The Democracy Branch

Jerome Cronk/ September 18, 2020/ Miscellaneous/ 0 comments

Democracy in America is a sham.  The voices of the people drowned in a torrent of political advertising financed by a cadre of wealthy donors.  Meaningful political dialogue and workable legislative processes do not exist, while voter suppression and disillusionment does.  Those factors combine into a gigantic corrupt political cesspool, where policy and principle are consistently overrun by entrenched undemocratic systems and by the overwhelming influencers of wealth and property.  The obvious failures of the system are the very reason for the prevalent public mindset, ranging from frustration, rage and distress on the one hand, to cynicism, indifference and hopelessness on the other.  These failures have also caused political division, legislative gridlock and widespread discord.  A large part of the nations’ eligible voters, especially the poor, don’t vote because they have the realistic perception that elections don’t matter for them, leaving them to vent their anger and frustrations in agreed demonstrations and sometimes violence.  There could be no better evidence of how dysfunctional our democracy is than the election of Donald Trump as president and what he has been able to get away with.

How about a fourth branch of government?

I propose a constitutional amendment for a fourth, independent, branch of government called “the Democracy Branch,” which would have comprehensive and exclusive jurisdiction and continuing authority to fashion rules, procedures and programs to solve a comprehensive list of federal election, legislative procedure and political dialogue problems.  It would have authority, freedom, independence needed to cure all the ills of our system of governance.

This proposal is based on the theory that elected officials should not be in charge of elections and election rules; it’s a built-in, inherent conflict of interest.  The temptation for elected officials to write rules favoring their re-election and the interests of their political allies and supporters, while attacking their opponents under the guise of preserving democracy and fighting corruption, is irresistible. Elected officials will always resist measures that change the rules that got them elected.  By analogy contractors should not be in charge of writing building codes or the team that wins the Super Bowl should not get to make up the rules of the game.

Unbridled ambition, hubris and single-minded determination to hold elective office motivate too many politicians, whose obsession with gaining power and prestige that goes with getting elected and re-elected. They devote an excessive amount of time, attention and energy to raising money, cultivating support and doing so much else that has nothing to do with governing and everything to do with getting reelected.  It is a process of natural selection that favors the survival of unprincipled hypocrites, whose loyalty to party and to influential financial backers dominates their political agenda.

Another major purpose of the Democracy Branch would be to eliminate all partisanship from our election laws and democratic procedures. That is not possible when political parties control the rules.

In this paper I identify over 30 problems – very serious deficiencies and undemocratic procedures degrading or even corrupting our democracy – that consistently fail to inform the people and obstruct their will.  I argue that government cannot function as a true and effective democracy — that it is an inherent conflict of interest —  when elections are in the hands of elected officials, when legislative procedures are in the hands of legislators and when politicians can freely evade or distort policy issues and mislead the electorate.

 I. Purposes and Objectives

The purposes and objectives of the Democracy Branch are to:

  1. reduce as much as possible the influence of money in elections, government policies and decision making, offsetting the grossly unequal advantage that wealthy political contributors have over average and poor citizens in financing elections and influencing public policy
  2. reduce self-dealing, fraud or the appearance of fraud, conflicts of interest and ethical violations involving elected officials and candidates for federal elective office
  3. ensure democratic legislative procedure to appropriately balance majority rule and overcome partnership while protecting legitimate minority rights, promoting compromise, accommodation and legislative accomplishment and avoiding partisan gridlock
  4. promote a thorough, wide open and robust public discussion, examination and dissemination of political issues in the marketplace of ideas, so that all elected officials and candidates for federal office can be heard and challenged, providing opportunities for citizens to believe me fully informed on vital public issues and to hear and consider all sides and all evidence relating to those issues, together with relevant information on the qualifications of candidates and what they stand for
  5. promote and encourage voter participation and ensure equal voting rights and procedures throughout the country
  6. encourage more people to seek election, to challenge incumbents and offset or compensate for the advantages of incumbency
  7. stimulate the viability and prospects of third parties
  8. relieve candidates and elected officials of the burden of fundraising
  9. provide for innovation, experimentation, flexibility and prompt adaptation to changing circumstance and needs in elections and democratic processes while also ensuring uniformity of election laws throughout the country and stability regardless of changes in political party control
  10. ensure that the true will of the people is expressed in the representatives they elect, in the manner that laws are deliberated in Congress and in the laws that are passed or rejected.

                 II. Definitions

The following terms used in this proposed amendment have the following meanings unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

  1. “democracy” or “democratic forms:”  For the purpose of this proposal the guiding principles — the indispensable elements — of democracy or democratic forms are that:
    1. all eligible citizens have equal:
      1. rights to vote and to elect their representatives
      2. access to their representatives and to government officials and
      3. voice in influencing public policy,
      4. their representatives are nominated and elected by obtaining a majority of the votes,
      5. all persons seeking nomination or election to office have an equal and fair opportunity to have their message heard by the voters
      6. people have the right to associate together in political parties, committees and other groups to more effectively carryout concerted political activities
      7. laws are passed and legislative procedures are governed by majority rule with protections for minority rights
      8. the deliberative procedures for enacting laws and regulations are fair, uniform, stable and designed to achieve the policy goals of the people,
      9. voters are well informed on public policy issues and on the qualifications of candidates by widespread dissemination of information, robust public debate and political discourse.
  2. “actions,” “act” or “acts” of the Democracy Branch means:
    1. enacting, adopting or issuing laws, rules or regulations,
    1. conducting investigations,
    1. making decisions or rulings or issuing orders
    1. establishing election programs
    1. enforcing laws, orders, rules and regulations

relating to matters within its jurisdiction

  • “person,” or “persons” means an individual or individuals involved in political campaigning or election activity
  • “entity:” means any partnership, corporation, union, committee, trust, foundation, club, church or other organization or association of people (national, state or local, either for profit or tax exempt) who are associated together by a common purpose or interest, whether business, political or other purpose or interest and that has general rules governing its management, support, membership and activities.
  • “political entity” means an entity that is engaged in any significant manner or degree in federal electioneering or political activities (such as 10% or more)
  • “candidate” means a person who has filed for or has announced his / her intention to run for nomination or election to a federal office or who at the time referred to is engaged in campaigning for or seeking nomination or election as a clearly identified candidate for federal office.
  • “elections” means elections of candidates for federal office, including primary, run-off and general election contests.
  • “expressions,” means statements, claims, messages or speech in any form disseminated to the public in print, by radio, television or other transmission method, whether available by publication, delivery or mail or over the air, by cable, satellite, internet streaming or in any other manner of mass communication
  • “political expressions” means expressions having political, public policy or electoral content relating to federal elections, federal political and legislative issues or federal government policies or programs, either existing or proposed or under consideration by any branch of the federal government, whether express or implied, that are communicated to or targeted to the relevant electorate and that are paid for by the author, producer or originator of the expression.

