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The Shockingly Simple Way to Fix This Mess in Congress

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Congress is already the least popular institution in America. Apparently, though, the current members will not be satisfied until they're surrounded by an actual pitchfork-bearing mob. How much longer must we watch these bought-off lackeys play games while our country disintegrates?

There's something we can do to fix this. There's a way we can elect a new Congress, all at once, with competent, experienced, incorruptible leaders. I've been talking about this for a little while. I really believe we can do it. (Email me to get involved at zack@fivethirtysix.org)

America is crowded with amazing, honest leaders. Unfortunately, our traditional method of selecting candidates ensures that none of them will ever run for Congress. To run for Congress, you first have to run for board of education, then maybe city council, then something like state representative. If you're a true, honest leader, you will never submit to that decades-long, soul-crushing ordeal. If you do, you're not going to be the same person by the time you are finally ready to run for federal office. You'll be a completely compromised wheeler dealer, and you won't even know it. Yes, there have been a few exceptions -- but only a few, who land in Washington isolated and powerless.

That use to be the only way. Now there is another.

Over the past fifteen years, Americans have developed a new way of picking candidates for president. It was foreshadowed by online fundraising groups like MoveOn.org and ActBlue, prototyped in the 2003-04 presidential cycle with Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and others, and fully realized in 2008 with Barack Obama. Even though he jumped into the race very late, and even though he didn't have the traditional package of qualifications, Americans dumped millions of dollars on him the minute he announced using the Internet. (Incidentally, that same mechanism made Hillary viable, who also lacked traditional qualifications.)

We can use that same mechanism with Congress. It's very simple. We'll use the Internet to put a full slate of competent, experienced and incorruptible leaders in front of America -- in a way that will allow millions to provide effective support to them. That wasn't possible in the past, but now it is: we'll just put them on a website, with bios and introductory videos for each person, and for the slate as a whole. The website will accept donations and allow volunteers to join work groups in every district.

When we announce this full slate of amazing leaders and launch this website, it will be a major news story -- at least for a night and at least on cable. That's all the press we need to start with. When we raise a million dollars that night, the story will earn another day. By the end of the week, with ten million dollars and thousands of volunteers, the story will keep growing. That seed money will allow us to begin building real organizations in key districts, which will convince millions of mainstream voters and donors that we have chance. Hundreds of millions more will follow, allowing us to build in every single district. We won't build out 500 separate campaigns, but rather one national, united campaign, gaining many economies of scale that way. You can read more details in my previous article on this.

If you're doubting my credibility on this topic, fair enough -- I know it sounds far fetched. Just let me say this: I raised more than $100 million online for John Kerry in 2004. John Kerry! This totally unprecedented slate of real people proposing to replace Congress in one fell swoop is at least 10 times more exciting than John Kerry. So that's a billion dollars right there. Thanks to some specifics of campaign fundraising rules, I actually think we will be able to raise two billion.

Simple. But difficult. Recruiting the candidates of course will be hard -- not because they are so incredibly rare, but because they are relatively rare -- and we will need to find more than five hundred of them, scattered in every state and Congressional district.

Difficult. But not impossible. What if ten of us worked on this together for five hours per week. Researching online, asking around, reaching out and making the list. How fast could we identify and interview potential candidates? I think we could have an initial batch of 30 or 40 amazing candidates to feature in an online proposal after just a few months. After that, progress will quicken. That first handful of candidates will make this mushy idea suddenly feel concrete. The initial batch of amazing, honest leaders will act as a magnet for more. We'll keep working manually, with an ever-growing recruiting team. But we'll also set up an online nomination and application process so that candidates can find us.

In terms of time scale and commitment, this is pretty much the opposite of, say, signing an Internet petition. This is a project that will take a few years -- and that's just to recruit the slate. Maybe we can dream of a campaign for 2018.

You don't need to commit for the next five years. What I'm looking for now are just a handful of people who are free for the next few months for some very part time volunteering -- people who are just as excited about this idea as I am.

We can do this. Before 2008, no one would have believed that Barack Obama could use the Internet to raise the funds and recruit the volunteer army to win the presidency. This is possible. It feels impossible now. After we've done, we won't remember why we thought it would be so difficult. I know you have many detailed questions. Please read my last article on this. Or just email me!

If you're almost ready to bite, but just need a little more motivation, then just turn on the TV and look at what the jokers in Congress are up to. Then send me and email and we'll get started!

Reach me at: zack@fivethirtysix.org