Posted 2 years ago on Feb. 27, 2012, 1:10 p.m. EST by zymergy
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
As the original objectives of the U.S. Constitution were to define and limit the powers of government and to guarantee the rights of citizens, what new amendments could we support [to reform our political processes] that would be consistent with those original objectives? First we should consider the types of reforms that are needed.
Many of us are distressed that large amounts of money are corrupting our political processes. This corruption occurs in at least two major ways. First, during political campaigns, well-funded advertising, often negative, can dominate the political debate, obscure issues, and discourage voter participation. Second, once in office, our representatives are lobbied intensively and thus influenced by large-money business interests who are motivated to reduce their tax liabilities, reduce their exposure to Federal regulations, and improve their contracting advantages with the Federal Government. The corruption of this type attacks respectively the government’s ability to raise required revenue, to protect the environment and welfare of all citizens, and to efficiently contract for products and services.
The most obvious solution is to restrict the amount of money that can be applied to the political processes, but there is a difficulty with this solution. Money is the enabler or means by which we all, rich and not rich, exercise our free-speech rights and participate in the political dialog. We use money to operate websites, make phone calls, send letters, host house parties, canvas neighborhoods, publish books, and produce and distribute documentaries as well as representative fiction. None of these costly activities should be prohibited in the political debate, for to do so would limit free speech and our access to information. Another possible solution is to disallow private funding of political campaigns and replace that with public funding, but this too has a problem. Public funding is synonymous with government funding. Should we permit the government to control the speech or actions of those who wish to challenge it? I think not. The power to act in any way necessary to replace a government or any part of the government must remain with the people and with any association of the people.
To address both forms of corruption we may need two amendments to control the way Congress collects and spends money. The motivation to spend large amounts of money in political campaigns and the motivation to focus Congressional attention primarily on the needs of wealthy interests could both be reduced by reducing the ability of Congress to reciprocate by favoring special interests with specific types of legislation. Such a reduction might occur with the adoption of the following two types of amendments:
To address the temptation of Congress to modify the tax code to favor special interests, the Constitution could be amended with:
Congress shall make no law that imposes a tax that is not uniform across all persons and all other sources of profit, production, and importation; neither shall Congress make a law that reduces a tax that is not unconditionally applicable to all. This article is retroactive to all existing elements of the tax code.
To address the temptation of Congress to shape regulatory and contractual legislation to favor special interests, the Constitution could be amended with: Members of Congress and parties with whom they share an economic interest shall not accept any item or service of value from any source for ten years following any vote on any legislation that favored the business objectives of that source.
These two amendments are a significant departure from the habits of the Federal government. This departure is warranted because nowhere in the Constitution is Congress given the power to favor specific groups with either targeted spending or targeted tax exceptions. The purpose of taxation is defined in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, "...to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, but all Duties, Imposts, and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." At the end of Section 8, Congress is given the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government ...”, but none of these other Powers pertain to Congress.
In support of the first of the two proposed amendments I will ask: Do we believe that every citizen has a responsibility to his government and to his community, regardless of financial wealth and circumstance? If so, then we can separate the issue of the payment of taxes, one's contribution to the common defense and other government obligations, from the issue of financial, or educational, or medical need. Our current tax code is extremely complex, or more simply full of loopholes which permit many wealthy individuals to avoid paying taxes altogether. The loopholes are there in the tax code because Congress confuses the purpose of taxation with the purpose of promoting welfare and favoring different segments of the economy. Nothing in these two amendments would prohibit Congress from pursuing welfare objectives or even attempting to favor certain business objectives, but congress would have to do so directly, in the open for all to see and consider, rather than covertly hidden in tax breaks, rebates, and exclusions. If the person who makes only $1,000 in a year must pay $100 in taxes, that person can feel as proud of his contribution as the person who makes $100,000 in the same year and pays $10,000 in taxes. Because of their tax contributions, both may feel more responsible for their government and both may keep a better watch over the government's use of that tax revenue than if they had paid no taxes.
Some of that tax revenue could then be used to supplement the income of the person who needed it should the welfare of individuals be interpreted as a furtherance of the “general welfare” that is to be promoted by Congress, but that person would have to go through a very different process to demonstrate his need rather than only filing his income tax form. Also, some of the tax revenue could be used for job creation, and energy development, but again the payments would be obvious, and according to current contract law, competitive. America could get better results from its investments, rather than as is the current practice of taking business investment promises on faith.
It has been said that money is the root of all evil. That is certainly true in our understanding of the corruption of our political processes. Yet, money is not an evil in itself, as fraud, ignorance, and violence are inherently evil. But we must acknowledge that both the voters and their representatives in government are only human, with human limitations and selfish propensities. The framers of our Constitution understood this, and gave us an architecture for governance that made difficult the expression of self-seeking power and gain. That architecture proved inadequate, but not hopeless. We now have an opportunity to follow the example of the founders and improve upon their work. These amendments should contribute to our protection against our own baser natures and make more difficult the expression of self-seeking power and gain.