The Democracy Branch
How about a fourth branch of government? Lets establish — by constitutional amendment — a fourth, independent branch of government called “the Democracy Branch,” which would have comprehensive, plenary and exclusive jurisdiction over elections, legislative rules and procedures and overall authority over all things relating to democratic or electoral laws, forms and matters1. Purposes & Objectives
The purposes of the Democracy Branch would be to:
a. eliminate as much as possible the influence of money in elections and politics,
b. reduce self-dealing, corruption, conflicts of interest and ethical violations by elected officials,
c. promote a fair and open market place of political and government policy ideas,
d. promote an equal opportunity for citizens and all candidates for office to be heard in the political arena and e. ensure that the true will of the people is expressed in the representatives they elect and the laws that are passed.
e. Promote uniformity of election laws and Democratic forms and processes throughout the nation
2. Composition, Qualifications and Election
The Democracy Branch would be composed of nine members each serving staggered five-year terms.
a. Four members would be from the two major political parties, two from each party and at least one from each party must be a former/retired member of Congress,
b. One from a 3rd party (the next largest national political party) and
c. Four, called ”expert members,” who would have a high level of expertise or academic qualifications, scholarship and authorship or experience in elections, the law of democracy and political science. At least two of the expert members must have never been an elected federal or state official. The exact criteria for expert members to be specified by Congress, but such criteria could not be changed within a year before a presidential election year nor for three years following a change in party control of both houses of Congress.
All members would be disqualified from holding any other government office or from ever being elected to or holding any other government office in the future.
The main objective of this selection process is to constitute a body that is independent and free of political ambition, party or special interest influence—a group that is above the fray of partisanship and can focus exclusively on democratic principles.
The votes of at least five members of the Democracy Branch would be required for it to pass or adopt any laws, rules or regulations, issue any orders or to take any other action except for delegation of rule making set forth below.
The salaries and resources available to the members must be at least equal to those of US Senators, but they may not receive any other compensation or benefit for their work in the Democracy Branch. The administrative costs of the Democracy Branch needed to fulfill its duties must be provided by congressional appropriation and in no event would appropriations be less than the average of the three smallest cabinet level departments of the government.
This proposal is based on the theory that elected legislators should not be in charge of elections and election rules; it’s a built-in, inherent conflict of interest. Elected officials will always oppose measures that change the rules that got them elected. By analogy, the team that wins the Super Bowl should not get to make up the rules of the game. Ambition and ego motivates many who devote an inordinate amount of time, attention and energy to obtain political power. It is a process of natural selection that tends to produce unprincipled and venal politicians whose loyalty is to party and whose goal to be reelected trumps policy and principal positions.
Candidates for the Democracy Branch could not spend any money in campaigning for election nor could anyone else contribute to or spend anything on their behalf. (details for nominations, election and narrowing the field of nominees, to be provided by Congress). Their campaigns would be entirely publicly financed.
3. Jurisdiction & Preemption
3. Jurisdiction & Preemption This amendment and the authority granted to the Democracy Branch would abrogate all prior contrary constitutional provisions, principles or constitutional interpretations. All acts of the Democracy Branch, when enacted, supersede and preempt all acts of Congress or any rules or regulations of any government agency or department or any laws, rules or regulations of any of the states relating to elections or other matters within the jurisdiction of the Democracy Branch,
PROVIDED that laws enacted by Congress consistent with this amendment relating to the election of and qualifications for members of the Democracy Branch and those laws enacted strictly to support the ongoing functions, operation and administration of the Democracy Branch are within the authority of Congress.
All acts undertaken and laws enacted by the Democracy Branch must be entirely consistent with and may not exceed the authority vested in it by this amendment and its purposes.
The Democracy Branch would replace and take over the functions of the Federal Election Commission and the electoral functions of the various States
The acts, rules and orders of the Democracy Branch would not be subject to presidential veto and would also supersede and preempt all executive orders relating to matters within its jurisdiction
All decisions and orders of the Democracy Branch would be subject to judicial review but would be entitled to administrative deference
4. Enforcement Authority
4. Enforcement Authority
The Democracy Branch would also have authority to adopt and enforce rules and regulations and to establish programs to fulfill its duties and purposes. It may delegate rule-making authority and other functions to staff, commissions, political parties and the states where deemed appropriate, subject to oversight, review and revision by a majority vote of the Democracy Branch members.
It would have enforcement authority by adopting and enforcing fines and civil and criminal penalties or obtaining injunctive relief from the courts for violations of its laws, rules, regulations, orders or other prohibited acts. It could adopt rules for disqualifying a candidate from running for office or censoring or expelling a member of Congress for misconduct.
