January 6, 2014

623 words 3 mins read

How To Crush Lobbying

Ben Sasse wants to break the back of lobbying and crony capitalism by moving the seat of government from Washington to Nebraska. Sasse is a Republican candidate for US Senate from Nebraska.

Who doesn’t want to cripple lobbying? But Sasse’s plan won’t cripple lobbying. It will inconvenience lobbyists for a year while they resettle in the Midwest. Then it’s back to business as usual.

Before you throw up your hands and say “it’s hopeless,” here’s an idea that might actually end lobbying as we know it. Not only that, this plan would allow ordinary people to run for Congress and state legislatures.

The idea comes from James Altucher, and it’s absolute genius:

- Congressmen should NOT be allowed to vote in Washington DC. The only reason they vote there is because there were no phone lines or Internet in 1792. But now Congressmen could stay in their district, help people out, and still engage in debates and learn the issues and vote from home. The benefits:

  1. stay closer to constituents and what they want.

  2. Most important: it would destroy the hundred billion dollar lobbying/bribery industry. Congressmen basically vote what industry lobbyists want them to vote. Lobbyists have an easy job. All of the Congressmen are located in one small city. It’s easy to wine and dine them ten times a day. If the Congressmen were spread out over the entire country by mandate, then there would be no way to lobby them. End of lobbying industry. More true democracy for voters. In fact, it might even mean the end of Congress, since voters could vote directly and we can have a true democracy instead of a pretend one.

All the technology required to make this happen already exists, and some enterprising political technology company (I’m talking to you, Ned Ryun) might want to invest a little R&D money in this app.

Legislators would get an app that lets them debate and vote on bills. But the app would only work if the device was in their home district or home state. Walgreen’s app knows if you’re in or near a Walgreen’s. Target knows if you’re in a Target. And you’re not even a Congressman or Senator or Missouri legislator.

What makes Altucher’s anti-lobbying idea even more appealing to me is that it actually democratizes the state legislatures. Right now, it’s pretty difficult for most people to run for the Missouri legislature. The pay is just above poverty for a family of four. People who work for a company can’t really run. That limits the pool of possible legislators to young people with outside means of support, lawyers, financial planners, writers, and retirees, pretty much.

If legislative session happened in home districts, just about anyone could work around hearings, votes, and debates. Anyone could run.

And the whole process would be more fun. Tim Jones, for instance, could Skype into major debates from O’Dell’s in Eureka. People from the neighborhood could just pop in and check out the general assembly session in action. The legislature itself would become a massive, statewide town hall.

Most of all, sending legislators back to their home turf would break the backs of lobbyists. How can you lobby in 163 House districts? Sure, lobbyists could send emails, maybe even text messages if they have the representative’s cell phone number. But that puts lobbyists on equal footing with everybody else in the district.

What I really like about this idea is that it appeals to everyone, regardless of party. There’s no reason why a Democrat or a progressive wouldn’t be as eager to end lobbying as a Republican or libertarian.

The only people who would hate this plan are lobbyists and the political elite. And that should prove its merit.