Important Changes

In a meeting with LaVarr Webb this morning two topics really stuck with me that seem to illustrate the most important political problems that we face as a nation. The particular issues we talked about were at the level of our state government, but both issues apply equally well to our federal government and often in more local government settings as well.

The first of these two topics that we talked about was the need for ethics reform – specifically gifts to legislators. Webb has close experience with politicians at the legislature over many years and he talked about how those legislators are often frustrated that people view or suspect them as being corrupt. He said that in his experience they rarely are corrupt but he believes that they can and should address this issue because our state legislature does not have strong safeguards in place against corruption in the event that someone were corrupt. I immediately thought about the Change Congress movement being pushed by Larry Lessig. Lessig articulates the problem as being one caused not by bad people but by “good people working in a bad system.” I believe that his primary method for changing the system is applicable to all such cases. We should persuade our candidates to commit to:

    • Not take lobbyist or PAC money
    • Ban earmarks (this problem seems most acute at the federal level)
    • Support public financing of campaigns.

As citizens we can request that our candidates make these commitments. This can be a filter by which we can determine for ourselves which candidates are serious about changing the bad system. Personally, I will never support a candidate who will not commit to these principles over a candidate who has made this commitment. (And I will ask any candidate I hope to support to make this kind of commitment.)

We later got onto the issues of the violation of the principles of federalism. This is when government tramples the rights of individuals or lower levels of government. This happens so frequently in small ways that many people think it is how the system is supposed to work. Here the solution is that citizens must insist at each level of government that individual liberty and the sovereignty of lower levels of government be carefully protected. Obviously there are some cases where the good of the whole overrides the choice of a part but everyone should be as careful to guard against running over their neighbors with the ideas that they favor as they are at complaining when they feel imposed upon by the ideas of others (and sometimes we need to be more vocal when we feel that we are being bullied by the enforced ideals of others).

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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9 Responses to Important Changes

  1. Reach Upward says:

    Speaking of running over one’s neighbors with ideas that they favor, wouldn’t that be a good definition for public financing of political campaigns? Let me state for the record that I don’t have any desire to help fund the campaigns of the likes of Lynndon LaRouche and David Duke. Yet taxpayer funds have gone to these and other disreputable pukes.

    Are we going to fund anyone that wants to run for an office (perhaps on from the Three-Legged Dog Party)? If not, who is going to decide who gets funding and who doesn’t? The Politburo? Somehow, I’ve got to think that the free market would do better than any commission or panel in this regard.

    When Obama thought he didn’t have much of a chance, he agreed to public funding. Now that he’s pulling down big money, he wants out of that agreement. McCain — the premier proponent of public campaign funding — is doing Clinton-like twisting to get around the rules he helped implement.

    Public financing of campaigns only serves to skew campaigns worse than does a free market system.

    Count me as a NO vote on public campaign financing.

  2. David says:

    You make some good points about the pitfalls of public financing for campaigns – especially the question of how do we set the rules about who has access to the public financing. In fact, not taking PAC or Lobbyist money (and I would add money from those who are not constituents) might serve the purpose better than simply opting into public financing.

    As for your complaints about Obama and his stance on public financing – I don’t agree with your assessment. I think that agreeing to public financing now, before the nomination is settled would hurt him. His initial stance on public financing was not that he would take it, but that he would take it if the Republican nominee would agree to take it as well. McCain is fighting tooth-and-nail to not be locked into public financing.

    Obama’s response to the statements by McCain has been that if he gets the nomination he would try to work with McCain to reach an agreement on public financing – essentially the same stance he took before he got locked in this tight primary race.

  3. mackenzie says:

    You can sign a petition to ban earmarking at

    I agree about the need to protect individual rights. It is the only thing that protects nation states from being usurped by corporate states. You are absolutely right that protecting individual rights often has to do with what appears to be very small issues, and in the process of addressing the constitutional issues, one will certainly encounter attempts to trivialize one’s complaint, by framing it as an individual concern, while evading the larger principles that affect a whole society of people.

    The consumer protection laws are extensions of the Bill of Rights. The Fair Credit Billing Act gives the consumer the right to dispute unfair business practices, many of which may on the surface appear to be very minor, but often represent much larger principles and/or mechanisms for transferring wealth from the many to the few. When most of the wealth is in the hands of the few, democracy is undermined, while the corporate state becomes ever more powerful.

    Unfortunately the authority to which one complains is either the Federal Reserve Board or the Comptroller of Currency. The government does not pay the Comptroller of Currency, as I at first assumed. The Comptroller of Currency is financed by the banks which activities it oversees. I am currently writing to all of Senators and Representatives about the obvious conflict of interest in having the Comptroller of Currency as the authority that oversees complaints on violations of the Consumer Protection Laws. I use some quotes from a speech by the Hon Sir Gerard Brennan, AC KBE Chief Justice of Australia, given in consideration of adding a Bill of Rights to the Australian constitution. The speech is at

    As for public funding of politicians, there is an optional choice on one’s tax returns for giving a very small amount for that purpose. The argument against public funding, which is based on not wanting to fund particular politicians, evades the social reason for public funding of politicians that David has articulated. I speculate that the funding doesn’t just go to anyone who wanted to run but to those who could produce a specified number of signatures.

    Other than that I don’t know enough about what really takes place behind closed doors to have an opinion, but generally I favor systems with multiple choices,(puplic and private) as I doubt that there is any one system that cannot be corrupted. Corruption is in the nature of humanity, which our founding fathers took into consideration when they designed a system of checks and balances, which I am discovering works quite well, i.e., when I sent a letter to a state government agency and cc’d it to my state senators and representatives, I received an immediate reply. When I responded without cc’s to my senators and representatives, I received no response until I wrote again and cc ‘s, again to my senators and representatives, and once more received an immediate response.

  4. mackenzie says:

    However, regarding my letter writing, although I received an immediate response from my state goverment adminsitive agency when I cc’d my state senator, I am still waiting for a response from my senator. Maybe it will come in time but it’s been over a month.

    When I watch congress in session on Cspan, it seems that the debates and investigations are sincere. I believe that any politician has to compromise with power, but not necessarily because of a direct relationship with campaign contributions. It’s just the nature of the beast when dealing with complex inter-relationships of interests, which is why I think a lot of the reponsibility for protecting individual rights falls upon the individual speaking up for those rights. That is what makes the voice of the people.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Public funding of campaigns is a terrible idea for the reasons Reach went into.

    In my opinion the only acceptable campaign finance laws are those which require full disclosure by every politician of every contribution they receive and every dime they spend on their campaign.

  6. David says:

    Thanks for the link to the petition. I’ll bet with your letter writing that the government agencies are more careful to appear responsive when they know that their bosses (the senators and representatives) are in the communication loop.

    I agree with your last paragraph. Most elected officials are sincere and basically honest but it is the nature of the system that individuals must defend their own rights if they expect to retain them.

  7. David says:

    Jeremy is absolutely right that full disclosure is an exceptionally powerful tool – although enforcing it is hardly a trivial task.

  8. mackenzie says:

    I concur with David and Jeremy, thatcombined with the elimination of earmarks.

  9. David says:

    I failed to mention before that there is an amendment to the current budget bill in the senate that would place a one year (no exceptions) moratorium on earmarks and it has the support of all three remaining presidential candidates (among others). let’s hope it gets passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush.

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