Campaign Contributions: Returning Representation to the Citizen

Since the establishment of the United States there has always been a measure of discontent with the representation provided by those elected to public office. This is to be expected since each citizen has their own views of the way things are or should be. This discontent crescendo’s from time to time causing changes to the political landscape or changes to the Constitution. The real problem is the corruption that society permits with the elected official and then the failure to properly address the problem.  Establishing the 17th Amendment was  an improper response to this problem. Term Limits are the current idea to deal with the current problem. Both are like taking a cold medicine. It addresses the symptoms but does not attack the cause. The only way to address this problem is to go back to the founding principles of the republic.

The United States Constitution was founded in the principles written into Declaration of Independence. These two sentences encapsulate the ideals that founded the United States.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by   their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of  Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just  powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This single statement is the heart of the modern era republic. In this statement exists the authority of the individual or more to the point the citizen. It also establishes the expectation that the citizen has the right (is entitled) to influence the behavior and decisions of their elected representatives and through their representatives the behavior and authority of the different levels of government (local, state, and federal).

Influence can be broken down into multiple forms, speech (most obvious), money, services, access, job promises, etc. Any myriad of tangible offerings. It is the influences beyond opinion speech that should be of the greatest concern. The basic ethic of society is that any law that infringes on a citizens speech is prohibited. This idea enshrined in the 1st Amendment is about opinion speech. However, there is more than one kind of speech, voting speech being the other. In the public discourse, freedom of speech is viewed as all speech and thus unlimited. This view is a mistaken perception. Of all the types of speech, voting  speech is the ultimate expression of both opinion and liberty. Yet it is limited. Each citizen only gets only one  opportunity  per election per office to express their wishes. It is around voting speech (the election  and campaign process) which the corruption in the political process should be addressed.

From time to time there has been a flirtation with the idea of compulsory voting. The enshrining  into law  for the requirement of the citizen to vote like performing jury duty. Fortunately this idea has always been rejected because forced speech is not freedom of speech. The right to say nothing is equal to the right to say something or anything. Thus there is liberty. Deciding to not participate in the election process should never be criminalized. Many forget the Preamble to the Constitution and many misquote it.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution only recognizes three sovereign entities (those entitle to representation). These are the United States itself, the States of the Union, and the citizen, each having their roles, responsibilities, and authorities.  It does not recognize cities or counties, which are created under the authority of the State. Nor, does it recognize the business, union, political party, or the interest group. They are the products of the citizen. The special interest group, the corporation, the political party cannot vote for  representation. These organizations are not citizens. Why should they have the ability to provide more tangible influence on a campaign or elected official than the citizen’s being represented? The Supreme Court has ruled that money is in effect speech. This is partially true. What it has failed to recognize is that financial support  for an idea or issues is opinion speech but that financial support of a campaign is voting speech. Money and other forms of influence to a campaign is in effect voting. Take the standard commerce of purchasing a product, the consumer is in effect voting for that product. A corporation or any entity that cannot actually vote for a candidate, should not be able to give money to one. In the case of  corporations, many are multi-national thus opening up influence of the election process to foreign influence in violation of the law. Thus goes the old saying, money is fungible. Who knows where it actually comes from. Allowing for any entity beyond the citizen to provide tangible resources to a campaign is essentially granting  them  a power and influence they are not entitled to.

There are lines of sovereignty drawn throughout the United States. Each one creating constituencies and offices for representation. Each one of these offices have limited and specific authorities. States, counties, cities, judicial districts, congressional districts, etc. These lines of established authority create limitations on influence. This should insure that only the citizen residences of the office being voted for are able to provide support beyond opinion speech to that potential office holder. Consider the election for the President of the United States. It is a national election. Every U.S. citizen is a constituent of that office. If the campaigns and candidates for that office were to take money, have a campaign advisors, receive any tangible support from a foreign entity. It would not only violate current campaign finance laws and it be considered not just  unethical, but criminal, disqualifying. Why is not the same set of rules be applicable at the state level, county level, city level, etc? Should a someone residing in Florida, a citizen of  Florida, be able to provide anything beyond opinion speech to an election in Texas? Texas is sovereign from Florida as Florida is from Texas. The citizens of one state have no right, no authority, to participate in the election process of another state. The same is true of county or city elections. Each electable office created also creates a constituency that the office is establish to serve. Only those citizens who may vote for that office should be allowed provide any influence or support beyond opinion speech to those seeking the office or even holding the office. It is the only ethical and Constitutional behavior that should be allowed.