The following expressions are excluded from “political expressions,”:

  1. Newspaper, magazine or other print media stories, reports, articles, editorials, interviews, opinion pieces, press conferences, documentaries or other news or editorial comment published or broadcast by legitimate news media so long as they are not paid for by the author, producer or other of the expression;
  2. Expressions that are published, broadcast or otherwise disseminated to the public and that are totally paid for by sales, subscriptions, advertising or other such revenue;

Examples are books and movies;

  • Unpaid expressions posted by individuals on email, social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other similar internet platforms
  • Expressions communicated by any entity to its own current members, employees, shareholders, contributor/supporters or associates.
  • “Political activity,” means the activity of an entity in making or issuing political expressions
  • “express advocacy” means expressions that identify a candidate by name.
  • “electioneering communications” means express advocacy that is communicated by a candidate or his or her committee or supporters to the voting public or potential voters by paid newspaper advertising or other publication, television or radio broadcast advertising, internet, social media or other mass communications systems.
  • “contribution” and “political contribution” means the transfer or giving money or a thing of value by the contributor to a political entity. A “thing of value” includes data and opposition research.
  • “election contributions” (also known as “hard money”) means any money or thing of value donated by any person for the sole purpose of supporting, advocating or promoting the election of candidates or the defeat of candidates, designated as such by the contributor.
  • “election spending” means money spent or a thing of value contributed and used to support, advocate or promote the election or defeat of a candidate or otherwise attributable to or benefiting the election of a candidate, including spending for attacks on a candidate’s opponent, whether or not requested by or coordinated with the candidate or his or her campaign and funds spent to raise funds,  The value of a candidate, officeholder, celebrity or other person who attends, speaks or peforms at a rally, fundraiser or other such electioneering event without compensation does not constitute election spending. 
  • “political spending” means any money spent or thing of value used for or spent I’m political expressions, including:
    • to advocate or promote election or defeat of candidates, that is, “election spending,” above (hard money),
    • for issue advocacy (soft money) or
    • to support administrative expense of national political parties and organizations (soft money)

as those terms are further described in the text below.  Political spending also includes the cost of soliciting contributions and raising money.  The cost of independent election or issue advocacy activities by individuals consisting of self financed and self produced expressions such as posts on blogs, social media or the like, or signs or flyers displayed or distributed by individuals are excluded from political spending.

  1. “issue advocacy” means political expressions urging voters to favor or disfavor certain public policy positions or issues that are currently or may be pending or considered in Congress or by the Administration or suggesting that voters express to their legislative representatives or candidates support for or opposition to Federal legislation, programs or legislative proposal.

Examples are expressions advocating reductions, increases or other changes in tax measures, government healthcare systems, environmental regulations, government college tuition grants, gun regulation, etc.

Editorials, interviews, documentaries, press briefings or other unpaid news or opinion pieces published or broadcast by the legitimate news media are excluded in the definition of “political expressions,” consistent with the exclusion of such expressions from the definition of “political expressions,” above.

  1. “Legitimate news media” includes the “institutional press” and is defined as an entity that
    1. is entirely self-supporting, that is, supported from revenues generated from sales of its publications, broadcasts or other content communicated to its readers, listeners or viewers or from paid advertising revenue included in their communications

—- or that —-

  • are in the regular business of imparting news to the public; that is entities that regularly or periodically publish or broadcast current news, information, events or other content of interest to their audiences and have a systematic process for investigating, gathering, producing and editing such content and disseminate it to the public in general or to particular interest group

(such as sports, business, technology, science, aviation, cars, politics, travel, etc.)

  • is self-supporting by means of advertising revenue, sales of print publications, customer subscriptions to periodicals or donations from a diverse, nonpartisan public donor base and/or government or public grants
    • whose editorial staff consists of professional journalists or news editors who are independent of the entity’s owners.
    • whose owners are not a political party, a candidate, a federal official or a person or entity solely committed to advancing the profit or property interests of the owners or entirely motivated by and connected to a particular political agenda or ideology and

Examples of publications or publishers that do not qualify as legitimate news media are the NRA, NARAL, Chamber Of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, PhRma, AMA, ABA and all other trade journals, newsletters and publications, etc.

  • conducts no other related business or activity and has no other significant purpose.

Typical examples of “legitimate news media” are daily or weekly newspapers, magazines, television and cable broadcasters, social media and other internet platforms and books.

  1. “regulate” means to exercise control over a practice or activity and includes prohibiting, limiting or controlling election or other political spending or contributions or controlling or encumbering solicitation of contributions, requiring disclosures and reporting of contributions made or received and election spending and defining the terms and conditions of such limits or requirements.
  2. “programs” adopted by the Democracy Branch are government organizations, subdivisions or departments and their operations or activities that provide services or facilities to the public and require government personnel and resources that have financial cost beyond the ordinary administrative operating costs of the Democracy Branch.
  3. The definitions of the Federal Election Campaign Act or other federal election laws apply to this amendment until modified by the Democracy Branch

                                                         III. Organization & Jurisdiction

A.  Composition & Qualifications

1.   Membership Criteria

The Democracy Branch would be composed of nine members each serving staggered five-year terms.

  1. Four members would represent the two major political parties, two of which would be from each party and at least one from each party must be a former/retired member of Congress,
    • One from a 3rd party (the next largest national political party) or a historically legitimate independent person and
    • Four, called ”expert members,” who would be required to have distinguished careers and reputations of expertise or academic and scholarly achievement in the field of elections and the law and philosophy of democracy and other related subjects, including, teaching, lecturing, authoring books and publishing of articles in professional journals.  At least two of the expert members must have never been a federal or state official other than a college teaching position.

