Arianna Huffington on Government Reform

2004 former Independent Challenger for CA Governor


$6.5M worth of lobbying directed at each member of Congress

Over the years there has been an explosion in the number of lobbyists in Washington and the money they spend. In 2009, more than 13,700 registered lobbyists spent a record of $3.5 billion swaying government policy the special interests' way, double the amount lobbyists spent as recently as 2002.

With 535 members of the Senate and the House, that means lobbyists in the halls of power outnumber our elected representatives almost 26 to 1. If we divide $3.5 billion evenly among the 535, it means each member of the legislative branch was at the receiving and of $6.5 million worth of special interest arm-twisting over the course of the year.

And that's just the money corporate America is spending on lobbying. Millions more are given directly to politicians and the political parties. From 1974 to 2008 the average amount it took to run for reelection to the House went from $56,000 to more than $1.3 million.

Source: Third World America, by Arianna Huffington, p.129-130 , Sep 2, 2010

Full public financing of political campaigns

It's a classic catch-22: The most effective way of fixing the multitude of problems facing America is through the democratic process, but the democratic process itself is badly broken. That is why the first step has to be breaking the choke hold that special interest money has on our politics.

This has to start with a complete reboot of the way we finance our elections. The most effective means of restoring the integrity of our government is through the full public financing of political campaigns. It's the mother of all reforms--the one reform that makes all other reforms possible. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. If someone's going to own the politicians, it might as well be the American people. Think of it: No hard money, no PAC money, no endless dialing for dollars. No more lobbyists sitting in House and Senate offices literally writing tailor-made loopholes into laws. Just candidates and elected officials beholden to no one but voters.

Source: Third World America, by Arianna Huffington, p.172 , Sep 2, 2010

Higher campaign donation limit gives more influence to rich

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms allowed the limit on individual contributions to candidates (“hard money”) to be doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 per election. The new higher limits left literally 99.9% of Americans out of the picture. Only one-tenth of 1% of all Americans made a contribution of $1,000 or more in the presidential election of 2000. [In that group], four-fifths had an annual family income of more than $100,000 a year. By comparison, just 8.5% of US taxpayers had a family income of over $100,000 in 2001. Handing to a rarified group of wealthy white Americans the ability to give even more money to candidates for office-while doing nothing to relieve the pressure on those candidates to amass huge war chests-can mean only on thing: more access & influence for wealthy interests and less for ordinary Americans.

Access & influence-the two things that big donors admit they are seeking when they “max out” on their contributions to politicians-are just apt euphemisms for power.

Source: Fanatics and Fools, by Arianna Huffington, p.142-143 , Apr 14, 2004

GOP doesn’t scale back government-just reallocates

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Republican Party didn’t scale back government, despite all the rhetoric and all the pledges. Instead it reallocated the financial resources of the government to those sectors of society that it favored. Which is exactly what has been happening under the current regime. Per-household spending by the federal government has soared to $20,000, the highest level since World War II.

The Bushies, though, are determined to take another whack at the New Deal and the institutions that emerged in its wake. Bush Republicans are determined to privatize as much of the social welfare infrastructure as possible. And where they can’t eliminate or privatize a program, they will simply starve it for capital in the years ahead. Thus, the tax cuts of today are sticks of dynamite being planted around the foundation of Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance.

Source: Fanatics and Fools, by Arianna Huffington, p.151 , Apr 14, 2004

People don’t vote because politicians don’t care

It’s a stinging repudiation of the rotten spectacle our elections have become that despite a Motor Voter-fueled surge in voter registration-a net increase of 5.5 million from 1994 to 1998-voter turnout declined by 2.5 million. Registration drives have only increased the number of eligible people choosing not to vote.

Our political world is divided into two camps: those who consider plummeting turnout and high disengagement a serious threat to our democracy, and those who do not. The problem is that almost every elected official and political consultant is in the latter camp. Which isn’t so surprising when you consider how many of them owe their jobs to the worst aspects of the system.

