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Who is buying the U.S. midterm elections? 2010-Oct-06 at 12:16 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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We don’t know.  Thanks to the Citizens United ruling – the one that President Obama criticized in his State of the Union speech, where we saw Justice Alito mouth the words "not true" when the Supreme Court was called out – we now have a system where any group can spend any amount of money on any "issue" they want… which is in practice an unlimited supply of money to get particular people elected.

From Midterm campaigns, brought to you by . . . ?, by Eugene Robinson, 5-Oct-2010:

According to The Post, $80 million has been spent on midterm election campaigns by these shadowy "independent" groups — as opposed to just $16 million at this point in the 2006 midterm cycle.

I put "independent" in quotes because this spending is anything but. Officially, groups such as Americans for Job Security and American Crossroads are not allowed to spend on behalf of specific candidates; rather, they are supposed to confine themselves to such anodyne activities as highlighting issues and advocating policy positions. In practice, however, this gives them the latitude to attack one candidate — a Democrat, say — for his or her position on health care, financial reform or whatever.

The Supreme Court made all this possible with its ruling early this year, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which legalized unlimited campaign spending by corporations, unions, trade associations and other such entities. And the independent-expenditure groups with the patriotic names are often structured as nonprofits, which means they are not required to disclose their donors publicly.

I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the specifics of the ruling to know how much latitude Congress has to create a narrower statute that reinstates disclosure or limitation of funding.  It may not have any.  Even if it does, I don’t have any confidence that Congress has the political will to turn off the funding trough it feeds at.

Once again… term limits solves these problems.

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Yet another reason for Congressional term limits: Charles Rangel 2010-Jul-23 at 13:13 PST

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From House Panel Will Try Rangel in Ethics Cases, by Eric Lipton and David Kocieniewski, 22-July-2010:

A House investigative panel has found “substantial reason to believe” that Representative Charles B. Rangel violated a range of ethics rules, dealing a serious blow to Mr. Rangel, a Harlem Democrat, in the twilight of his political career.

The finding means that he must face a public trial before the House ethics committee, the first member of Congress to be forced to do so since 2002, when Representative James A. Traficant Jr. was expelled from Congress after a corruption conviction.

The investigative panel did not disclose any details about the nature of the violations.

But two Democrats with knowledge of the investigation said the committee found evidence to support accusations that Mr. Rangel, 80, wrongly accepted four rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan and misused his office to preserve a tax loophole worth half a billion dollars for an oil executive who pledged a donation for an educational center being built in Mr. Rangel’s honor.

The committee also found evidence to support a charge that Mr. Rangel failed to report or pay taxes on rental income from his beachfront Dominican villa.

They are among the most serious of the assortment of charges against Mr. Rangel that the panel has been examining for nearly two years.

If you didn’t grow up under the influence of New York City media outlets, like I did, you might not understand how big Charles Rangel is.  He’s almost like Ted Kennedy was to Massachusetts.  Big guy.

And, with that role, a swelled head.  A belief, after 20 terms in Congress, that his power within that body means that he can violate the law for his own gain.  And he’s hardly the only example… he just crossed the line where others merely skirt it.

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what purpose beyond ego is served by someone serving 20 terms in Congress.  I further cannot imagine what would make this man, facing a public ethics investigation in the House of Representatives, think that his personal interests are more important than those of Congress, his political party, or his constituents, and therefore decide still to run for his 21st term.

Look, I’m not trying to single out Rep. Rangel.  I know he’s done a lot of good for Harlem over the years.  But this is exactly what happens when people forget that Congress doesn’t exist for personal aggrandizement.

How do we not get into this kind of mess ever again?  Change the Constitution to create term limits for Congress.  Two full terms in the Senate, six full terms in the House, and that’s it.  We’ll even have a grandfather clause in the amendment to exempt current members from the new rules.  But we need to start the flow into Congress of people who go in already knowing that they won’t be there forever… and so they’ll be more likely to make the difficult political votes knowing that they might lose their seat for it.

And they’ll be younger, more energetic, less about personal ego, less about getting caught up in the machine, more likely to be independent, and more willing to compromise, because not every issue is a life-and-death struggle between the two parties.  It’ll take about a decade after the amendment is passed to really change the culture there, because of the necessary grandfather clause, but it will change.