2.   Authority to act

The votes of at least five members of the Democracy Branch would be required for it to act except for its delegation of rule making and other authority set forth below.

3.   Member Career Limitations

All members would be disqualified for life from holding any other government office or from ever being elected to or holding any other federal or state government office either elective or appointed, except for teaching or administrative positions with colleges or universities, nor could they ever be employed as a lobbyist.

The main objective of this selection process is to constitute a body that is totally independent, without political ambition and not beholden to party loyalty or special interest influence — a group that is above the fray of partisanship and that can focus exclusively on democratic principles. Its goal would be to end the political mechanisms that have elected representatives who consistently ignore or obstruct the will of the electorate.

4.   Election of Members

Candidates for the Democracy Branch could not spend any money or receive or use anything of value in campaign­ing for election or re-election for that post nor could anyone else contribute to or spend anything &on their behalf other than expressing their opinion in the legitimate news media.  Their campaigns would be entirely publicly financed.  Members could not receive any compensation or benefit for their services other than their salaries and authorized reimbursements for expenses incurred in performing their duties.  While in office they could not receive compensation for speaking engagements or for writing in any publications

5.   Removal

Duly elected members of the Democracy Branch could only be removed by Congressional impeachment

6.   Replacement

Selection of a replacement for a member removed from the Democracy Branch due to resignation, ill-health health, death or any other reason would be made by the remaining members.  A tie in that selection process would be broken by the vote of the most senior member.

7.   Congressional Role

7.1    Expert Members

The specific 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.

7.2    Minor Party/Independent Selection

Congress would set the criteria for determining which minor political party candidates or independent persons qualify for this position..

7.3    Nomination & Election Procedures

Congress would set forth specific procedures and criteria for the qualifications, nominations, election and narrowing the field of nominees for election of members to the Democracy Branch consistent with the criteria set forth in Sections A. 1. and A. 2., above.

7.4    Operational support

Congress would be responsible for enacting laws and appropriating funds strictly to support the ongoing functions, operation and administration of the Democracy Branch.

B.     Jurisdiction & Authority

1.   General Scope of Authority

The jurisdictional scope of the Democracy Branch would extend to authority to act in all matters relating to elections, election financing, electoral processes and methods, political debates and dialogue and congressional and administrative deliberative procedures or any other matters relating to democratic forms, practices, processes or procedures for government decision-making.  Its authority in these matters would be exclusive and plenary but it would have no other authority outside of this jurisdictional scope.

It would have the authority to carry out the functions and activities set forth in section IV, Functions & Activities, below.

2.   Superseding Prior Constitutional Provisions

Prior conflicting clauses of the Constitution would be superseded and and repealed or amended, including the parts of Article I, Section 4 relating to the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives and the parts of Amendment I relating to freedom of speech as it has previously been interpreted to affect the financing of elections and political speech.

3.   Consistency

All acts of the Democracy Branch would have to comply with constitutional principles of due process and equal protection except as specifically modified in this proposal.  Its acts must be nonpartisan and reasonably consistent and uniform over changes of control of Congress and the Administration, while also allowing it discretion to adapt, innovate, experiment and make other changes deemed appropriate by the Democracy Branch according to relevant circumstances existing at the time as it ascertains.

4.   Enforcement Authority

It would have the sole authority to enforce it’s regulations.  It would have exclusive authority to investigate and initiate administrative enforcement actions, the Justice Department however would have jurisdiction to pursue criminal prosecutions referred to it by the Democracy Branch.  Enforcement remedies would extend to imposing fines and civil and criminal penalties or seeking and obtaining injunctive relief from the courts for violations of its laws, rules, regulations, orders or other prohibited acts. All penalties, however, must be commensurate with the degree of wrondoing and the dollar amount of the fine.

5.   Adoption of Prior Election Laws

The Democracy Branch would replace and take over the functions of the Federal Election Commission and could Incorporate by reference into its own laws the provisions and definitions of all existing federal election laws.  All existing laws and regulations relating to matters within the jurisdiction of the Democracy Branch would remain in force until repealed or modified by action of the Democracy Branch.

C.    Preemption

1.   Constitutional Preemption

This amendment and the authority granted to the Democracy Branch would supersede all prior conflicting constitutional provisions, principles or constitutional interpretations, except as otherwise expressly provided for in this proposal

2.   Congressional, Agency and State Preemption

All acts of the Democracy Branch supersede and preempt all conflicting acts of Congress or any rules or regulations of any government agency or compartment and the laws, rules, regulations or procedures of any of the states or political party or other such governing bodies relating to federal elections or other matters within the jurisdiction of the Democracy Branch.

3.   Presidential Veto and Executive Order Preemption

The acts of the Democracy Branch and appropriated funding of its operations and programs would not be subject to and would supersede any presidential veto or any executive order or Administration management or control relating to matters within the jurisdiction of the Democracy Branch.

D.  Delegation and Deferral

The Democracy Branch may delegate rule making, investigative, enforcement or any other of its functions to staff personnel, consultants, commissions, departments, divisions and boards that it establishes, retains or appoints and may defer to the Justice Department, political parties and the states where deemed appropriate, subject to oversight, review and overrule by the Democracy Branch members.

Rule making would be delegated to a Democracy Rules Agency. Its rule making acts, proposals and procedures would be subject to the Administrative Procedures Act

The Democracy Branch is deemed to have deferred in any circumstances where it has not exercised its authority or acted.

E.     Funding & Appropriations

1.   Salaries & Resources

The salaries and staffing resources available to their members of the Democracy Branch must be at least equal to those of US Senators, but they may not receive any other compensation or benefit for their services in the Democracy Branch.

2.   Operational Appropriations

The reasonable amount of administrative and operating costs of the Democracy Branch and all of its departments, divisions and agencies needed to fulfill its mandated duties, as set forth in regular budgets submitted to Congress, must be provided by congressional appropriation and in no event would appropriations be less than the average of the four smallest cabinet level departments of the government.

3.   Program Appropriations

The Democracy Branch has full authority to appropriate government funds that it deems necessary to establish or carry out programs and policies that it adopts (such as voting machines or equipment, vote by mail programs, public financing of elections, election and voter education programs)

Funds so appropriated could not be vetoed, revised, diverted or held up by the president or administrative action.

