Date
There is a glaringly obvious hole in our government's truthiness (thank you Colbert). After the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals there was a lot of lip service paid to the idea of reform and anti-corruption. However the spotlight has already faded, the media has moved on. The chronically amnesiac American public is thinking about the next episode of American Idol. Let's revive the call for reform because there is something simple that the government could do to make each representative 10 times more accountable, and would make our congress much more transparent. It's using technology to help Democracy. I see 2 main problems with Congress: 1. It takes an inordinate amounts of money to win a campaign, ensuring that our Congresspeople are either filthy rich or beholden to their campaign contributors. 2. There is little accountability when it comes to our laws, our bills. The American people know who originally sponsored a bill, and they know who voted for and against it, but they have no idea who wrote large swaths of it. Or what happens to it when it travels through congressional committees. I propose we solve problem #2 right now. The solution is easy. Bills are probably already all typed via computers. All we need to do is setup a system whereas each addition to or subtraction from a bill is recorded by a computer system. This way, the American public can view, line by line, who wrote what part of each bill. This type of technology is simple. It's is glaringly simple for the most powerful country on the planet. In Unix based systems, changes to text files are known as diffs. diff has been around since the early 1970s. One look at the history of a wiki and you will see how accessible this technology is. There will be no more guessing where the royalties to the oil companies came from. Of course there can be exemptions for things that may be top secret. Also in case of emergency (say there are some serious IT problems in Washington) Congress should be able to vote not to use this system for a set period of time. I'm suggesting that legislation is passed by our congresspeople to make mandatory what I have outlined by a certain date. As usual I encourage you to use the links on your right to contact your own Congresspeople and let them know how you feel about this issue.

Update

The same day I wrote this, the Senate approved a bill chaning some ethics laws. Now illegal is accepting food from lobbyists. Well at least they can't take our Senators out to dinner. But feel free to campaign on the corporate jet. Rumor has it that in 2000 Bush campaigned on the Enron jet (fact-checking anyone?). This is a pathetic reaction to the realization that reform is needed. We need real reform. We need a transparent government. We need to be able to see who wrote what bill, line by line.

A Depressing Response from Barbara Boxer

Thank you for contacting me regarding campaign finance reform. I welcome this opportunity to respond to your comments on this important issue.

I strongly believe that in order to strengthen our democracy, we must curb the excessive amount of money in campaigns.

I am very much in favor of true campaign finance reform and support any legislation that will reduce the influence of special interests on our political system. My own commitment to this issue goes back to my early days as a candidate and political officeholder, some 30 years ago.

As you may know, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act (H.R.3099) is currently pending in the House of Representatives. This bill seeks to decrease the influence of special interest money on political campaigns. It would offer incentives such as public financing and lower rates for broadcast time to candidates who agree to spending limits. I support the goals of this legislation and will work to enact meaningful campaign finance reform.

I have recently joined a Senate working group dedicated to exploring new ways to improve our nation's campaign finance system. We have had our first meeting, and I am working hard on a comprehensive campaign reform bill.

Again, thank you for writing to me. Please feel free to contact me again about any issue of importance to you.

Barbara Boxer United States Senator

It seems that Barbara Boxer's staff didn't even take the time to read my email. So I sent her another email:

My previous email to you about ethics reform had nothing to do with your canned response about "campaign reform". The topic of my message is "Ethics Reform" but there is no choice for "ethics reform" or for "congressional affairs" "legislative affairs" or even "government affairs". I understand that Barbara Boxer gets a lot of emails and doesn't have time to read most of them. However I must insist that my suggestion is particularly useful and helpful to a democracy. If my suggestions is not politically feasible, I would like to know why. For your convenience, I am sending my message to you again in time-saving condensed form. After the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals there was a lot of lip service paid to the idea of reform and anti-corruption. The "ethics reform" bill passed last week is a laughable feign at actual ethics reform. My problem is that there is still little accountability when it comes to our laws. The American people know who originally sponsored a bill, and they know who voted for and against it, but they have no idea who wrote large swaths of it. Or what happens to it when it travels through congressional committees. I propose we solve this problem right now. The solution is easy. Bills are probably already all typed via computers. All we need to do is setup a system whereas each addition to or subtraction from a bill is recorded by a computer system. This way, the American public can view, line by line, who wrote what part of each bill. Transparency was never easier. This type of technology is simple. It's is glaringly simple for the most powerful country on the planet. In Unix based systems, changes to text files are known as diffs. diff has been around since the early 1970s. One look at the history of a wiki (like on wikipedia) and you will see how accessible this technology is. There will be no more guessing where the royalties to the oil companies came from. Of course there can be exemptions for things that may be top secret. Also in case of emergency (say there are some serious IT problems in Washington) Congress should be able to vote not to use this system for a set period of time. I'm suggesting that legislation is passed by our congresspeople to make mandatory what I have outlined by a certain date. It sounds like a necessary reform to me, am I wrong?

An impressive response from Susan Davis

I wonder if this email came directly from her? Well, I wish she would take more action than "mentioning it to some of her colleagues and staff" - but she's got my vote (truthfully, she already had it last election).
...I appreciate that you took the time to share with me your thoughts about the problems with our government and political system in general. I am glad that you are so engaged in current events, and I must tell you that I agree with many of your thoughtful comments. Your suggestion about tracking bill changes on the computer is worth further exploration, and I will mention it to some of my colleagues and staff. Although the scandals we see in the news are the exception and not the norm in Congress, I certainly see the need for reform. I witness the problems with our system firsthand everyday. It is deeply frustrating to see how partisan maneuvering obstructs solid policy time after time. My colleagues and I speak out often, but we cannot do it alone. When you are in the minority and when the public is, as you said, more focused on pop culture than current events, it can be difficult to garner media attention and foster meaningful change. We will only be able to enact real reform when elected officials from both sides of the aisle are really willing to work together and the public is really willing to insist on bipartisanship and systemic change. From where we are now, it sounds like a pretty tall order, but I am optimistic about the days ahead. I encourage you to stay involved and to hold your friends and your representatives accountable for the sake of our future...


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