Supporters of Peter Bearse for Congress announced today that their candidate had joined Congressman Jim Cooper (D, TN 5), Joe Trippi and others in advancing a movement to “Change Congress” initiated by Lawrence Lessig, Prof. of Law at Stanford and a leading writer on technology and Internet policy. Lessig may run for Congress in California’s 12th C.D. He writes: “Change Congress is a national movement to end corruption in America’s Congress.”
Dr. Bearse had previously corresponded with Prof. Lessig on the initiative before it was announced and its website, change-congress.org, was established. Bearse drew from the “Compact with Constituents” page of his campaign’s website, www.peterbeaseforcongress.com, to recommend a number of changes that need to be made to improve the way Congress does the public’s business. More “real change” is needed in the Congress than in the Presidency. The public’s approval rate of Congress is at least 10 percentage points less than that of our hugely unpopular President. So, “the public’s business” isn’t being done well at all.
The Change Congress website says: “It’s not enough to just push particular candidates to stay out of the system of corruption; we have to reform the system itself.” Thus, Change Congress has posted four prime “Principles”:
- No money from lobbyists or PACs.
- Vote to end earmarks
- Support reform to increase Congressional transparency
- Support publicly-financed campaigns
Bearse supports 1-3. On #4: As a former member of the Business Advisory Council of the Campaign Reform Project/Campaign for America, he says: “Public financing is no answer to the fact that campaign finance reform has failed.” His piece on “Franks and Earmarks…” published by Seacoast Sunday on February 24th, spoke to #2. On #3, it’s not only lack of “transparency” that’s a problem, it’s lack of accountability. Much of what Congress does is shield its members from accountability to ensure Members’ reelection.
Thus, to flesh out #3 in terms of specifics, Bearse recommends:
- A “None of the Above” option on ballots.
- Independent redistricting committees.
- Tax incentives for political volunteerism.
- Session Limits: “Congress should replace three day weeks with a five day schedule and compress their year-round sessions into six months of honest work.”
- Cut Staff: Reduce “staff infection,” and cut Congressional “perq’s”.
- Limit spending and balance the budget: “A Constitutional Amendment is the only way….”
- Make Congress obey the laws that the rest of us have to obey. “The attitude of being above the laws corrupts the legislative process at its heart.”
- Apply Freedom of Information throughout.
- Stop the abuses of conference committees by…
- a) Making instructions to conferees binding, including instructions to yield to the other house;
- c)Requiring a recorded vote when conferees have ignored an instruction; and…
- d) Opening up conference committee meetings and making transcripts of their proceedings public information.
- Revamp the Congressional Committee structure and cut the number of committees -- to enable more and better attention to long-term issues, unintended consequences, “what if” questions and system-wide issues.
- A more deliberate approach to legislating, including (1) a requirement that representatives must actually read bills before voting on them, and (2) a higher hurdle for so-called “emergency” voting on matters to rush legislation through without advance committee work or public hearings.
- A more honest approach to legislating, including a prohibition on Representatives shoe-horning unrelated initiatives into big or “omnibus” bills.
- Independent evaluation of government programs [of which there’s now little or none, depending on the agency in question]
More reforms are needed. Congress is a hidebound, hierarchical system resistant to change. Thus, Change Congress supporters will need to caucus, set priorities and get American citizens involved in a national “movement” for change, pushing from the outside while Member change-agents work on the inside. None of the other candidates for the NH CD 1 Congressional seat have joined the movement.