PROVIDED THAT all of its appropriations for programs are subject to repeal or revision by a majority vote of the House of Representatives taken within 30 days of adoption of such appropriations, but nevertheless remains exempt from presidential veto.

4.   Cost-sharing with States

The Democracy Branch could continue the current and customary practice of imposing the cost of conducting federal elections on the states but it could also share or subsidize most or all of state cost burden for primary and general elections of federal offices.

F.  Extent and Limits of Authority

The authority of the Democracy Branch is limited to electoral, legislative and democratic forms and processes.  It has no authority to legislate or influence substantive public policy. It may not exercise authority or act outside the authority specifically granted it in this proposal and as such its authority is further specifically qualified by the following conditions:

1.   Freedom of the Press

It could not abridge 1st Amendment freedom of the press and thus could not take any acts that would in any way interfere with, limit, infringe on or burden the publication or dissemination of news, opinion or political expression produced by legitimate news media at its own discretion and at its own cost in the regular course of its business. Paid political expressions (advertising) published, broadcast or disseminated by the legitimate news media would be subject to regulation.

2.   Freedom of Assembly

It could not abridge the rights of the people to peaceably petition the government for a redress of grievances, provided that it is not limited in its the authority to regulate professional lobbyists and lobbying activities.

3.   Speech Content

It could not regulate in any manner the content of any expression even though deemed to be false, misleading, libelous or malicious. It could, however, provide adequate opportunities to the victim of such expressions to rebut them in a timely and effective manner.  Acts of the Democracy Branch must be consistent over time and may not invidiously favor or disfavor any candidate, political party or substantive policy position.

4.   Judicial Review

All actions of the Democracy branch would be subject to judicial review, including enforcement decisions and orders but its judgment or exercise of discretion judgment would be entitled to judicial deference.

5.   Congressional Representation Allocations

It may not change State boundaries, the number of members of the House of Representatives nor their allocation among the states, but it could change the allocation of senators among the states to more accurately represent their respective populations.

6.   Congressional Budget

It would have no jurisdiction over the salaries, compensation or reimbursements of members of Congress or their staffs nor of the budget of Congress and all of it’s offices and officers

7.   Government Office Reappointment

It could not regulate or influence any appointments made by the president or by any other government official except as otherwise provided for in cases of nepotism and patronage.

8.    Other Constitutional Provisions

It could not act regarding any constitutional provisions involving the separation of powers and relationships of the three major branches of government or their respective powers and authority (as for example, ruling on enforceability of congressional subpoenas to Administration officials) nor could it limit the president’s right to veto legislation or make executive orders except as otherwise specifically provided for in this proposal.

                                                                 IV. Functions & Activities

The Democracy Branch could, but would not be obligated, to undertake the following actions:

A.  Regulation of Financial Influence in Elections

The Democracy Branch could regulate political campaign financing by limiting, prohibiting, managing and defining the following election activities or procedures:

1.   Regulation of Political Campaign Contributions and Spending

The Democracy Branch would have full authority to regulate the financing of all aspects of elections, political expressions and the financial activities of persons or entities involved in elections or political expressions.

Thus, it would overrule and supersede all contrary First Amendment and other constitutional or legislative restraints on financing of elections and political advocacy

The purpose of granting the Democracy Branch this authority is to end the nefarious, unhelpful and disrupting proliferation of campaign advertising and to level the political playing field — so that the voices of wealthy donors and the financial power of large corporate and business interests do not overwhelm and drown out the voices of everyone else — so that in the marketplace of ideas everyone has an equal or at least a fair degree of bargaining power and all viable candidates and ideas have an opportunity to be heard.  The intent is to end the distortion of democratic processes and undue influence of money in politics, whereby the top fundraisers or top spenders have the best chance to be the top candidates and to be elected and wealthy donors have special access to elected officials,  exert undue influence on them and often are appointed to important government positions as a reward. The objective would not be to infringe on the right to speak but only to offset the power of wealth and equalize the ability of all Americans to be heard and to influence who is elected and what policies the government adopts.

Arguments that First Amendment principles require that any person or corporation may spend unlimited amounts on political speech, as declared by the Supreme Court in Buckley and its progeny, which is advocated by interests such as the ACLU, is a blind and foolish consistency.  Political speech is in an entirely different category than all other speech because its sole purpose is to influence how we are governed.  The will of the people is not served when the immense aggregations of corporate and business wealth are brought to bear to bring about policies that favor their financial, property and business interests.

Where else in a fair and just society does one side or one faction get to dominate the discussion of political issues and the qualifications of candidates for office? — to flood the market place of ideas?  We celebrate and purport to embrace the most often quoted and revered phrase of the Declaration of Independence that declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”  Yet that phrase, that fundamental democratic principle of equality, is ignored when it comes to political speech.  Political dialogue is not equal.  It is dominated by those who can afford to pay for it.  Equality of speech opportunities is woven into the rest of our legal and social systems where it is assumed to be fundamental.  For example, in court hearings and trials, in public meetings and debates each side gets equal time.  In baseball each side gets nine innings at bat.  Why don’t simple rules of fairness and equality of opportunity to speak and to be heard apply in the political arena?  Why is the side with more money allowed more speech?  Why do big donors have more access to elected officials and more opportunities to influence them?  Where is the equality in that?

It would therefore overrule for all purposes:

Buckley v. Valeo, (money equals speech — allowing candidates to spend unlimited amounts of their personal wealth or received from other wealthy contributors in gaining nomination or election), and

Citizens United v. FEC (holding that government may not prohibit unions and corporations from making independent expenditure for political purposes, so that corporations, unions and PACs have the same 1st Amendment free-speech rights as individuals and therefore cannot be limited on political issue advertising any differently than individuals).

All prior court decisions that have applied or interpreted the First Amendment to limit the rights of the US government or any state to regulate elections or campaign spending or contributions would be declared invalid.

It could therefore regulate and limit all amounts, forms, terms and conditions of campaign contributions and spending applicable to candidates, political parties, political committees and other organizations in connection with elections for federal office, issue advocacy and support of political parties and political organizations.

