A reform agenda for 2007
by David Donnelly, Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 05:54:26 AM EDT
Money is pouring into races all over the country. Abramoff has his own "desk" at the FBI. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Land Deal) is the latest to be under federal investigation. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Slap-Happy) threatens bodily harm to her Libertarian opponent (who has MS and is in a wheelchair) after he brought up her contributions from Tom DeLay in a televised debate. Then there's the Lieberman loophole: $387,000 in unaccounted for petty cash.
And we haven't even experienced the malfunctioning voting machines yet (at least in the general).
Democrats, should they take back Congress, will need a real plan to clean up Congress, and put voters first -- an agenda that is deep, broad, and systemic. No more bandaids, or narrow process reform masquerading as big ideas.
A reform agenda needs to be evaluated on the basis of how it helps regular people participate and how it enhances the ability of people to control their government. I don't think people would be (or should be) so concerned about the size and scope of government if they got quality government that addressed their concerns and was accountable.
If Democrats successfully advance an agenda that truly puts voters first, they'll be seen as the party of encouraging participation. We've seen example after example of GOP efforts to depress voter turnout. One astute observer told me recently, it's not hard to conclude that one party wants lots of people to vote, and one, well, doesn't. But, this is not about Democrats using this issue for partisan gain - that would make them just like the Republicans who refused to do any lobbying, ethics, or campaign finance reform because it would hurt them. They should do it because it is right. These issues have tremendous symbolic value, and the party that gets it benefits.
At any rate, here are five common sense ideas that would reposition the issue of electoral, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying reform outside of the DC wonk-o-sphere. It's not exhaustive.
1. Clean Elections-style public financing. It works in state after state. Just ask Governor Janet Napolitano. Candidates agree to an overall spending limit, qualify for a grant of public money by broad demonstrating public support with small contributions, and are freed from the money chase. If a participating candidate is targeted by outside money, he or she gets "fair fight" funds to respond. So far roughly 80 to 90 incumbents have pledged to support this in the next Congress, with support building. [Update]: An untold number of challengers will also enter Congress in 2007, perhaps making this new class a class of reform. We count approximately 15 challengers in hotly-contested races as supporters.
2. An independent ethics agency. No one - NO ONE - has faith in the way it is now. The only way to get to the bottom of the malfeasance is to have an agency outside of Congress's control investigate ethics abuses. No more foxes guarding the hen house. I have my doubts whether any member of Congress wants this, but that's what makes it a good thing, no?
3. Read the bill. How amazing would it be if every single bill had to be posted online for 72 hours before any vote could be held? Now I know that lots of legislation is not written in plain English. But think about the accountability component of having no way for lawmakers to sneak in last minute changes. Obviously there would have to be lots of thought about how to make it happen, but it's a pretty neat idea, no?
4. Same-day registration for voting. It's the law in a bunch of states like Maine and Minnesota - two of the highest turnout states in the country. When you move from state to state, you can walk in and get a new drivers' license and drive that very day. Why not the same for voting? Sure, the conservatives will claim there will be fraud. But when you register you sign under penalties of perjury. And frankly, I'm sick and tired of fraud being used as a way to discourage voting.
5. Fix the voting machine mess. People with more experience than I will know better how to suggest something here. But why, in this day and age, should we have to worry about whether our votes get counted? What were the women's suffrage and the civil rights movements for? We ought to honor those who fought for - and those who gave their lives fighting for - the right to vote by guaranteeing that all votes get counted.
There are lots of other good ideas - particularly on disclosure by the Sunlight Foundation - and this list is just a few that I wanted to throw out to you.
Last year, MoveOn launched a campaign calling on the House to "stop corruption first" before the House tackled its 2006 business. In retrospect it was a good idea, perhaps the right message for then, but too early.
This year, on the day after the election, we ought demand the same, but with a new message and a high bar: as the first act of the next Congress, pass serious reform that puts people back in charge of their government.