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Roger Wolfson

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Cleaning Up Elections? It's Simpler Than You Think.

Posted: 01/24/2012 3:00 pm

I'm fairly confident many Huffington Post readers will agree with this statement: "Corporate money has perverted the American electoral and governance processes to the point where elections and governance can no longer be said to reflect the will of, or best interests of, the public."

What few of us can do, however, is agree on responses that actually address the problem. I am willing to argue that two of the most accepted proposals floating around will not do the job.

Starting with:

1) Overturning the "Citizens United" ruling (the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts to political campaigns).

Simply overturning Citizens United won't provide us with a campaign system that provides fair results. We were doing poorly before Citizens United, too. We need a far more aggressive change than just overturning that one ruling. Which brings me to a second, popuar suggestion:

2) Publicly finance elections.

I agree that this would help. Full disclosure, I've worked for both John Kerry and Paul Wellstone, and the two of them introduced one of the more aggressive public financing options Congress has ever seen.

However, like overturning Citizens United, making elections publicly financed is no cure-all. Public financing can be great, but in the hands of certain states (and certain Congresses) public financing could simply end up a cash boon to our existing two-party structure. It could stifle the campaigns of third-party candidates. And since both sides would have the same resources, it could effectively nullify both sides of the campaign, and put much of the power of deciding elections more deeply in the hands of the so-called "Free Media," the media conglomerates - which are corporations themselves.

So, what do we need to do to get the results we want? It's actually incredibly simple. We just need to say what we want in constitutional language.

Allow me to establish a premise. Arguably, the greatest Constitutional Amendments of all are the original ten - the Bill of Rights. The reason for their greatness is that they introduce basic principles into the fabric of our national being. Legislatures and courts then have the responsibility of turning those basic principles into reality.

For example, our Fifth Amendment reads, in part: "No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." If those words were proposed merely as federal legislation, the language would be considered so vague as to be unenforceable. But as an Constitutional Amendment it works well precisely because of its generality. It just says what it means. So the principle is sound and clear as a bell, and (in comparison with other nations) we've done a relatively good job of interpreting and adhering to it.

Therefore, I propose the following Constitutional Amendment that I believe would achieve the same goals - and more - of both overturning Citizens United, and mandating publicly funded elections.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"The right of the people to clean elections and clean government, free of undue corporate or financial influence, shall not be abridged or denied."

This amendment, if passed, it would introduce three vitally important word-pairings into our Constitutional vocabulary: "Clean Elections" "Clean Government," and "Undue Influence. I believe it would force courts and legislatures to examine the behavior of corporations and lobbyists in our campaign and governance processes. As legislation, it's just as vague as "Due Process." But as a principle, it is equally clear and concise, and I believe it would provide the results we are looking for.

I'd love your thoughts, reader!

And while I have your attention, another idea has been bubbling up from the collective conscience to help shape corporations towards more responsible goals. Michael Moore suggests that fifty-percent of the boards of directors for large companies be composed of employees of that company. Similar concepts have been used in Germany in many successful ways.

However, this idea, too, is incomplete. While workers have been demonstrated to be more sensitive to the plight of workers, there is little evidence that having employees on the board actually leads to the kind of thinking we need to inject into the corporate mentality: good environmental and corporate citizenship.

This time I propose legislation, not a Constitutional Amendment.

"The federal anti-trust division of the Justice Department shall be granted authority to regulate, penalize, fine, and even shut down (if necessary) any corporation (native or foreign) that does not behave in a manner that reflects the best interests and the health of the environment, its consumers, it's employees, the local communities in which the corporation functions, and the United States."

As with my suggested Constitutional Amendment, above, this proposed legislation just says what it is we want. It's a bit more specific; it expands the powers of an existing federal department. It would still require interpretation and regulation. But I think it's a solid, clear, beginning.

Again, I welcome your thoughts, dear reader. I hope these ideas spark a conversation, at least between us.

 
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