Listening to MPR the other day I heard that Congress’ approval rating is down to 9%. Probably just ahead of Wall Street.
Many feel the problem is that members of Congress are:
- Isolated from the problems the rest of us face because of their pensions and healthcare
- Not bound by term limits
These certainly may be concerns, but these are not the true problems. I think the real problems are the huge sums being spent on election campaigns, how these campaigns are financed, and the large sums devoted to lobbying our elected leaders.
In 2010, a non-presidential election year, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that almost $4 billion dollars were spent on federal elections. This would include the 435 members of the House and a third of the Senate.
Minnesota's eight House incumbents raised just over $25 million, with Michele Bachmann raising about $13.5 million of that. Excluding her, the average incumbent raised about $1.7 million. If you figure 730 days between elections, it means Minnesota's incumbents need to raise over $2,300 per day, even on the weekends.
It is easy to see that the highest priority for many members of Congress might be raising money, then formulating good policy.
This is the reason lobbyists, corporations, the wealthy, and to a lesser extent unions have so much influence. In the 2010 election, seven of the eight incumbents won, and the incumbents were the biggest money raisers in all those races.
If we want better policy making, we need to change the rules on election spending and campaign financing.
While that might be tough to change, we as citizens can do a better job in the short term selecting leaders. We need to elect people on their policy vision and their ability to move Minnesota forward, rather than the number of ads they run.
Polls show that most Americans feel we should address our state and national deficits with spending cuts and revenue increases, but we elect legislators that promise to block action because of a “no-new-taxes” pledge. We complain about the lack of term limits, but when election time comes, we keep re-electing incumbents who fail to initiate a policy vision that moves Minnesota forward.
If we want a better policymakers, we must do a better job getting to know where folks stand on critical public policy issues—education, jobs, health care—that will move Minnesota forward.
If you want to track Minnesota money in federal politics, here's a really cool tool from the Federal Election Commission.