5. Specified Functions
5. Specified Functions
The Democracy Branch would have full authority to enact, but would not be under a duty to enact, the following measures, issue the following orders and adopt the following programs — therefore, it could:
- Regulate political campaign contributions and spending Thus it would have the right to overrule for all purposes Buckley v. Valeo, (money equals speech — allowing wealthy candidates to spend as much as they want), and Citizens United (corporations and PACs can make unlimited confidential campaign contributions). It could end the practice of contribution bundling. It could require complete disclosure of all contributions and contributors and could order public financing of all federal elections.
- Regulate lobbying and limit the activities and influence of lobbyists, creating a more equal opportunity for access of public interest groups and voters at large to their elected representatives
- Outlaw foreign contributions or assistance in connection with a U.S. election, including prohibiting anyone from soliciting a foreign government to investigate or conduct opposition research of a potential election opponent
- Prohibit investigations of the president’s political rivals by the use of the federal investigative authority such as the FBI, NSA or IRS
- Draw Congressional district boundaries, eliminating gerrymandering and establishing uniform rules for districting f. Manage Primaries, setting the times and rules for various state primary elections g. Fix term limits for all federal elective offices
- Set standards for voter qualifications, voter ID, registration, minimum requirements for polling places and facilities, including election machines, devices and ballots in all federal elections
- Promote voter turnout and participation by creating ways to make registration and voting more convenient and accessible for all citizens
- Require mandatory candidate debates — arrange candidate debates and press and opposition interviews, making arrangements for and setting times, places and the rules for such debates or interviews. It could prescribe qualifications for participants in presidential debates. It would provide a fair opportunity for third party candidates to participate in presidential debates. It could disqualify a candidate who refused to appear or participate in good faith in required debates or press or opposition interviews. It would provide judges to preside over debates and interviews and to rule on disputes
- The purpose for its authority over debates and interviews is to provide for a true debate format and to promote substantive, in-depth examination of policy issues, requiring responsive answers to questions posed and thorough explanations in support of policy positions instead of evasive speeches filled with hyperbole and high sounding generalities — that is, an opportunity for follow-up questions, cross examination and sober exposition of where candidates really stand.
- Require financial disclosures by presidential and all other federal candidates, requiring them to provide tax returns and other financial records
- Require public records disclosures by all elected officials of records of their governmental communications, decisions and activities
- Order free broadcast time be provided by all major television networks for presidential debates
- Make procedural and parliamentary rules for Congress.
- This measure is grounded on the theory that members of Congress should not make their own procedural rules which tend toward partisan by the majority, obstruction of legislation, legislative log jams, protection of incumbency, overprotection of minority positions and insular interests.
- Thus it could outlaw or limit the filibuster, ear-marks and require bills to relate to a single subject, separating unrelated riders from bills. It could prohibit other anti-Democratic procedural rules. It could reduce or confine the powers of the speaker, Majority Leader and other party leaders and could require floor votes on any legislative proposal meeting certain criteria, such as any bill having a specified number of sponsors and all bills passed by the other house – forcing members of Congress to vote so we know where they stand and preventing legislation from being held up by party leaders. It could also require votes to be taken within certain time limits on presidential nominees to the federal courts and to the cabinet. It could arbitrate procedural disputes in Congress.
- Establish ethics and conflict of interest rules for all federal elected officials, including the president p. Abandon the electoral college, requiring direct election of the President.
- Provide for Presidential recall elections, defining the conditions and circumstances under which a recall would be called for and setting forth the manner in which a recall would be conducted
- Establish Impeachment Rules: Adopt specific rules and procedures governing impeachments, authorizing the House, for example, to manage prosecution of the case in the Senate and to call and require the attendance of any witnesses it chooses to call. The defense could call any witnesses it chooses but it would be prohibited from coordinating with the Senate in any manner
- Adopt other election or voting methods such as ranked choice voting, proportional representation or “none-of-the-above” voting
- Change the number of senators that each state can elect, so as to more accurately reflect state population numbers, but limited to not more than 4 senators from the most populous states and to not less than one from small states.
- Any other acts or actions within its jurisdiction or authority or that it deems necessary to carry out its purposes and duties
•There you go, everything you would ever want to root out corruption in politics, right? — a comprehensive list of election and democratic ills, taken care of by a single, separate, independent branch of government. Think there would ever be a politician who would go for this? That’s my pipe dream for democracy in America.