Fix America? Fix the Politicians

07/02/2010 07:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dylan Ratigan New York Times Best-Selling author, entrepreneur and formerly the host of MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show

Today we ended Fix It week on my show, although we hope to keep this recurring theme. But the largest hindrance to solutions for all of the problems we've discussed -- be it the Deficit, Energy, Education or the Wars -- goes back to one place: the current political process in our country.

We practically all share the same list of problems, regardless of ideology: The undue influence of moneyed interest, the focus on inane culture wars instead of proper governance, the low quality of our politicians coupled with their high incumbency rates, the lack of ethics, disclosure etc. The only question left is how to fix them and then, how do we muster the will?

These are the questions I addressed for my entire show today -- and just to get the ball rolling, here are four of my favorite solutions:

1. One for me, one for you

I don't have to explain to anyone why we need to fix the campaign finance system. The question is how do we do it fairly. Publicly financed campaigns are one solution, but they seem to go against our very nature as Americans. After all, who wants to be forced into having their tax money going to politicians they don't like? Meanwhile, infringing on the amounts people can donate gives an advantage to wealthy candidates. But I think there is pretty easy solution to this:

I propose that we make a law that charges a 100% fee on all political spending, with the that fee going into a public campaign financing fund that is given solely to candidates with low campaign coffers on a per petition signature basis. This means that if a well-moneyed candidate like Barack Obama wants to spend $740 million of campaign donations, $370 million of that can go to his campaign and the other half to a public campaign fund.

Even better, if a wealthy person like Michael Bloomberg wants to spend $108 million of his own fortune trying to get elected, half goes to other, less-moneyed candidates. As far as those "poorer" candidates go, the more valid petition signatures they have, the more money they should get from the fund.

In addition to curtailing the power of the dollar in elections, this would especially help new candidates take advantage of modern marvels like social networking etc. to jump-start a serious challenge to more-moneyed opponents.

And if you don't want your money going to candidates you don't like, then don't get in to the game in the first place.

2. Disclose everything to all

It is a sad state of affairs when corporations, who clearly don't work for us, are forced to disclose more to than politicians who do (or at least are paid by us). We need to put the legal onus on politicians to disclose every single potential conflict of interest, be it an invite to a BBQ or getting their nephew a job with a contractor. This means that if it could in any conceivable way be considered a conflict, it's on them to disclose it even if there is no specific rule against it. Then, if they are found being negligent of material disclosure, they need to be fired, fined and possibly jailed.

Finally, this information MUST be updated weekly into open-source searchable databases. There is no shortage of smart, patriotic Americans who can take it from there.

3. Cool your heels for seven years

The revolving door from politics to corresponding positions of undue influence in the private sector has to be stopped. There needs to be a seven year cooling off period for all Politicians, staffers and regulators from working in any related industry or lobbying their former colleagues.

While this might sound draconian, ask yourself, do you really think we are getting high quality public servants with the current incentive structure? I am betting we will get much more capable public servants once we hinder their ability to get rich off of their service.

4. End the lefty-righty facade

As far as I can tell, at this point the major differences in the traditional Political Parties has basically become their stance on gay marriage -- and even that looks pretty similar once they are in power. Both like to give away money they don't have and are unwilling to stand up to the special interests that fund them.

Furthermore, the false choice of "Republican" or "Democrat" is keeping some of the best candidates from making it to the general election. If politicians want to align themselves into two Political Parties, that is their right. But the government shouldn't allow them to hold separate primaries. Hopefully this recent move to open primaries in California will take off across the country.

The question now is how do we get these same complicit politicians to make the fundamental changes that we need to the system. My hope is that in the coming years, we will see more and more people deciding that they have had enough and will enter into the political spectrum or push their neighbors and friends to do so.

Also, I am waiting patiently for serious candidates in the United States to sign a legally binding contract guaranteeing that they will support initiatives like the ones outlined above. Don't laugh, it's already on its way across the pond.

Politicians held personally liable for breaking their promises to the voter? That's change we all could believe in.