Bridging the Bipartisan Divide

/ Monday, 07 November 2016 / Published in 2016, Blog

Okay, I know, I’ve railed against Mr. Trump, and we are all sick of people railing against him, so I’ll try not to do that anymore.

I want to instead address the anger that we see in this country. People are sick and tired of how dysfunctional our government is and want it to change. Year after year, we don’t seem to be able to get much done. Some say that the obvious thing to do is throw out the people in office and replace them with new people who are politically pure.  If we do that, then things must change, right?

The flaw with the idea of replacing all the people involved is that it won’t change the system. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Senators and Members of Congress are very good people, who are there for the right reasons, who care about their districts and our country, and who work hard to do what they think is right. The problem is that the system is deeply broken, so changing the actors will do little to change the system. The Constitution is set up to make it difficult to get things done, so putting in a bunch of people who don’t understand how to get things done can possibly gum things up even worse. So, should we change the Constitution? That’s one option, but changing the Constitution is very difficult and fraught with risk.

There are multiple causes of this paralysis in Washington. The political culture has drifted away from wanting to get things done for the nation and toward engaging in an all-out struggle for power in the form of majority control of Congress. In this environment, the emphasis is toward strengthening the base and vilifying the opposition. The emergence of media outlets that present opinion as news has certainly contributed to this divide. The internet has also made it easier for people to bubble themselves with like-minded people, and this has also greatly contributed to the divide.

But, possibly the greatest source of fuel to the partisan divide has been the increasing level of funding that is flowing into political campaigns. The amount of money involved in political campaigns has skyrocketed over the past decade. Moreover, more and more of that money is dark money, meaning it is exceedingly difficult to trace its source. This flood of money has had several undesirable impacts, such as the explosion of negative advertising that has become so pervasive, turns off and confuses voters, and suppresses the vote. And then there is the pressure of raising money, which has become a significant part of each Member’s efforts, reducing the amount of time that can be spent tackling actual policy issues. Not to mention that this money is a threat to any Member who crosses his or her party’s ideological line to compromise with the other side.

How can we change this system of funding political campaigns? I have proposed a Constitutional Amendment, H.J.Res31, which would eliminate PACs, SuperPACs, and dark money. However, as I mentioned above, amending the Constitution is extremely difficult and has significant risks. It would be far better to work together with other Members of Congress, especially if work can be done across party lines. In order to accomplish this, I have formed a bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Campaign Finance Reform with Congressman Walter Jones, my Republican colleague representing South Carolina. Together we have held three caucus meetings with presentations from experts on campaign financing and possible ideas on how to improve the system. Among the most promising ideas are to make the campaign financing system completely transparent and to empower the Federal Elections Commission to enforce existing laws. These two changes would together make a significant improvement on election transparency and accountability and give Americans more confidence in our political system.

I understand the frustration that so many Americans feel about our political system. This frustration has resulted in calls for dramatic changes that could cause a decline in our democratic system, the values of freedom and liberty that we cherish so deeply and for which prior generations have sacrificed so much. Instead of lashing out at individuals and demonizing those with whom we disagree, let’s work together to change the system in positive ways that make our system stronger, and understand that there are many good people in office who are working to do just that.