It could adopt by reference all of the provisions of the Campaign Finance Law and any of its amendments.

Limits on contributions and spending should be calculated to give fair and substantially adequate and equal opportunity for all legitimate expressions or the campaign messages of all viable candidates.  Limits must be reasonable in total amount so as to allow for the total quantity of speech necessary for effective advocacy and to adequately inform the voting public of the qualifications of the candidates and the issues at stake or issues deemed important by the candidates. Contribution limits should be promptly adjusted for inflation or as other circumstances dictate.

2.   Contributions and Spending Regulations

It could require the following contribution and spending requirements relating to federal elections:

  1. only individual U.S. citizens 16 years old or older, and no corporations, unions, political action committees or other entities and no foreign  nationals or foreign governments could make federal political or election campaign contributions
  2. contributions of each person making contributions would be limited to a total dollar amount per candidate on the ballot in his or her Congressional District during each primary, runoff and general election cycle.

(the per candidate contribution limit would be measured by the federal candidates on the contributor’s ballot at the time the contribution is made and would vary depending on the office, i.e. a different amount would apply for candidates for nomination or election to the Senate, House and presidency)

So everyone gets the same political contribution budget each two-year election cycle that they can donate to any candidate, political party or other political entity that they choose.  This budget might be characterized as somewhat in the nature of a monetary right to vote, that is, everyone gets to vote (contribute) the same total amount of dollars.

  • Total contribution limits would be the same for everyone, no matter how the contribution is allocated, that is, regardless of which candidate or political entity finally receives or benefits from the contribution;
  • All political spending would be limited to contributions received regardless of which person or political entity receives and ultimately spends or benefits from such contributions and regardless of how allocated among spending categories, that is, whether election spending, issue advocacy or party building.

Contributions could be transferred from one person or entity to another but in all cases the source of all political spending must be from lawful contributions.

Since spending is limited to contributions received, no political spending can be financed by bank loans or any other kind of borrowing

  • Contributions and spending on state and local elections are not covered by this rule, except that no contributions made to state or local political parties or entities can be transferred to a federal candidate or his/her election committee or to a national political party or used for any federal political expression.  State and local parties may not spend funds for federal elections, issue advocacy or political expressions.
  • The cost of homemade signs, placards or symbols displayed on the owner’s home, yard, vehicle or clothing are not subject to spending limits related to political spending.  The value of volunteer canvassing, door belling, phone banking and other similar volunteer work is not counted as political spending.
  • No contributions can be spent on matters unrelated to an ongoing election campaign. So, for example, no campaign money could be used to pay attorneys fees of a candidate or campaign staff for defending them in legal matters unrelated to their campaign activities.

3.   Contributions to & Spending by Candidates (hard money).

  1. Contributors could designate that their contributions be sent, attributable or allocated to:
    1. one or more named candidates in (election spending) or
    2. political entity such as a political party or a political action committee leaving it to the discretion of the party to which candidate or candidates it would use the contributions for.
  2. All election spending would be limited to the contributions received —

whether received by candidates, political parties, committees, corporations, unions or other organizations or political entities and regardless of whether or not such spending was solicited by or coordinated with the candidate or the candidate’s election committee.

4.   Administrative Expense of Political Entities (“party building”)

Spending by political entities for the purpose administration, business or operating expenses of the entity (called “party building”) would be limited to contributions received.  Contributions designated for party building could only be used for that purpose.

Party building expense includes party conventions, placards, stickers and other paraphernalia, polling, voter identity data and data management, election recounts and challenges, organizational activities, voter registration, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drives and the like, but it could not spend more than it received in Contributing Regulation.

Contributions received by political entities that have not been designated for election of any particular candidate, for party building or other purpose may be spent in any manner the entity chooses.

5.   Independent Expenditures and Issue Advocacy (“soft money”)

Spending by political entities for issue advocacy (called “soft money”) would be limited to contributions they receive.  Contributions designated for issue advocacy could only be used for that purpose.

Contributions received by political entities that have not been designated for election of any particular candidate, issue advocacy or other purpose may be spent in any manner the receiving entity chooses.

6.   Segregation of Contribution/Spending Categories

All political contributions that are designated by the contributor to be used only for the following spending categories must be used for that purpose only:

(1) election of candidates (election spending, i.e. “hard money”),

(2) issue advocacy (soft money) or

(3) administration and operating costs of political parties and organizations (party building, also soft money).

All designated contributions must be traced so that they remain identified and segregated into each of the spending categories and kept separate from general treasury funds of any entity receiving contributions, regardless of what person or entity such contributions might initially have been contributed to or later transferred to.  Political parties or other entities could not choose to treat contributions designated for one category to a different category.  Contributions made for any one of those categories cannot be spent for any other category.

Contributions that are not designated for any of these purposes may be used and spent for any purpose.

7.   Solicitation of Contributions

No person or entity would be limited as to which persons or how many persons it could solicit political contributions from except that employers may not solicit contribu-tions or encourage contributions for a particular party or candidate from their employees.  Employers may not bundle contributions from their employees.  Expenses of soliciting contributions must be paid from contributions received.  

8.   Contribution and Spending Disclosures

It could require disclosure of contributor identities and all contributions made to candidates or political action committees or other groups or entities including those involves solely in issue advocacy and require reporting of all campaign spending by all candidates and other entities, except that the identity of persons making total contributions of $100 or less is confidential.

9.   Public financing

All federal elections could be wholly or partly publicly financed, including by a system of government funds matching individual donations

and giving a higher percentage of matching funds to smaller contributions, for example for every dollar contributed up to $100 the government would contribute $5.00, for each dollar contributions up to $500 the government would contribute $4.00, and so forth.

Or it could provide for a system distributing democracy vouchers to all voters

10.  Lobbying regulation

Limit the activities of lobbyists in influencing legislation and regul rulemaking, creating a more equal opportunity for access of public interest and consumer groups and activists citizens to their elected representatives and federal agencies; also limiting former members of Congress from participating in lobbying for a specified period of time and curbing the practice of presidential appointments of Industry lobbyists to administrative positions that regulate Industries they once lobbied for.

11.  Candidate disclosures

Require all presidential and all other candidates to provide tax returns and other financial records as well as their academic, employment, career, professional and pertinent non-intrusive health records, including any available mental acuity testing results.