The defenders of the status quo have no problem with disaffected citizens dropping out-it keeps them from making waves. Better that they get out than care enough to stay in and vote against them. In many ways, it is easier to play to, control, and manipulate a smaller audience.

Source: How to Overthrow the Government, p. 3-6 , Jul 2, 2000

Politics by polls is not leadership: end phone polling

As we march into the next century, the motto of every politician seems to be: “I am their leader; I shall follow them.” Both parties, with their scores of poll-tested plans, are unable to beat their addictions. Yet this is a moment when the nation needs leaders with the wisdom to see what does not show up in the polling data, and the passion to build a consensus for reform.

Here’s a better idea: Let’s fight back against the pollsters. Contact your congressman and demand that he or she work to get telephone polling added to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This would not only offer consumers one more tool to protect their privacy, it would also give citizens a valuable weapon to protect democracy from its ongoing hostile takeover by pollsters. Given the collective nature of politics, people always ask, What can one person do? Well, you can start by removing yourself from the polling pool.

Source: How to Overthrow the Government, p. 77 & 85 , Jul 2, 2000

Make all political donations anonymous, like ballots

An intriguing alternative for reforming campaigns has been put forward by Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, and Jeremy Bulow, an economics professor at Stanford. It’s the “donor booth,” which seeks to correct the rampant buying and selling of influence in the political process by arguing not for complete and instant donor disclosure, but for complete and total donor anonymity.

It’s a simple idea-and a radical one. But, as Professor Ayres reminded me, the radical idea on which it’s modeled-the secret ballot-is only about a century old, though we take it for granted today. The secret ballot put a halt to voter buying [at a time] when party bosses [bought votes]. “The voting booth,” Ayres says, “made it harder for candidates to buy votes. The ‘donor booth’ would make it harder for candidates to sell influence.”

Would it really work? In some states, it already has - Louisiana, Tennessee, Washington, and South Dakota have experimented with keeping donors to judicial campaigns anonymous.

Source: How to Overthrow the Government, p.232-33 , Jul 2, 2000

Mandated donor anonymity would dry up PAC influence

[The “donor booth,” mandated anonymity in campaign donations,] would work by having campaign contributions funneled through blind trusts administered by known, reputable financial firms. Anyone who wanted to give money to a candidate would mail it to the trust, which would then pass it on to the candidate-without revealing the donor’s name.

Like any reform, this would create its own set of problems. But at this stage, even cynics are ready to exchange a new set of problems for the old ones. With the donor booth, PAC money would dry up-because knowing who’s giving is exactly why PACs exist. Donor anonymity would prove-as if more proof were needed-just how many contributions have nothing to do with the donor’s policy desires. And while the protectors of the status quo keep trying to use constitutional arguments to protect soft money, this proposal is as constitutionally unassailable as the secret ballot. Donor anonymity calls everyone’s bluff [because] donors can never prove [their donations].

Source: How to Overthrow the Government, p.234-36 , Jul 2, 2000

Open up voting, ballots, and debates

[We should] ease the voting rules with measures like same-day registration, [as] the first step in a new voters’ rights movement which this country needs both to make voting easier and to open up the political process to those outside the entrenched two-party system.

Reformers are also proposing “early voting,” which extends the election period from a single day to up to three weeks; “weekend voting,” which, like early voting, keeps the polls open longer, and on days that are more convenient; and “vote by mail,” an institutionalized form of absentee voting in which the entire election is held by mail.

Of course, once it’s easier to vote, the problem becomes finding someone worth voting for. That’s where questions of ballot access and debate access come into play. Byzantine ballot regulations make it next to impossible for those outside the political mainstream to take on the system. [And] the other way the two parties try to perpetuate their duopoly is by limiting access to debates.

Source: How to Overthrow the Government, p.256-60 , Jul 2, 2000

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