A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Saturday, January 21, 2006

An Interesting Proposal

From James Carville and Paul Begala of all people (hat tip: temporary costello). A way to end the ridiculous corruption and disastrous effects of lobby money on Congress, the government and America as a whole.

I am certainly a big fan of eliminating the "suck up" factor in modern politics (in both directions-- politicians sucking up to money, and money sucking up to politicians). I am also a big fan of term limits for Congress, and maybe even for the Supreme Court-- people like Ted Kennedy and Ted Stevens (maybe it's something with the name Ted?) should've served 12 years and then been sent politely back to their domiciles. How likely is it that anything but the status quo will occur when you have senators and representatives serving for 30+ years? Between them, the Teddies have been senators for 80 years. How much pork do you think those two gentlemen have managed to bring home to Alaska and Massachusetts in that time? Quite a lot, I should imagine-- but I'd also put big money that they've gotten far more pork in the past 20 years than they did in their first 20 years of service.
Neat idea. I can see a few corner cases, but nothing to that can't be fixed simply . . . except for one thing.

As written, the challenger has to divide time between campaigning and raising funds, whilst the incumbent can spend all of that time campaigning. I want to believe that a slight modification will make it fair, just can't see it at the moment.

(BTW the "A way to end" link needs correcting)
How about a three-time incumbent has to skip a single term? She or he could return after the one-term layoff.

During the layoff, they have to stay completly out of lobbying and any contacts with their former peers.

No doubt Mojo will find something to shoot down here. :->
As predicted by JohnH:

My biggest concerns with the proposal by Carville and Begala is that it would greatly increase federal spending, that new 527 groups (or similar organizations) would be created to bypass the matching fund clauses, and that challengers would get on the ballot in order to increase funds for the incumbent while attacking the position of other challengers.

This proposal is too vague, and I'd like some answers to the questions below before I'd accept it as a simple solution. Let's look at the following:

Delegates from D.C. and U.S. Territories, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Representatives, and Senators are currently paid $162,000 annually. The four Majority and Minority Leaders, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, each receive $180,100 annually. Finally, the Speaker of the House and the Vice President (who is the President of the Senate) are each paid $208,100 annually. This amounts to a compensation, for salary alone, of $87,878,100 each year.

The Carville-Begala Proposal (herein referred to as the CBP) is to increase the pay for members of Congress from $162,000 to $400,000 annually. My first question is, does this mean that all members of Congress will make $400,000 annually, or is that the base salary before adding the bonuses received by the Majority/Minority Leaders, the President Pro Tempore, and the Speaker of the House? The second question is, will the Vice President also have his pay bumped up?

Even if we exclude the Vice President and the bonuses for the special positions, the CBP will increase the outlay for congressional pay by $128,330,000 annually. That's an increase of $256,660,000 (or just over one-quarter-of-a-billion dollars) for each session of Congress.

Campaign Funding
According to the CBP, the federal government would provide an incumbent with a campaign contribution of 80% of the funds raised by a challenger. Likewise, if the incumbent uses his own money, then the federal government would provide the challenger with a campaign contribution of an equivalent amount.

First, a few questions on this. What would constitute a challenger, and would the incumbent get a matching 80% of all funds raised by each challenger (i.e., would the Socialist Party candidate, the Constitution Party candidate, the Legalize Pot Now candidate, the Independent Party candidate, and the Republican/Democratic Party candidate all be considered valid challengers; and would the incumbent receive a matching 80% of all funds raised by each one)?

When the CBP discusses an equivalent amount to be provided to a challenger when an incumbent spends his own money, does equivalent amount mean an amount equal to the full amount of what the incumbent spends of his own money, or does it mean 80% of what the incumbent spends of his own money (i.e., a percentage equivalent to what the incumbent receives for challenger funds raised)?

Would all challengers be eligible to receive an equivalent amount of what the incumbent spends of his own money (e.g., if the incumbent spends $1,000,000 of his own money, would the federal government provide a matching $800,000 to $1,000,000 each to the Socialist Party candidate, the Constitution Party candidate, the Legalize Pot Now candidate, the Independent Party candidate, and the Republican/Democratic Party candidate)?

If any challenger who can get on the ticket qualifies as a valid challenger for matching funds, this proposal could become very expensive, especially if the incumbent started spending his own money.

Other Unanswered Questions
Would the Federal Election Commission (FEC) need to grow in order to handle the reporting that would be required by the CBP? If so, how much more would that raise the budget annually?

How would ads run by political parties in support of a candidate or a candidate's position be applied?

How would ads run by 527 groups in support of a candidate or a candidate's position be applied?

If this proposal became law, and if any provision were to be found unconstitutional, would the entire law be struck down, or would only the provision found to be unconstitutional be stricken (e.g., if the prohibition against incumbents receiving anything of value from anyone other than a family member is found to be unconstitutional, would only that provision be void or would the entire law be overturned)?

Would Congress retain the ability to continue to give themselves pay raises?

Would an increase in the President's compensation trigger an increase in congressional pay so that it matched the President's?

Would removing the need to raise funds on the part of an incumbent truly cause him to focus on his duties as a representative of his constituents, or would it just free up more time for campaigning?

How would the CBP reduce pork spending, since most of the earmarked legislation seems to be added in an attempt to bring federal money back to the incumbent's home state or district?
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