January 06, 2006

Cleaning Up Washington

So it looks like Bill Frist and the rest of the Republican Party want to put out their own lobbying reform bill. After all, it's just so appalling that Jack Abramoff was somehow able to sneak his millions into GOP coffers. That clever devil. Anyway, if Frist needs some ideas, I'm here to help. We can tinker with lobbying laws, or we could think big. So in that vein, here are a few brief ideas for revamping Congress:
1. True Proportional Representation. Each election cycle, every voter will receive a "weighted" vote based on his or her income in the previous year. Fair's fair: Those who pay the most in taxes "own" the biggest part of government, after all, and should be able to have corresponding voting power. That should ensure that billionaires and the like no longer have to worry about laundering unseemly campaign contributions every which way. Bonus: Anyone who was unemployed and not earning income in the past year doesn't get to vote. This should make it easier for the Fed to stop worrying about creating jobs, and focus on its proper task: keeping inflation low, low, low.

2. Publicly-Financed Lobbying. Every company will get a number of "Favorable Legislation Vouchers" that can be redeemed with their nearest member of Congress or Senator to get whatever favorable legislation they need. Vouchers will be handed out to companies according to market share, and there will be a cap and trade system for buying and selling vouchers—after all, most economists believe this is the most rational way to allocate scarce resources. This way, say, the oil industry could pool together and ask for $20 billion in subsidies without wading into the dirty business of lobbying. Remember: it's not corruption if it's all legal!

3. Incorruptible Politicians. I've seen a few think tanks propose that politicians should get paid much more, so that they become immune to lobbyist influence—because they would already have so much money. This is a fantastic idea. We know that rich people never do anything shady, and if a person is already making, say, a million dollars, there's virtually no chance that he or she will do anything untoward for a little extra cash. Except maybe that Tyco guy. But whatever, bad apple. Plus, being able to buy a mansion and whatnot will help politicians relate to their constituents better. Oh, and of course, if, say, a House seat came with a plum $2 million salary (say), that would virtually ensure that only public-spirited people run for office, or something.
No, okay, in all seriousness, I do agree with Max Sawicky when he says that this country has undergone "lobbying reform" for decades, and it's never fundamentally changed much.

Of course everyone would like to see some sort of post-Abramoff cleaning-up of Congress, but really, only very drastic reforms will put a clamp on the influence of money in politics and increase transparency. That means: Proportional representation, publicly-financed elections, third parties, fewer "classified" documents of any kind, making the text of legislation public before voting, that sort of thing. Even more likely, though, money and undue secrecy will always be a part of Washington, and the only way to counteract the slew of K Street business lobbyists is to ensure that there's a strong and well-financed labor movement in this country ready to fight back.
-- Brad Plumer 1:15 PM || ||