12.  Public records disclosures

All elected officials can be required to disclose records of their governmental communications, decisions and activities and requiring truthful disclosure of government data and statistics

B.  Regulation of Election Laws and Policies

It could provide for, facilitate, promote, establish or enact the following programs, policies and election laws:

1.   Districting

Configure Congressional districts by adopting uniform distributing rules to eliminate all types of gerrymandering and establishing, racially and politically neutral non-invidious rules for Congressional district boundaries.

2.   Nomination and Election dates and procedures

Set the times, dates, manner, and procedures for conducting all federal elections, including the various state primary elections for nominating candidates for the presidency and for Congress.  It could also determine the manner of selecting delegates or other means to nominate presidential candidates and could decide whether primaries would be open, closed or otherwise conducted according to party affiliation or other ways.

3.   Monitoring elections

It could observe and monitor election activities of all federal elections to assure that eligible voters are allowed to freely vote, that all votes are accurately counted and that the results are free of fraud or voter intimidation.

4.   Equalizing candidate advantages

It could devise various methods for equalizing the opportunities of all candidates and for offsetting the advantage of incumbency.  It could prohibit any candidate from using any government buildings, facilities, equipment, services or other government-provided advantages to promote his or her election campaign.

C.  Facilitating Voting

In all Federal elections the Democracy Branch could take the following actions for the purpose of facilitating voting, promoting turnout, informing and educating voters and assuring the integrity of elections:

1.   Administer all federal elections

It would be in charge of administering all federal elections, including primaries, runoffs and final elections and would be responsible for verifying the identity and qualifications of voters who have voted in each election.  But it could delegate those functions to the various State subject to supervision by the Democracy Branch

2.   Election equipment, facilities and technology

It word establish appropriate funding and standards for voting times and places, voting equipment, facilities, security and reliability of election results, especially so that voting can be convenient, accessible and equal for all eligible voters.

3.   Voter qualification and election standards

Adoptstandard, uniformrules, procedures and requirements, applicable throughout the country, for:

Provide for and make rules for voting by mail

  1. voter qualifications, including age, citizenship and rules regarding the right to vote by convicted felons
  2. voter ID,
  3. registration,
  4. election administration and purging of voter rolls,
  5. polling times and places,
  6. voting equipment and other facilities and devices and
  7. ballot formats.

4.   Voter Turnout

Promote and encourage voter turnoutand participation, creating voting incentives and ways to eliminate voter suppression and make registration and voting more convenient and accessible for all citizens, including making national election day a holiday.

5.   Voter information and education

Publish and circulate to all registered voters a pamphlet containing information on each candidate’s background, education, experience and other qualifications, together with the candidates’ stand on major policy issues and their proposals and principles for each federal election

6.   Election security

Provide for the integrity and security of elections and preventing election fraud.

D.  Debates & Political Dialogue

Political dialogue as currently practiced is unhelpful, uninformative and misleading.  Political dialogue should be aimed at fully informing voters of economic, social, health, environmental and other national problems, proposed legislative solutions and where each of the candidates stands on those issues.  It should concentrate on thorough discussion of relevant facts and evidence supporting or opposing legislative proposals.  A referee is needed to force candidates and elected officials to participate fully, substantively and in good faith in debates, interviews and press conferences and to respond directly and adequately to legitimate questioning.  Candidates and elected officials should be required to present the details of their platform and to support them in debates and intense questioning.

Referees are needed in the realm of political dialogue and debate. This is another arena where, as in court trials, the judge controls the dialogue or as in sports where the players don’t get to call the fouls but instead they have to abide by the rules and decisions of the referees.  If witnesses in everyday trials are required to give responsive and non-evasive answers to tough, legitimate and vigorous cross-examination, why are politicians able to get avoid that when it comes to issues vital to the welfare of the nation and its people?  Voters, of course, are without sufficient information to make informed, rational voting decisions when politicians are not required to  give full and specific answers to important policy questions.

The Democracy Branch could fill that role by doing the following:

1.   Mandatory candidate debates and public discussion of issues

Manage, supervise and establish all forms and rules for political dialogue including interviews, questioning and debates involving candidates and elected officials.

  • It could order and arrange for mandatory debates, press conferences and interviews, setting times, places, topics and the rules for such debates or interviews that candidates are required to attend and participate in.
  • It could allow for extensive recorded interviews (lasting several hours) of candidates by the opposing candidate or their staff.
  • It could prescribe minimum for participants in presidential and congressional candidate and nomination debates.
  • It would provide a fair opportunity for third party candidates to participate in presidential debates.
  • It could appoint moderators to preside over and control debates and interviews.  They would have authority to enforce time limits and control dialogue of debates and candidate interviews.

2.   Management of debates and interviews

Moderators could determine debate topics or could themselves propound questions, with emphasis on in-depth, substantive discussion of major policy issues, social, economic and other political problems and proposed solutions, with a de-emphasis on personality and character issues of the candidates. To carry out that purpose moderators could adopt the following rules and practices. The moderators may not themselves violate these rules:

  • frame questions, and permit the media and opposition candidates to frame questions,
  • set and enforce time limits for the length of questions and answers
  • require candidates to submit to rigorous and tough questioning and to thorough follow-up questions and cross-examination by the moderators, media and opposition candidates or their representatives,
  • require candidates in all instances to fully and responsively answer all legitimate questions presented to them,
  • require candidates to clarify and explain vague, ambiguous, unclear, unresponsive or evasive answers given to legitimate specific questions,
  • require all candidates and officeholders to provide specific evidence supporting all factual claims that they make,
  • require candidates to clearly and fully state and explain the exact terms, details and evidentiary support for their policies, plans, legislative proposals or opposition to that of their opponent or other claims or statements of position and to provide supporting evidence, statistics and sources of information, as well as requiring specific examples supporting or illustrating their claims or positions.
  • encourage candidates to direct their campaign messages toward policy proposals and positions and away from attempts to smear the opposition candidate with allegations of mistakes, personal character flaws and alleged wrongdoing that are not centered on government policy, except that claims by a candidate of personal virtue or outstanding accomplishment can and should be challenged by the opposition.  Candidates who attempt to smear the opposing candidate should be required to back up their claims with specific evidence and the subject of an attack should be entitled to amply respond.
  • explore contradictions and inconsistencies in candidate positions or prior positions, requiring candidates to explain reasons for any changes of a prior position,
  • require candidates to stick to the subject and rule out of order responses that stray beyond the topic or scope of the question
  • rule out of order or require clarification or rewording of questions that moderators consider to be improper, such as questions that are unfairly vague, ambiguous, irrelevant, frivolous or repetitious, especially hypothetical questions or accusatory questions that contain hidden or speculative assumptions or assume unproven facts.