Proposed Guidelines/Tenants for Ethical and Constitutional Campaign Contribution Laws.

The Constitution provides shared authority in establishing election laws between the States and the Federal government with the primary authority residing in the States. This would results in 51 or more laws on campaign contributions.

Article I, Section IV, Clause 1

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.

  1. No campaign for public office may receive or solicit for, nor may, any entity offer any  tangible item or service of value that is not a permanent resident citizen of the office being sought. Put simply, a campaign is limited exclusively to the resources of the territory in which the office being sought and will represent. Anyone who is not a constituent of the office being sought may not provide any money or services to that campaign. Services purchased by the campaign are limited to individuals and businesses within the geography of the office being sought. Some may argue that limiting hired resources to the geography of the district, county, city, or state etc is debilitating. However, it puts every campaign on the same playing ground. It is fair.
  2. All contributions, received and all expenditures made must be reported into the public domain within 24 hours of receiving the largesse or services or using the campaign resources. A complete contribution accounting must be provided: Who donated money or time, how much money or time, the residence of the contributor, service provided, how much spent, to whom it was sent, the purpose of the expenditure, the contacts representing the service provider, the address of the    service provider. Each state shall have its own method of achieving  and providing for the public record of the campaign. The rules should be evenly applied to all campaigns.
  3. Limits on financial contributions should be capped based on the demographic average earnings of the citizens of the state in which the elections are taking place. A cap for contributions for federal office should also be established federal office. Limits should exist to insure that no one individual citizen has greater influence to a public office than another. Every citizen gets one vote each. Thus the influence should be as evenly distributed as possible Providing each citizen who wishes to participate/contribute can do so equally.
  4. Citizens should only be allowed one residence for the determining  constituency for voting for national offices. Many citizens own multiple homes in a variety of different locations with the U.S. They should not be able to vote multiple times in an election. One residence only. The same can be said of voting within a state.
  5. The use of personal largesse to get oneself elected should be limited to contribution caps. The use of any services controlled by the candidate must be paid for by the campaign at costs normal to the operation of that business. Denying the same services to a competing campaign should be illegal and the costs should be commensurate. The United States is not meant to be an oligarchy. An individual in any other area may take full advantage of their affluence. However, this is for public office whose role is to serve their constituency. Buying an elected office is unethical and not within the founding fathers intent.
  6. Campaigns for public office may not assume debt. No loans. Opens the door to influence that would exceed contribution caps.
  7. Contributions to a campaign whether financial, participation, or any form of volunteer offering require proof of citizenship and constituency to the office being sought. To participate in a campaign, the individual wishing to support the candidate must show proof that they may vote for the candidate.
  8. All contributions remaining after the election and after all services have been closed go to the county, city, state, or federal treasury respectively within 30 days of the day after the election. The purpose of a campaign is to provide a candidate for a public office with a vehicle to inform the constituents of that office with information about the candidate, the goals of the candidate, the qualifications of the candidate, and the issues important to the candidate. It is not there to enrich    the candidate beyond getting elected.
  9. Any U.S. Citizen, Organization, PAC, Political Party, Corporation, Special Interest Group, etc. may make a statement of endorsement of any campaign for public office which the campaign may use or reject. with the following restriction. Organizations, PAC, Political Parties, Corporations, Special Interest groups must be able to show that they received no largesse from a foreign entity. No foreign influence. Freedom of speech is maintained
  10. Organizations, PAC’s, Political Parties, Corporations, Special Interest Groups, etc. may advertise opinions on any issue provided they identify their organization when issuing the advertisement. All service and monies used for issue advertising should be available for public record within 24 hours of receipt or acceptance of services. This is not endorsement of a candidate. This is issue advertising. No mention of a candidate is permitted. The organization has already performed that activity by making a statement of endorsement. If they chose to.
  11. Organizations, PAC’s, Political Parties, Corporations, Special Interest Groups, etc. are prohibited from limiting or restricting U.S. citizens from any and all lawful contribution to any campaign while outside the workplace. Additionally, are not permitted to make as a condition of employment any limits on political expression outside the workplace as long as the employee in their participation is not acting as a representative of the organization. Some corporations have their own political action committees (PAC’s) while at the same time restricting or limiting their employees from contributing themselves. This behavior is essentially holding the employee who is a citizen hostage to the will of the employer.
  12. Campaigns violating limitations on contributions should be required to return or pay for the largesse or services received and should be subject to a fine equal to amount of largesse or services illegally received. Penalties should be so damaging as to make violating them unthinkable.

