Thursday, November 21, 2013

There is always an option in politics

One reader of my blog post from yesterday, A rebuttal to Senator Mike Lee, asked what can we do if politics is locked up by billionaires? Well, if we're talking about the voting booth, Larry Lessig's video, Lesterland, encapsulates the notion that elected office holders should be dependent upon the people alone and nothing else. Since Citizens United, the courts have interpreted the term "people" to include corporations. That is one of the biggest problems we face in the polling place today because ordinary people like you and me can't run for office without making the big spenders happy.

There are plenty of solutions floating around the internet for election reform, particularly with respect to campaign finance laws. Here's one that I just found, The Anti-Corruption Act, a proposal to more tightly regulate campaign contributions. It has some very interesting provisions. I really like the $100 tax credit that can be used to basically get a refund for your contributions. This is intended to flood the campaigns with small contributions, and that will in turn require elected officials to be dependent on more people than before. You might like it. I already do.

But that is just one branch of government. The legislature gets to cut the checks and the laws. The other two get to interpret the laws and to execute them. Let's have a look at a few examples of what we can do there.

With the executive branch, we'll look at the Federal government. To start, Congress writes a law and then delegates authority to the executive branch to carry it out. The delegation of power is usually to the cabinet level head of the department, for example the Secretary of the Treasury.  Then the secretary of that department will write regulations that re-delegate that authority to a subordinate or himself if that authority cannot be re-delegated.

Now here is where it gets interesting. The regulations are drafted and put on notice in the Federal Register, soliciting public comment. Often, regulations come and go without much public comment because it is really, really boring news. People don't get notice of it from their local paper or their favorite website. But if you follow the Federal Register, you can find some interesting tidbits.

I remember how, back around 2004-2005, there was a huge debate over FDA regulations defining the term "organic". After publication of the draft regulation, the FDA received several hundred thousand comments on their proposal. That does have an influence on policy, even if the result is not exactly what we want. It's also important to remember that many of these agencies are captured by the industries they regulate. The people working there have plans after their service in government and they want to get a good job when they're done. This is what we're up against.

In the courts, there are two prongs of political approach we could pursue, but it requires organization, just like anything else because we're dealing with a very large organization. First, I remember many years ago, learning that if everyone fought the common traffic ticket, that would flood the courts with too many cases and the system would collapse or at least need to be changed. If 2 or 3% of the tickets are contested to trial, that's a very expensive proposition for the courts.

The same approach could be done with laws we don't like or that we find immoral. But again, this would require organization and collaboration among parties. It could all be done over the internet and that would make it easy to share ideas, experience and briefs. If people shared briefs that are successful at fighting a bad law, the law will be changed in a hurry.

The last point I want to make about participation in the judicial branch processes is Jury Nullification, a concept promoted by the Fully Informed Jury Association. They don't talk about it much in the press, but the Founding Fathers knew about it. They used it against laws from their former king that were too onerous for them to obey. They knew that the jury had to right to render a verdict of not guilty if they thought the law was unjust. This is a very controversial point of jurisprudence, so don't get your hopes up. But again, this requires an organized, planned campaign to deal with laws that are unjust.

I hope you find this of interest. I have an active interest in politics and I look for concepts like this so that I know what options are available to me should the need arise.
Post a Comment