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Section VI
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Section V
Our Imperial House
 

With average district sizes now exceeding 600,000 — and growing by over 150,000 per decade — a huge amount of money must be raised to pay for the mass-marketing and other expenses required to wage a political campaign. This need for funding — combined with the Representatives’ relatively short two-year term — necessitates year-round fundraising & campaigning.
 

With their fund-raising machine established, once someone becomes entrenched in the House it is nearly impossible to unseat them, especially with their position fortified by the patronage system and many other incumbent advantages.
 
This is why over 90% of the House incumbents who run for re-election succeed. And this is how we ended up with the imperial House of Representatives.
 
At one time, our Representatives were thought of as “public servants.” Is this how we think of them today? Or do they appear to be political barons who are more interested in personal aggrandizement than serving their constituency?

Do we feel that our vote really makes a difference, or that the office holder is too frequently determined by the backing of “special interests”?

Do we have faith in how our Representatives conduct business, or do we think that the legislative process is seriously compromised by corrupting influences?

 
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“The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present and will be for many years.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1789
(virginia.edu
 
 
It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the validity of these apprehensions; nor is it constructive to either fuel or minimize them. The essential point is that if these perceptions are widely held, it creates a malignant rot in our society that can only be reversed by drastically reducing the opportunity for the underlying iniquities to occur.  

 
CONTENTS

In This Section:

A. The Incumbency Franchise
There is a powerful correlation between increasingly larger districts and the entrenchment afforded by the incumbency franchise.
 

B. Corruption in the House
Members of the House encounter many more corrupting influences than the rest of us. When combined with their legitimate need for a substantial amount of donated funds, this puts these men and women in a highly vulnerable position.
 
C. Voter Alienation
Is the government run for the benefit of all? 

 
TOP
 A.  The Incumbency Franchise

 
The Constitution provides Senators with a six-year term and the President with a four-year term. So why are House Representatives’ terms only two years in length? The reason is simple: Representatives were expected to campaign in districts containing approximately thirty-thousand people, not six-hundred to eight-hundred thousand. An office seeker in an appropriately sized district need not raise millions of dollars; in fact, they may be able campaign door to door.

However, with average district sizes now exceeding 600,000, the candidate must engage in continuous fundraising & campaigning. This not only distracts the Representatives from their primary duties, but also makes them vulnerable to the appearance (if not actuality) of being corrupted by an endless & unseemly fundraising process.
 

The inevitable result of this process is to create political franchises that have converted House districts into virtual fiefdoms for incumbents. Taking a House district seat away from an incumbent rarely occurs as it is a very risky business proposition relative to the substantial investment required.

The graph below illustrates the relationship between increasingly larger districts and the entrenchment afforded by the incumbency franchise.
 
 
“Every body acquainted with public affairs knows how difficult it is to remove from office a person who has long been in it. It is seldom done except in cases of gross misconduct. It is rare that want of competent ability procures it.”
— Brutus, No. 16; April 10, 1788
    [The Founder's Constitution]


 

 
 
Data Sources

For the years 1790 - 1986:
CRS Report For Congress “The House Apportionment Formula in Theory and Practice” (October 10, 2000)

For the years 1988 - 2002:
 “Beating the Odds” by David W. Brady and Morris P. Fiorina (Winter 2003)
TOP
 B.  Corruption in the House
 
During the time of the ratification debates, one of the concerns frequently raised in connection with the small House was the increased risk of corruption. Melancton Smith, a delegate to the New York convention, warned that: “In so small a number of representatives, there is great danger from corruption and combination. A great politician has said that every man has his price. I hope this is not true in all its extent; but I ask the gentleman to inform me what government there is in which it has not been practised.”
 
 

 

 
 

Members of the House are no less perfect than the general public, but they encounter many more corrupting influences than the rest of us. This reality, combined with their continuous need for a substantial amount of donated funds, puts these men and women in a highly vulnerable position.
 
Many of us in the public are highly skeptical about the honor and integrity of our elected representatives. Of course, news accounts focus on the misdeeds of elected officials (and too often with a partisan or ideological bias). Many good deeds and accomplishments by our Congressmen and women go unnoticed. Consequently, it is likely that the reality is much better than we imagine and that many good & honorable people are being unfairly tainted. The fundamental problem is that these negative perceptions create a cynical climate that causes people to lose faith in our public institutions.
 
In a sense, the symptom may be worse than the disease, because a loss of public faith in our governmental institutions is an insidious cancer in the body politic. Consequences range from reduced voter participation to discouraging honorable people from pursuing public office for fear of risking their reputations.
 
This is why it is essential that every reasonable measure be taken to reduce the likelihood of corruption and assure the public that corruption in the House is not prevalent. This takes us back to Melancton Smith’s sagacious warning (quoted above). His point was that the smaller the number of assemblymen, the easier would it be for special interests to exert an inappropriate influence. That is, imagine how much more difficult it would be to acquire influence among a few thousand congressmen rather than among a few hundred. And the fewer the number of Representatives, the easier it is for malignant influences to operate in secret.

TOP
 C.  Voter Alienation
 

Is the Government Run for the Benefit of All?

  '88 '90 '92 '94 '96 '98 '00 '02
Few Big Interests :
64% 71% 75% 76% 69% 64% 61% 48%
Benefit of All :
31% 24% 20% 19% 27% 32% 35% 51%
Don't Know, Depends:
5% 5% 4% 5% 3% 4% 5% 2%
Source: National Election Studies Table 5A.2
 

Do People in Government Waste Tax Money?
 

Waste Tax Money
'88 '90 '92 '94 '96 '98 '00 '02
A Lot :
63% 67% 67% 70% 59% 61% 59% 48%
Some :
33% 30% 30% 27% 39% 34% 38% 49%
Not Very Much:
2% 2% 2% 2% 1% 4% 3% 3%
Don't Know :
2% 1% 1% 1% 0% 1% 1% 0%
Source: National Election Studies Table 5A.3
 
Voter Turnout
 
Voter Turnout
'88  '90  '92  '94  '96  '98  '00  '02 
No, did not vote: 30% 53% 25% 44% 27% 48% 27% 38%
Yes, voted : 70% 47% 75% 56% 73% 52% 73% 62%
Source: National Election Studies Table 6A.2

It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”
 
This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

 
— Ronald Reagan, October 27, 1964 (Address to the Nati0n)


“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... 
     it expects what never was and never will be.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Last updated: 13July2004
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