The United States of America is a republic. It is not a democracy. Granted, the election of a public office holder is a result of a democratic process. However, the simple truth is that the individual citizen does not vote directly on any given issue in almost all cases. It is the elected official that holds the governing authority through the consent of the citizen. They either legislate the law or administer the law. The elected official swears an oath to uphold the ideals and principles established in The Constitution. It should also be understood that the elected  official does not actually assume the mantle of authority of the office until they make that oath. The oath establishes an affirmative responsibility to uphold the promises, liberties, obligations, responsibilities, and sovereignty established in The Constitution. Because of this the public office holder’s obligation is to the citizen and the oath taken. Not the corporation, union, political party, special interest group or any other entity. The responsibility is only to the citizens who granted their consent to be represented by that individual and to guarantee the social fabric they are sworn to uphold.

The fundamental problem that exists within the republic (any republic) and its election of public office holders is the loss of the foundational ethics around representational government. This loss of ethic is reflected in the current set of campaign finance laws. For the citizen to take back control and influence of the political process and its “representative government”, the citizen must insist on a set of ethics that get legislated into law reaffirming the original intent of its creators, and the rules we have all agreed to adhere to.

The First Amendment to The Constitution insures that every U.S. citizen has the right and unrestricted opportunity to express their ideas and thoughts on any issue or interest. It is a fundamental ethic of the society. Every citizen’s voice freely adding to the dialog that establishes the culture and its laws. However, current campaign finance laws are disenfranchising the individual citizen in favor of influence of political action committees (PACS), unions, political parties, corporations, and any myriad of special interest groups. None of these aforementioned organizations have a direct right to representation. These organizations inherit their influence and rights through the citizens that support them. Again, Supreme Court has ruled that the contribution of money to a candidate running for public office is free speech and is protected under The First Amendment. This ruling on its face fails to recognize the substantial influence of money over speech. The problem is that they convolute the organizational entity such as a PAC, political party, corporation, etc… with the individual citizen. This lack of nuance has lead to laws that have in effect created an oligarchy of political influence favoring the affluent, famous, and special interest group over the citizen. Elected officials seem more interested representing what the political party, or the special interest group thinks and wants than what their constituents think or want. It is not supposed to be this way. Their simply needs to be a public dialog over what is the proper ethical and Constitutional influences to the election process.

The Value of Respect

At the end of the Civil War at Appomattox Courthouse, General Robert E. Lee met with General Ulysses S. Grant to secure the conditions of surrender. After Lee had secured the conditions beneficial to his men it was required that every member of the Army of Northern Virginia was to surrender to union forces. Of all the officers of general rank that Grant had to give the honor of receiving the surrender to. He chose Brevet Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain a Medal of Honor winner at the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain requested that in addition to his current unit that the Maine unit he commanded at the Battle of Gettysburg also be allowed to take the surrender. The request was granted.

