I was asked the other day what, as tax-payers, they can do to prevent corruption of politicians. It's a great question and one I've often asked myself.
While Florida is no longer considered the most corrupt state, there is still a large amount of corruption- most of it is what's called "legal corruption". There was Governor Scott's desire for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients when he co-founded a company that specialized in drug testing. And then there's Florida House Speaker Corcoran pushing legislation that funds money to Charter Schools like the one his wife owns. Senator Marco Rubio has received large amounts of funds from for-profit prisons. Numerous counts of sexual harassment and bribery abound. So how do we fix it?
The answer is not a simple one, unfortunately. The first step would be to reverse the Citizens United decision. This allows corporations and unions unrestricted access to advertising their positions and candidates. It gave special interests and lobbyists even more power to impact the political landscape. With the massive spending power of corporations, it eliminates the ability for individuals with limited spending power to compete. When spending on advertising influences elections, it forces candidates to align with corporations over individuals if they want to have a fighting chance on the grander scale. It puts the true grassroots campaigns funded through small dollar donations of the public at a disadvantage from the start. It no longer becomes a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people. It becomes a nation of corporate interest.
Corporations are not looking out for the interest of the general population. They are looking out for themselves. Just for one example- the fossil fuel industry is a $250 billion industry and spent $100 million in political contributions which garnered them $20 billion in subsidies. That's not a bad investment for them. But it's not what's in the best interest of the public to give subsidies that large when we are approaching a national debt of a trillion dollars.
One problem is we have people who become lifetime politicians. Their only interest is to continue serving in politics no matter what they have to do to stay there. There's a line from "The American President" movie that I think appropriately defines this. Michael Douglas plays the American President and he says "I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job." Often times it is only when we hear someone is retiring from politics that they start to speak their mind and go against the party line. What we can do to avoid this is to place term limits. Florida has term limits for state offices. The limit Florida placed on federal level positions was overturned by the Supreme Court. We need to get rid of career politicians so that the emphasis goes back to doing the job instead of keeping the job.
Another issue is campaigning instead of legislating. For Representatives, a 2 year term doesn't leave much time for working on issues if 1 year of that time is also spent working on getting re-elected. Meeting with campaign donors and such takes away time from working on legislation. Having all terms be 4 years helps to prevent this constant campaign mode. In Virginia, the Governor is not allowed to seek consecutive terms. While this prevents campaigning for another run as Governor, it does not stop campaigning in the efforts of running for another position. It solves one problem, but not another.
We need ethics review boards that are non-partisan that will investigate claims made of corruption and misconduct. What happens when we report corruption of the people in charge to the people in charge is that nothing gets done. Or when there is an investigation, as we see in DC at the moment, those looking into things get fired and eventually shut down. A review board needs to be out of the control of those they are reviewing.
I often hear "what about publicly funded elections to get rid of corruption so candidates focus only on issues?" Without seeing a specific plan on how this would get funded, I cannot say I agree with this as the answer. I don't think funds that should be going to education or affordable housing for example should be used in funding campaigns. But more importantly, I also think that without overturning Citizens United, it wouldn't matter how the candidates fund their personal campaigns because corporations would still play a large role. Unless we get corporations out of politics, there is no simple answer.
What YOU Can Do
What YOU, as just one citizen, can do is vote for candidates with morals and principles. Don't buy into the advertisements you see on TV. Take the time and research the candidates- all of them from Governor down to City Council candidates. Look at what they say and what they do. Listen to them speak. See if they change their narrative based on who they are speaking to. If they stand in front of a group of pro-NRA individuals and talk about standing up for all citizens for unfettered access in the name of the 2nd amendment but then stand in front of a group of Moms Demand Action and talk about placing restrictions, you have to question where they really stand and if their actions won't be bought by the highest bidder. For example, don't be fooled by someone like Governor Rick Scott who claims he doesn't want to arm teachers but then signs a bill that allows for arming school personnel. Our Representative in District 37, Richard Corcoran, claims he wants to improve the public education system while at the same time calling the teachers union "evil" and funneling funds away to for profit charter schools.
Many candidates this year are 1st time candidates so there's no voting record you can look at to determine if our actions match our words. In this case, there's no substitute for meeting us face to face. Look us in the eyes and ask us what our stances are. If a candidate isn't willing to do this, ask yourself why. Why aren't they willing to meet the people they want to represent face to face? Are they really looking out for your best interests if they won't even listen to what you have to say? Many candidates are attending local clubs and caucus meetings so follow along with clubs in your area and attend these meetings when you can. Many of us are out canvassing on the weekends, knocking on doors and getting out the vote. There is a non-partisan event going on April 8th from 12pm-6pm at Gill Dawgs in Port Richey called VoteFest 2.0 that has, at this time, 30 candidates confirmed as attending. People from both sides of the aisle will be there to speak to the public and answer your questions.
There are also many candidates, myself included, that you can schedule "coffee with the candidate" events. This is where you get a group of your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors and I will come out and talk to your group in a casual setting. This is a great way to make sure you have the time to ask the questions that you want answered.
As you can see, it's not a simple answer to "how do we prevent corruption." My answer is "other than electing candidates with strong morals and principles that will not succumb to the will of businesses, I don't know." I think voting in the right candidates though, is what will start the process of eliminating corruption- legal or illegal- in politics. We need to start at the bottom and work our way up.