Examples: “What are you going to do about the mess in Washington?” or “When will you stop taking bribes?”

  • prohibit and rule out of order questions prefaced with lengthy factual preambles containing presumptions or factual allegations that are argumentative, unnecessarily confrontational, accusatory or hostile and that in substance constitute statements of the questioner’s political position (that is, they are not really questions, but they are just making a speech) and are not intended to produce a relevant or useful answer.
  • certify credentials of news reporters who are entitled to attend and participate in press conferences (so that politicians cannot control or restrict attendance at press conferences)
  • in debates ensure that equal time is afforded to all debate participants and prohibit candidates from interrupting each other,
  • provide for decorum and respect between questioners and the questioned.

3.   Dialogue management and enforcement

Moderators could enforce these rules by reprimanding or penalizing candidates who refused to attend or participate in good faith in required debates or press or opposition interviews.  They could disqualify candidates who refuse, without excuse, to appear for a scheduled debate or interview.  In extreme cases of other flagrant and repeated violations and defiance of moderators’ rules or rulings they could disqualify a candidate.

Moderators could not penalize or sanction or comment on a candidate for making any statement or taking any position, no matter how seemingly absurd, but they could require candidates to explain and support with specific evidence any claims, positions or statements they make, ruling answers to be inadequate or unresponsive where deemed appropriate.  Candidates, however, would be free to admit that they did not know the answer, were uncertain or had no support for their position other than it was their supposition, speculation or belief.  Candidates could ask for clarification of a question or they could expressly refuse to answer any question — but pretending to answer with an irrelevant, evasive, vague, misleading or inadequate response could be reprimanded or sanctioned.

The purpose for this authority over debates, interviews and other political dialogue is to give the electorate the best opportunity for hearing and learning about problems facing the government and the country and the potential solutions proposed, advocated or opposed by the different candidates.

Unsupervised debates, press conferences and interviews as currently conducted are uninformative and so generalized, so evasive and so fraught with generic hyperbola as to be a waste of time and practically meaningless, even misleading.  The objective of this measure would be to promote and enforce more in-depth, reasoned, fact-based discussion of major policy issues; to thus provide for a true debate format, that would emphasize substantive, specific examination of public issues and delve into policy details.  It could do this by drilling down below pat talking points, slogans, political labels, emotionally charged rhetoric and high sounding generalities — that is, provide an opportunity to pin down candidates on where they really stand and to keep them from evading tough questions.

It is at least as essential to the public good, where grave, fundamental public issues — issues of national healthcare, war and peace and the like — are at stake, that candidates and elected officials be held to the same strictures and supervision as witnesses are held to by judges in all trials and litigation proceedings.  If witnesses in ordinary trials are required to testify with relevant and responsive answers and to provide foundational evidence why aren’t politicians?

4.   Questioning of elected officials

All federal elected officials, including the President, could be subject to questioning by the media during periodic press conferences or interviews or before special sessions of Congress or congressional committees ordered by the Democracy Branch or by Congress itself when deemed appropriate. Elected officials would be subject to the same rules that apply to candidates running for office, including the requirement that they attend mandatory interviews, submit to rigorous examination and be required to give responsive and relevant answers to all legitimate questions.

5.   Rebuttal Opportunities

It could adopt measures to allow appropriate time and opportunity for a candidate to defend or rebut an opposing candidate’s claims critical of that candidate or accusing an opponent of wrongdoing or other attacks or charges reasonably deemed by the candidate to be false or misleading.

6.   Candidate, office holder initiated briefings.

Any briefing or press conference initiated by a candidate, office holder or news media would not be subject to supervision or management of the Democracy Branch nor would they be bound by any interview, dialogue or debate rules unless requested by the person or entity requesting such briefing or press conference

7.   Free broadcast time

The major TV broadcast and cable networks and local TV broadcasters could be required to provide free broadcast time for allpresidential and congressional candidate debates and other presidential campaign interviews and press conferences upon the determination and order of the Democracy Branch.  Presidential debates to be broadcast in prime-time nationally and congressional debates to be broadcast in prime-time in the region where the candidates are running.  A candidate opposing the incumbent president would be entitled to free airtime to respond to free broadcasting of comments of the president that are the functional equivalent of a re-election campaign speech.  Free broadcast time could be scholarly or partially compensated for by allowing commercial advertising during such broadcasts.

8.   Prohibit foreign sourced communications in elections

It would be responsible for investigating and eliminating all forms of foreign sourced communications influencing in American federal elections.

E.  Regulation of Congressional Rules & Procedures

1.   Regulation of Procedural and Parliamentary Rules.

The Democracy Branch would have authority over the parliamentary and legislative procedural rules and investigative authority of Congress. Rules and orders would have to be even-handed and consistent throughout changes in party control of houses of Congress, eliminating rules that favor the party in power.

The purpose of this measure is to establish uniform, stable non-partisan, neutral ways to reduce legislative deadlock, facilitate majority legislative decision making while giving due regard to legitimate minority interests. Also, to promote bipartisanship and compromise.

This measure is grounded on the theory that members of Congress should not make their own procedural rules which tend to change in favor of the party currently in control, leading to partisan motivations, retaliation, obstruction of legislation, legislative trade-offs and protection of incumbency, while at the same time over-protecting narrow minority an insular special interests. The party in control of Congress should not be allowed to block legislation that it would otherwise favor but for the fact that the president is from the opposing party so as to deny a president of the opposite party from getting credit for passing of good legislation.

Members of Congress should not have to accept unfavorable legislation that is included in the favorable.  The majority should be empowered at all times to adopt what they favor.

Players should not be the ones making the rules of the game.