The Army of Northern Virginia arrives to give their surrender and receive their parole. Given the viciousness of the war and number of dead on both sides, one can only imagine what the surrendering confederate soldier would be feeling. The condition of the Army of Northern Virginia is horrific. They have been harried for weeks with little or no sleep. The army is starving. Many of the soldiers are down to eating shoe leather. Leading the surrendering army is a Georgian cavalry officer named General John Gordon. He is mounted on a white horse. Chamberlain calls his men to attention and orders present arms. The rifles of the union soldiers crack in salute. General Gordon recognizing the gesture and the fact that the union soldiers are not jeering his men, gallantly wheels his horse and returns the salute by dipping his sword. Later as the men intermingle Chamberlain overhears several southern soldiers comment on the gesture saying that had the roles been reversed, they doubted that they would have treated the union soldiers with the same respect.

Years later Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain writes a book called “The Passing of Armies” in which he describes the final months of the civil war including the surrender. The book sets off a firestorm of criticism by those who feel that reconstruction is to good for the secessionist states and that Chamberlains gesture was inappropriate. General Gordon upon hearing of the controversy writes and editorial article in a local newspaper calling Chamberlain one of the knightliest soldiers in the union army.

Treating each other with respect, even people with whom we disagree with or are enemies with can go along way. Showing ones quality might just get you allies from unexpected quarters. One never knows who might come to your aid because of the example have you set.

The Forgotten Promise

Every two years and again every four, the U.S. citizen has the opportunity to go through the process of reselecting their representatives. Each individual running for one of the public offices promise all kinds of actions and behaviors that they will perform in order to get the support of their constituents and those offering money. The truth is that the promises made by the candidates that win election are not binding. It is only the threat of losing their financial donors or constituents support that has the potential to hold them to their promises. What has been forgotten is that every public office holder swears an oath of office. The mantle of authority of that office is not conferred onto that individual until the oath is taken. That oath is supposed to be binding. It is no different than taking an oath in court to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The oath of office establishes an affirmative obligation to execute the office to which they have been elected. They are to uphold the promises, limitations, responsibilities, and authorities set in The U.S. Constitution. It is in the failing to uphold the oath of office and the citizens losing the understanding of what the Constitution promises that the country is being lost and forgotten.

What is the Promise? Is it a guaranteed a living, job, or home? Is it free health care or  education? Where is the promise written? The promise can be found in the Preamble of The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

 “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of  America.”

The Preamble is the executive summary. It sets the context for everything that follows it. The Bill of Rights are the a limit to the authorities of not only the Federal government but the State governments as well. It is the contractual rights of the citizens of the United States and in some cases the States themselves.There are many that talk about the idea of a social contract. The Constitution of the United States is the social contract. Voted on, confirmed by the States and citizenry. Reaffirmed in blood and by oath generation upon generation. However, it is not just an agreement between the government and its citizens, or an agreement of the division of powers and responsibility between the States and the Federal government. It is an agreement of conduct from one citizen to another.  Every citizen has a stake and responsibility to uphold this contract. Not just those holding office.

The Preamble can be broken down into five obligations, guarantees, or promises. The establishment of Justice, the ensuring of Domestic Tranquility, the providing for a Common Defense, the promoting of the General Welfare, and the securing of Liberty. These are the core promises of the country.

Establish Justice It is a requirement that the laws instituted be equitable and principled. The adjudication of the law be evenly applied for every citizen.

Ensure Domestic Tranquility This is a guarantee that the interaction between the States and the federal government and the States are peaceable. Some think that this also includes public safety. However, there is no formally established power for public safety in the Constitution. The only mention of safety is in respect to Habeas Corpus.

Provide for the Common Defence This is an obligation which the U.S. has as a nation. The Constitution also reaffirms the authority with very specifically defined powers in both Article 1 and Article 2. The States have also historically been held the same obligation.

Promote the General Welfare This is both an obligation and a promise to create conditions by which citizens may enrich themselves. The Constitution grants a limited set of authorities to do this within Article 1. There are simply no powers granted to “provide” for the General Welfare.

Secure the Blessing of Liberty This is the ultimate promissory note. It has been the delineating difference between the United States and almost every other nation in history. It is the promise to govern with the smallest amount of interference or restriction on the lives of its citizens.

