by Peter Bearse
Let this be a response to Executive Editor Howard Altshiller's NH Seacoast Sunday, June 22nd, “Opinion” piece titled “N.H. Rebellion walking in the right direction”. It's best feature was its acknowledgment that, indeed, CFR has died. Why, then, should he and others walk 16 miles along the Seacoast in a show of support for another CFR initiative, one grounded more on hype – “rebellion” rather than reality – when the show would not take people “walking in the right direction”?
Having invested a lot of time in CFR during the '90's, I realized some years ago that pursuing CFR was like beating a dead horse. There was always a contradiction built into the CFR movement. Irony of ironies: CFR supporters fighting to reduce the influence of money on politics focused only on money! What about people? After all, there are only two things that count in business, sex and politics – time and money. To the extent that people are not volunteering time to generate a better, more people-based politics, money – increasingly huge lots of money since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates – necessarily dominates.
Hope dies hard, however, even among political realists. So, along with many others, I became involved with “Move to Amend”, thinking that Constitutional Amendment [CA] would be CFR's last hurrah. It's surprising that Altshiller didn't mention this. It's more “NH” than the N.H. Rebellion. Substantial majorities in over 50 towns passed warrant articles saying that our state should join 16 others in resolving that there should be a Constitutional Amendment to get big money out of politics. A resolution to this effect was then approved by a substantial majority of NH Rep's in the House. But the State Senate, following the lead of its Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, effectively neutered the bill (SB307) by referring the matter to a study committee.
Back at the ranch of congressional electoral politics, evidence of the corrupting influence of big money in politics and government continues to mount, and the great American majority is increasingly aware of it. So, what is to be done? There are two options ready to be exercised by any and every American citizen during this critical congressional election year. They go together:
1) Get in on the ground floor of a new movement: A PEOPLE'S and CITIZENS' CONGRESS, whose goal is to someday get a Congress that seeks to empower US rather than THEM.
2) Always ask the right questions of candidates. There are two, and they go together:
>> “How will you empower me more than yourself”, and another referred to by Altshiller:
>> “What will you do “about systemic corruption...?” Note the departure from the usual CFR thrust: People here are paramount. The byline is “Money out / People in.” If people don't step forward to take back what should be but is not now, THEIR politics, all bets are off for the future of our republic. “Step forward” means far more than just walking a seacoast or stepping into a voting booth on election day. It means people taking back ownership of politics from all the BIGs – big business, big money and big media. People need to occupy politics between elections as well as during them. That would be a true “rebellion” – akin to a new American revolution.
Alshiller was right-on in pointing to the basic problem facing ordinary people in politics: “They're just not sure what to do...” Well, here are two people-power enhancing TO-DO's: Push for a congressional legislative solution. Deluge Congress with support for any proposed Constitutional Amendment that would return power back to Congress and state legislatures to limit and control campaign contributions and costs [e.g., SJR 19 introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D, NM).
The CA approach is hardest because of the high hurdles for amending set under Article V of our Constitution. Even if at least 2/3 of both houses of Congress or of state legislatures approve a resolu-tion, at least ¾ of state legislatures or Constitutional Conventions must approve an Amendment.
As for legislation, “NH Rebellion” is marching for the legislative solution proposed by Harvard Law School Prof. and CFR star Larry Lessig, who advocates public financing of elections. This is a questionable proposition for five main reasons:
(1) Since most candidates would run with or without public financing, economists consider public financing a “dead weight” subsidy, meaning that it's mostly wasted.
(2) Most people are averse to their taxpayer dollars being used to subsidize the candidacies of people they don't support.
(3) There's always some uncertainty in levels of public financing due to shifting priorities and availability of funds arising from government budgets. Look at Maine, for example.
(4) Public financing has already been tried and failed at the presidential level. Remember Obama was for it until he was against it since he could raise a lot more money from private donors.
(5) While public financing would make more campaign money available to candidates (like myself) who have trouble raising lots of money from private donors, there's little or no evidence that it would solve the fundamental (more important than money) problem cited earlier – the need to significantly raise the likelihood, rate and level of the participation of people in politics other than the usual suspects.
Since the latter – more people involved – is what is key to an engaged electorate and a high energy democracy, legislation should be focused on incentives to get more people involved. I outlined such a legislative proposal in the first of the books in my set of three on the theme of “We the People: A Conservative Populism.” The key is to recognize the value of people's contributions of time. Tax credits would be provided for such contributions, valued at the minimum wage. Campaign expenditures would be limited and regulated for high-cost categories such as TV ads, political consultants and political “pro's” but would be unlimited for tools used by +volunteers going door-to-door, etc. Such an approach would likely survive Supreme Court challenges.
The bottom line is this: We have both the urgent need and a good chance to revive our democracy and save our republic. Let's not blow it.
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., former candidate for Congress in NH and Chairman of A PEOPLE'S and CITIZENS' CONGRESS email@example.com www.peterjamesbearse.wix.com/peoples-congress.
June 25, 2014