Two weeks ago, the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), with 46 co-sponsors, including seven presidential candidates. In January, the same bill — to impose reasonable limits on campaign money while protecting free speech rights — was sponsored by 133 House members. Unfortunately, only one of these 180 total members is a Republican, brave and lonely New York Rep. John Katko.
This lack of support leaves congressional Republicans wildly and egregiously out of step with Republican voters, 66 percent of whom support an amendment to address big-money political corruption. This intense anti-corruption sentiment powered Donald Trump’s popular “drain the swamp” message used in the lead-up to his 2016 election.
Tackling corruption is a slow-burn national emergency. Public confidence in two of our nation’s central organizing institutions — free-market capitalism and representative democracy — is approaching failed-state status.
Today, 61 percent of Americans aged 18-24 have a positive reaction to socialism in a recent Harris Poll. By 54 to 40 percent, non-whites (projected to be the majority of voters in a generation) now prefer government rather than free-market control over the economy.
Our form of government, the American constitutional republic, is and was a bold and visionary advance in liberty. Today, only 17 percent of voters trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time. A majority now believes that government corruption — legalized bribery and extortion — is our nation’s biggest crisis, with 87 percent viewing political corruption as “widespread.”
These twin collapses in confidence are joined at the hip. Big government occupies and controls a larger share of the economy and increasingly picks economic winners and losers via tax subsidies, regulatory carve-outs, spending programs and contract awards. Business competes by buying influence or submitting to extortion in Washington, rather than by offering better products and services to consumers. Free markets are becoming crony capitalism. The public accurately views this pay-to-play system as rigged against most of us.
The Conference Board, one of our nation’s leading champions of the enduring virtues of free-market capitalism, singles out today’s big-money, special-interest dominated campaign finance system as suppressing product innovation and market competition and eroding public support for capitalism.
Late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the unanimous Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan decision, recognized the gravity of the corruption problem and the need for a constitutional solution. As both the House and Senate did by rule a dusty 200-plus years ago, Congress could require all members to recuse themselves, like judges, from voting on any measure where they have a conflict of interest. Such conflicts include campaign contributions, independent election expenditures and personal, business or family-member financial or career interests.In finding mandatory recusal constitutional, Justice Scalia wrote, “the legislative power thus committed is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people.”
In theory, I love this solution. But it will not happen because today’s complex economy and costly campaigns would place most members of Congress in constant recusal handcuffs.
Fortunately, there is a thoroughly workable solution, one that lays a foundation of defense of free-market capitalism and restoration of public trust in government: a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition to this critical foundation, we Republicans have two more solid reasons to back a 28th Amendment.
Big-money players such as billionaires Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, unions, Super PACs, dark-money 501(c)(4)s and laundered foreign money sources now routinely target swing districts and Senate seats. These players recruit and screen candidates and flood districts with out-of-state money, determining which candidates are financially viable and get media attention. In New Hampshire, with only 1 million voters, $132 million was spent on the 2016 U.S. Senate election, decided for the Democrat by 1,700 votes. Ninety-five percent of those dollars flowed from out of state.
Swing races have become increasingly nationalized. Preferences of local voters and the specific needs of your state or district are distinctly secondary. Candidate choice, debate and policy innovation are all suppressed. First Amendment rights are monopolized by a tiny number of big money players from New York, San Francisco — and Saudi Arabia.
Finally, Republicans have been operating under the cynical misconception that we are better at the big-money game than Democrats. Reality is that Democrats have recently gotten better than Republicans at the out-of-state, big-money game. For the 2018 cycle nationally, liberal dark money groups outspent conservatives 54-to-31.
Republicans and Democrats will not usually agree on how to address our nation’s challenges. But we must agree on action to restore public trust in our central economic and governing institutions. Whether you are a more principled or more pragmatic Republican, you have solid reasons to ask your Republican member of Congress to co-sponsor the 28th Amendment.
Jim Rubens was a Republican state senator from New Hampshire and candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2016. He is New England chair for Take Back Our Republic and board member for American Promise.