And since it will take about a decade to change that culture, and at least a decade from now to get the amendment ratified… we can’t start too soon.

The right kind of political leader 2010-May-23 at 08:21 PST

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I love Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ).  I think I love him more than any politician in the United States right now, except for the President and Rahm Emanuel.

From Gov. Christie: Fixing NJ finances more important than re-election, 19-March-2010:

Using self-deprecating wit and plainspokenness, Gov. Chris Christie suggested Thursday in a speech to the New Jersey Charter Public Schools Conference that his tough talk and tough love for New Jersey might cost him a second term in 2013.

“I will tell you today what I said throughout the campaign and what I mean from the bottom of my heart: I don’t care a bit about being re-elected. Not one bit. The proof of that should be Tuesday’s speech,” Christie quipped, referring to his budget address to a joint session of the Legislature that has resulted in protests and demonstrations by public employee unions upset over planned cuts to their benefits. “If I cared about getting re-elected, I wouldn’t be doing what I did on Tuesday. I don’t care about being re-elected,” he said.

And just watch this two-minute video of him responding to a reporter about taking a “confrontational tone.”  You can’t get more straightforward than this.  “I came here to govern, not to get re-elected.”  God, I love this guy.  See the guy in the background smiling the whole time?  If I were there, that would be me.

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I mean, one of the guys commenting on this video is already comparing Gov. Christie to Chuck Norris: “Chris Christie once broke every law of physics, at the same time. He was let off with a warning.”  That’s solid.

This is the kind of straight-up honesty we’ll get when term limits arrive.  I’m not saying we’ll get it from everyone, but we’ll see it more and more as part of the political culture in America, from both sides of the aisle, and that will be a really good thing.  These are the kinds of people that can hammer out tough but important agreements on things that move us all forward.

“He was going to go down fighting.” 2010-May-23 at 08:07 PST

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Specter Legacy Is Study of the Perils of a Switch, by Katharine Q. Seelye, 22-May-2010

At the time, Mr. Specter said candidly that he could not win re-election in a Republican primary because his party had moved to the right.

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate, not prepared to have that record decided by that jury,” he said.

And so we have the ungraceful end of an over 40-year career in the Senate.  And it took us watching the slow-motion train-wreck of a transparent and desperate switch in political parties, followed by a bitter and cynical primary fight, to get to the end of it.

Is the United States demonstrably better for having people in office for over four decades?  Haven’t we seen, over and over, the machinations of those who seek re-election more than they seek to improve the way this nation is governed?

Now, imagine with me a world with congressional term limits.  Imagine a world where this kind of pathetic sight didn’t happen.  Imagine the simple, graceful turnover of congressional seats, election after election, as roughly 1/6th of Congress would be an open seat.  Imagine the new perspectives coming in, every two years.  Imagine the old guard, giving their advice about survival and “how things work in Washington” to newer members who never intended to do things that way in the first place, and then imagine the newer members politely humoring the older ones and then doing what they think is right anyway.  And imagine the old guard, no doubt still in Congress from grandfather clauses in the term limits amendment that exempt current members (the only way we’d get one), finally leaving in confusion about “the way these new people act around here”, or actually just waiting to die in office.

Imagine the day when the very last senator still serving under that grandfather clause leaves, and every single member of Congress will serve no more than twelve years: two terms in the Senate, or six terms in the House.

Imagine the kind of bold, imaginative legislation we’ll get when that happens… far less influenced by special interests or lobbying.  Younger, more energetic, more in tune with what we need at any given time.

And imagine when the average human life span grows past 100 years… and then past 120 years… and then past 150 years… all of which is coming in the 21st Century, and realize how important it is to get term limits into place as soon as possible.  If we don’t, we’ll see the first senator to serve 100 years in the Senate during the 21st Century, and that’s not a good thing, from where I sit.

And imagine when we won’t ever again hear lines like:

“Maybe there comes a time when people think, ‘Should I run anymore — is there a time to bow out gracefully?’ ” Mr. Harkin said. “But that’s not Arlen’s style. He’s a fighter. And he was going to go down fighting.”

That’s a day to look forward to.