“Washington is broken.”
Heard it a thousand times. And yes, it is. But the problem we face is not that Washington is broken, but that the discussion ends there. So here is the continuation of the conversation.
MAJOR PROBLEM #1 – Congress’ Addiction
It’s probably broken up more of your favorite bands than promiscuous groupies, battles over artistic direction, or troubling record sales combined.
And the consequences of addictions - loss of interest in anything else, runaway expenses, indifference to loved ones and friends – though sad, aren’t shocking to an outside observer.
That’s what happens to addicts who lose control.
Nice going – because you’ve just identified the single greatest threat to our legislative process in Washington D.C:
Members of Capitol Hill are addicts. And our complaints against Congress – disinterest in solving serious problems, enormous debts and expenses, and an almost complete indifference to public opinion – they’re all run-of-the-mill consequences of any drug user.
Congress’ addiction, however, is just harder to see. There’s no creepy mug shot; no leaked police report video; no TMZ
shot of an all-night bender. But the truth is our Congressional members are closer to an E! True Hollywood Story than writing any meaningful or substantial bill or law.
And it’s time we called for an intervention.
Clear a room, Dr. Drew. Celebrity Rehab just got a lot more crowded.
First Step: Identifying the Source of Addiction – CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Strange, confusing and extreme behavior is usually a good sign of addiction.
Hasseloff mumbling through a delicious cheeseburger shirtless? Alcohol issues. Winona Ryder’s bizarre shop-lifting binge? Painkillers.
Cold, hard, campaign cash.
You see, every politician needs money. To run and re-run for office, they need to advertise, campaign, travel, etc. And campaign cash, well it can be one hell of a drug for a politician, as its accumulation provides a pretty substantial high. During a typical election, the politician with the most money will win nearly 9 out of 10 times.
Think about that. Nine out of ten times a politician is guaranteed to have a good time as long as he or she collects more than an opponent. Alcohol will at least throw in a few mean drunk nights every once in a while just to keep you on your toes.
Cash for a politician, on the other hand, is like cocaine in a 1980′s party – everyone’s doing it, and the guy with the most on hand almost always has the best time.
Second Step: Identifying the Spiral Effect
Problems with drugs are simple: after the first hit, it takes a little more to get the same result. And the second time, just a little bit more than the first.
Campaign cash is no different, and as of 2012, our legislators are pushing into Keith Richards’ territory to get their election highs.
Take a look below at the amount of cash spent on recent Presidential campaigns:
- In 2000, Bush and Gore spent over $528 million combined;
- In 2004, Bush and Kerry spent $880 million combined;
- In 2008, Obama and McCain tallied over $1 billion combined;
- And in 2012, Obama and Romney figure to spend $2 billion combined.
The high for politicians – a victory at the polls – is getting more and more expensive with each election cycle.
For if 2000 was like having “one or two” cigarettes just take the edge off when drinking, 2012 will be like chain-smoking heavy Marlboro Reds while scouring the streets for old butts just for one more good puff.
Or, in real world terms, it’s spending more time on a fundraising trail than legislating even in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; it’s holding private fundraisers at $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a plate even when public mistrust of wealthy donors influencing government is at an all-time high; or it’s failing to disavow blatantly discriminatory comments from a public persona because doing so would mean less money in November no matter the impact on public discussion.
And with The Citizens United ruling, $2 billion might be small potatoes by 2016 or 2020, as total money spent on elections only figures to rise, the political high becoming an even greater race to collect the most money.
Our politicians are hooked and the high is getting more and more expensive.
But so what?
Third Step: Understanding the Addiction’s Negative Impact
The rise of money in election campaigns only hurts our legislative process.
For the race to score campaign cash is forcing our legislators to legislate less and less.
Because instead of scouring the streets for money, or selling their body to the night (Roxxxxanne), our politicians engage in non-stop speed-dating.
That’s right: speed-dating.
Instead of chatting with middle-aged, marriage-hungry individuals though, our politicians are rotating from one campaign donor to the next – hoping to fill their coffers when $5 and $10 donations fall short of $2 billion.
And as any begger with a change cup knows, this is guaranteed to happen no matter how convincing your story.
Just like other addictions, addiction to campaign cash has hidden consequences, though they may seem unrelated:
- Increased partisanship – a successful speed-dater needs to sell himself in 1 minute. Best strategy? Come prepared with key talking points. Since “I’m easy-going,” “Never stalked a girlfriend before,” and “Just had a check up. I’m clean,” have already been taken, politicians use something else: “I’ve always voted along party lines.” Closes faster than a TomKat divorce hearing.
- Legislation against majority wishes - it’s no surprise when a bouncer makes six average guys stand in line for the bar, but ushers those five attractive girls straight to the front. One group brings nothing to the table except a lot of noise and a few dollars; the other is what keeps the bar in business. And as the costs of campaigns rise higher and higher, wealthy donors become much more important than average citizens. Their wishes are taken care of first.
- Persistence in the face of public disapproval – think Charlie Sheen cares what you think? Neither do your officials, not as long as they raise enough cash from a few select donors. Your opinion only counts during election time – but with their hoards of cash, you’ll most likely forget the past 2 years when they scare you with negative ads against “the other guy.”
So what now?
Paging Dr. Drew…..
Fourth Step: Breaking the Cycle
Campaign finance is the leading reason why Washington’s legislative process is broken. Gridlock, partisanship, and policies against the interests of the majority of citizens are all direct consequences of this addiction. Not to mention the tougher-to-see problems in things left undone, like reforming the tax code, climate change, health-care, Medicare and Medicaid, financial regulation, education as Congress fixates on the short-term, looking only at getting the next high and nothing else.
There is a way out. It won’t be easy, but there is a way.
Reform Campaign Finance.
And do it now.
If you enjoy reading about celebrity addictions amid your flurry of political news, you’ll probably like the rest of my blog. Follow @writersparadox on Twitter for the latest.