Liberty is not a term in common practice in our daily discourse. When was the last time anyone heard a legislator oppose a law because it violated the liberty of the citizens that they represented, federal or state? Better still, rescind a law to restore a lost liberty? Every time a new law, a new tax, or a new fee is created it steals in increments pieces of liberty. Some of these tradeoffs may be reasonable, many are not. Citizens should be aware of what they are allowing their representatives to take from them.

We have forgotten the importance and value of the oath. Everything comes down to the oaths we take. The entire system of government is based on the oath, from the local up through the federal. Every elected, appointed, or hired individual receiving taxpayer money is required to take the oath. The quality of the these individuals determines whether the promise of this country is realized. When anyone takes an oath to The Constitution, regardless of office, they are assuming the responsibility to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for every citizen. It is an affirmative obligation. Every citizen should be holding the system and these individuals accountable to that oath. Tey work for the citizen.

The requirement of the oath was not only enshrined in The Constitution, but also into law. The current statutes being,  5 U.S.C. §3331 and 2 U.S.C. §25.

            U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the  several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

It is of note that the statutes 5 U.S.C. 3331 and 2 U.S.C. 25 have no proscribed legal recourse if violated by the institution applying the oath or the oath taker. Is it appropriate and ethical that the most powerful citizens holding the greatest power and influence allowed to violate or ignore their oaths? Should any publicly elected or appointed official be treated any different that the average citizen? Members of Congress and civil servants take the following oath.

 “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United    States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and   allegiance to the same; that I will take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

What is the point of having a law that does not require or proscribe enforcement? Do the individuals who take this oath or an oath like it know what it is they are swearing to? The affirmative obligation of the office holder or civil servant is not just in the execution of the office or job. It is to insure the entire system is being upheld in all of their participation. Its in the oath. An oath that should be legally binding.

It seems that every decade there is a change in dialog that decides which group of people are more special, more deserving over another. Each of these categories assign attributes and moral value attempting to grant special privileges to a given group. The results being more divisiveness and the eroding of the promise of what this country was envisioned to be. The Constitution only recognizes two categories of individual. The citizen and the non-citizen. No one citizen should have any more or any less in treatment, opportunity, or obligation than another. There is never a discussion about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Like liberty it is never discussed. Many who argue the rights of non-citizens confuse the inalienable rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) as the same thing as the Bill of Rights. These are not the same. The Bill of Rights is for the citizen. A citizen has a vested interest in the promise of the United States of America. They have responsibilities to pay taxes, participate in the legal system, and be called to the defense of the nation. Those elected or appointed officials who argue a privileged status to the non-citizen are essentially representing individuals who are not entitled to representation in The United States. They are violating their Oath of Office.

The Founding Fathers considered the violating of the public trust to be the most egregious of behaviors of a elected or appointed public official. The elected and appointed official have a much louder microphone than that of the average citizen. It is supposed to be that way. It is called representative government. However, when a public official uses the bully pulpit of the office to endorse the use of power or public largesse for things the are outside the protection, guarantees, authority, and responsibilities established in The Constitution. They are then in violation of their oath of office and violating the public trust. The public official may not abdicate the responsibilities of their office to another office or institution. They may not represent organizations or individuals that cannot lawfully elected them over the interests of their constituents, nor may they represent the interests of non-citizens over the interests of citizens. The Public official should be held to the highest of standards. Citizens who hold public office have the same rights as any other citizen. However, the use of their public office should be limited to its role and authority. Securing the blessings of liberty means that the public office holder will first look for ways to not use power, not create more governing authority. It is truly a lost concept. The first lost promise.

The promise of this country is to insure that justice and liberty are guaranteed to every citizen. This responsibility is not only on the public official but also on the citizen. Defend each others liberty, insure that justice is fairly applied and principled. Do not ask for more advantage from your representatives than what is promised. Hold the elected official and appointed official to their oaths. The Constitution of The United States is the social contract. Every citizen has an interest and responsibility in its fair and honest application.