2.   Prohibited practices

The Democracy Branch could outlaw, prohibit, limit or regulate

  1. the filibuster,
  2. ear-marks,
  3. obstructionist or poison pill amendments to bills,
  4. provisions unrelated to the subject matter of bills

It could require bills to relate to a single major subject, preventing large omnibus bills that combine popular or necessary provisions with unrelated less favored or narrow special interest riders.  Members of Congress or the Democracy Branch itself would be able to sever such unrelated provisions, sections or clauses from major  legislation for a separate vote so that the remaining legislation that has majority support can the adopted without the objectionable provisions, especially in the case of narrow special interest provisions and especially where “riders” are attached to “must-pass” bills.

Rules would be designed to favor the adoption of the minimum provisions that Congress can agree on while deferring contentious issues for further debate and negotiations.

  • secret legislative negotiations so that actual bargaining positions of contending factions would be made public.
  • other anti-democratic procedural rules, where, for example, a single Senator can hold up a cabinet or court appointment or put a hold on pending bills.
  • powers of the speaker, Majority Leader and other party leaders to hold up a vote or consideration of certain proposed legislation.

3.   Mandatory & Regulated Procedures

The Democracy Branch could require or regulate the following Congressional procedures or actions:

3.1    Organizational rules

It could make rules regarding the process for choosing leadership positions, committee chairs and committee assignments and rules regarding seniority, though it could not make those choices itself.

3.2    Recorded votes

It could require roll call votes, on bills where it determines that should be done –

forcing members of Congress to vote and have their votes recorded so that we know how they voted and we know how every member of Congress voted on every bill of any significance.

3.3    Required floor votes

It could require votes on any bill or legislative proposal meeting certain criteria, such as any bill having a specified number of sponsors and all bills passed by the other house or that it believes should be voted on,

thus, preventing legislation from being held up by party leaders in order to deprive the opposing party or president of claiming a legislative victory or for other for narrow minority or special interest reasons.

3.4    Confirmations

It could also make rules expediting the confirmation process by, among other things, requiring Senate votes to be taken within certain time limits on presidential nominees to the federal courts and to the cabinet, so that a presidential appointment would be deemed approved if not voted upon within a definite time.

3.5    Procedural disputes.

It could arbitrate and decide procedural disputes in Congress.

3.6   Ethics and conflict of interest rules

All federal elected officials, including the President, could be subject to conflict of interest and ethics rules adopted by the Democracy Branch.

It could develop rules to prevent nepotism and curb patronage — to prohibit candidates or office holders from bestowing favors or benefits on big campaign donors as a reward for their support, such as appointments to cabinet posts, judicial appointments, ambassadorships and other government positions . 

It could investigate and bring charges against Federal elected officials for their misuse of campaign or government funds, of profiting from information obtained from closed briefings or for violations of existing law or established ethics rules and refer charges to the Justice Department for prosecution

3.7   Congressional investigative Authority

It would have authority to draft rules for and enforce Congressional subpoenas and other investigative or discovery methods available to Congress.

3.8   Impeachment Procedural 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 and testify in the Senate trial. The defense could call any witnesses it chooses but it would be prohibited from coordinating or consulting with the Senate in any manner

F.   Election Methods & Representation

All election rules and procedures must be designed to be even-handed and eliminate advantaging or disadvantaging any political party.

1.   Presidential recall elections

It could establish presidential and congressional recall elections and prescribe the conditions and circumstances under which a recall could be called for, setting forth the procedures and criteria by which a recall would be instituted and conducted

2.   National Referenda

Allowfor a vote of the people on measures of national concern, according to procedures established by the Democracy Branch by which nationwide referenda or initiatives would be instituted and conducted

3.   Other election or voting methods

Innovative election methods could be adopted, such as ranked choice voting, proportional representation or the “none-of-the-above” ballot option

4.   Change allocation of Senators from each state

Make changes in the number of senators elected from each state, so as to more accurately reflect the ratio of state population to the number of senators elected from each state;

PROVIDED that an allocation ratio would be limited to not more than 4 senators being elected from the most populous states and not less than one senator being elected from small states.

5.   Terms of office

Set or alter the terms of office of the president and all federal elected officials, including setting term limits.

6.   Electoral College

It could abrogate the electoral college and require direct election of the President or could change the apportionment of electoral votes among the states or make other changes in the process of selecting electors and their freedom to exercise discretion in voting as an elector.

G.    Prohibited practices

The Democracy Branch could prohibit the following practices:

1.   Foreign contributions or assistance

All contributions, spending or assistance by any foreign national or foreign government or entity in connection with a U.S. election or other election interference or political influence would be unlawful.  The media would would be prohibited from  publishing, broadcasting or disseminating any political expressions originating from a foreign source and would have a duty to investigate and identify such sources. All candidates and office holders would be prohibited from soliciting election contributions or any other assistance from a foreign government, including a request to investigate or conduct opposition research on a potential election opponent

2.   Foreign sourced political ads

Any form of advertising that has any political message that is placed in American media, including broadcast and cable TV, social media and other online or internet outlets by any foreign national would be outlawed, with strict requirements placed on the media companies and advertisers to monitor foreign sourced political content to determine the identity and location of such foreign persons or entities who attempt to place political expressions and to deny them access to American Media platforms.

3.   Investigations of the President’s political rivals

 The use of federal investigative authority or resources such as the FBI, NSA or IRS to investigate political rivals of the president or the administration could be outlawed.

4.   Spying on candidates and campaigns

Any political party, candidate or their allies who conducts any clandestine surveillance, wiretapping or other such spying on an opposing candidate, party or their  allied entities would be outlawed and sanctioned by severe civil and criminal penalties, including disqualification from office.

5.   Appointments of government jobs to political contributors

Investigate and prohibit where found to exist the practice of appointing government cabinet positions, department heads, ambassadorships and other government offices and jobs to individuals in consideration of or as a reward for their campaign contributions or other political support instead of their experience or professional qualifications.  Such appointments would be treated as tantamount to nepotism. Also prohibit any branch of the government from denying or withholding services or benefits otherwise owing to any state, city or other branch or entity of government on account of that entity’s refusal of political support.

H.  Any other acts or actions

Carry out any other acts 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 big money 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.

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