC. The PAC hires people whose entire job is to badger individuals in the government to listen. That PAC has money from many people that think the same way you do, which buys other peoples’ time and energy.
And herein lies the rub. But Elizabeth, you might say, our elected officials are working for the people. we shouldn’t have to pay for their time and energy! So then I ask you, if you want someone not already independently wealthy and connected to represent you, how do you suggest that person feed their family? If you and 150,000 other people are vying for their time and energy, of which there is a limited quantity and duration, how do you suggest they choose a cause?
By importance, you say!
Okay. So Joe Snow is your state representative. You represent one cattle rancher in the Cascades, and you need changes made to the Interstate so that you can ship your cattle to market more effieciently.
Joe Snow doesn’t know you, nor does he know any other cattle ranchers, and he doesn’t know anything about cattle ranching, so he assumes it’s a minor problem, hears you out, but doesn’t pursue it. After all, getting something special like that for one person in the Transportation budget is a heck of a job. Instead, he prioritizes reworking an intersection in a city where a young man was killed. That city is in his district, has ten thousand people in it, and three thousand of them have contacted his office to beg for a change. When the intersection change is made, he talks about saving lives in his re-election campaign.
You recognize that what he did for the city is a vital endeavor, but hey! You and your cattle ranching friends still need your highway fixed. You go to the butcher, the grocery stores that purchase your meat, and other cattle ranchers that would benefit from your proposed change. You and the other cattle ranchers explain that you provide 70% of the beef supplied by local grocery stores, and together employ several hundred people in the district. You tell the representative, hey, SNAP recipients across the state won’t be able to afford ground beef if he doesn’t do something to help you.
Now, he sees that your complaint is actually affecting several thousand people. You formed a PAC, and now you have influence. Thus we see that the individual’s role is to find other people with the same special interest and in doing so, become a PAC capable of wielding political influence.
Maybe in my next blog post, I’ll actually explain why the Anti-Corruption Act is a bad idea… I didn’t get there in this one, clearly.