Change is needed 

Most of my colleagues would urge me not to write this blogpost. They would warn me that I risk alienating clients and losing business. They would be right. But I am going to speak my mind anyway.

We have a crisis in our democracy that resulted in 17 people murdered in a high school in Parkland, Florida. The weapon used was an AK47 assault rifle owned legally by an 18 year old with a history of disciplinary and mental health issues. He was able to buy this weapon because senators and representatives in Congress do not have the courage to recognize that military weapons in the hands of teenagers is going to end with death and destruction. So why can’t our political leaders understand what the vast majority of their countrymen know: assault weapons do not belong in civilian hands. The problem lies in the way we elect our representatives and the length of time they are allowed to serve.

As soon as a member is elected to Congress he or she must start running for reelection. It is estimated that members of Congress spend the majority of their time fundraising. Political campaigns have gotten longer and more expensive. Members must raise enormous sums of money. Since it is much more efficient to gather it in large chunks from wealthy contributors than it is in small donations from the less affluent, they spend a lot of time asking those with lots of money for their support. Of course, those who donate expect that the member will support causes near and dear to those of the donor.  The result is a system that allows politicians to be bought by the wealthy and powerful whether they be individuals like the Koch bothers or organizations like the NRA.  

The seniority system in Congress exacerbates the campaign finance problem. Seniority supports the consolidation of power in longer serving members who accumulate extremely large war chests of campaign funds effectively barring most citizens from even considering challenging the incumbent. You would think that these war chests would provide a degree of independence for the member, but they do not since the wealthy donors and well-funded associations can blackmail the member into supporting their causes or risk seeing their opposition receive sufficient campaign contributions to win the seat. Essentially telling the member, “Do what we want or we will find someone else who will.” Term limits would  help increase turnover, making members less influenced by Big Money, lowering the average age of our representatives and allowing people to spend part of their lives in public service and not make it a path to power, prestige and wealth.

Other democracies do not have these issues. Some countries limit when and how much money can be spent on a campaign. Some limit campaigns to a few months rather than years. Some conduct elections as a series of run-offs culminating in a single candidate gathering the majority of the votes eliminating the dissatisfaction Americans experienced in recent presidential elections where the anachronistic electoral college winner failed to win the popular vote.  Even worse is the fact that voter turnout in the United States is low compared to other western democracies. Some citizens don’t vote because they do not think their vote matters. In 2016 less than 56% of those over 18 bothered to vote. Some because they don’t feel that their interests are represented by the candidates. Some because it is inconvenient and they no longer care enough to make the effort. Some countries make voting compulsory. Many countries run their elections on weekends or over multiple days to make the process easier. In many democracies people are proud to say that they participated in an election. That is not the case here despite our self-serving claims to be the world’s leading democracy.

Whether you are a gun advocate or anti-gun, it is clear that lobbyists of every stripe have too much influence on decisions that affect our lives. Change is needed.

© PennyTree Advisers, LLC 2018