Washington is broken. We wonder why, when we send decent people to Washington, nothing ever gets fixed, why our national debt keeps growing no matter which party is in the majority and why well-off people get lavish tax breaks and pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than a waitress, or a farmer, or a small business owner.
I believe the biggest problem is that Congress has fallen under the control of politicians beholden to the ultra-wealthy, large corporations and other special interests. Here’s one way it happens: we send people to Washington who promise to drain the swamp, but they soon find that it’s more like a comfortable hot tub.
During orientation for new House members, their party leaders see to it that they are pampered, wined and dined, but soon those party leaders explain a practice most of us know nothing about. Today, both parties’ leaders levy dues based on the congressman’s committee choice: the more lucrative the committee for fundraising, the higher the dues.
Yes, astoundingly, our representatives are expected to pay to do the work we elected them to do. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., likens the practice to extortion: “They told us right off the bat as soon as we [got] here, ‘These committees all have prices and don’t pick an expensive one if you can’t make the payments.’”
We aren’t talking about token sums. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., explained in his recent book, “Drain the Swamp,” that to serve on a mid-level congressional committee, a first-term Republican congressman is expected to pay $220,000 in dues to the Republican National Congressional Committee – a second-termer – $450,000. The higher that one rises in party leadership, the higher the dues: a top Republican committee chair is expected to pay $1.2 million, higher-up party leaders from $2.5 million to $10 million, and the Speaker, a whopping $20 million, which was no problem for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who, according to Buck, raised $50 million.
Who provides them these extraordinary amounts? Wealthy corporate and special interest donors, introduced to the new members by leadership. These donors are more than happy to give big contributions in exchange for the control they wield. This is how party leaders use our congressmen as conduits to funnel enormous sums of money to the parties against the people’s interests.
If you don’t pay your dues, you’ve got a big problem. The leadership can get nasty. Democratic leaders have maintained a wall of shame listing those who owe dues; they have also sent collection letters and even made phone calls to “delinquent” House members.
It gets worse. Leadership promises to route dues back into key races the incumbents are at risk of losing, but if the congressman opposes the party’s leadership on a key issue – say, the recent health care bill – the party may not just withhold campaign money in the next election; they may use the war chest to fund a primary challenger.
It takes a strong person to withstand such pressure, and many don’t.
I am convinced this system is not only morally corrupt, but that it also polarizes and serves the large corporate and special interests.
The only way to change a corrupt system is to fight against it.
I am willing to stand – alone if necessary – to oppose it. But I don’t believe I will be alone. There are others in both parties who bitterly oppose this system and hate how it shackles many from doing what is right. They need help to end it.
That’s why I call on the other House candidates in South Dakota and House candidates across America to state on the record that, if elected, they will refuse to support the dues system and will vote against any party leader who does not repudiate it. And to every voter in both parties: if you really want meaningful change in Washington, vote against any candidate who declines to publicly reject the dues system.
Ending this practice won’t eliminate corporate influence in Washington, but it’s an important step. This is about a simple question: whose interests are being served in Washington? How we choose to answer it will determine the kind of America we leave for our children and grandchildren.
Published in the Argus Leader: http://www.argusleader.com/story/opinion/voices/2017/08/30/voice-corporate-money-controls-congress/105122298/