For a number of years I have been promoting term limits for Congress and our State Legislatures. Members of Congress and the State Legislature tell me that each election is a limit on their term. They say that if we don’t want them we can elect someone else.
The problem is we can’t usually elect someone else. Political campaigns are very expensive. I ran twice for the State Legislature and one time for a seat in Congress. With enough money, I could have won either one of the elections. Private individuals have a big problem in raising campaign funds that incumbents do not have. Private individual’s contributions come from friends that know them and most of the time this does not include the big political donors. The incumbents have lobbyists that donate the maximum level permitted by law. A Congressman that earns $ 350,000 during his two year term will easily have a million dollar campaign chest. If it does not all come from lobbyists, the party will arrange for contributions from their money or from other incumbents that have no opposition.
The changes that need to be made must be made by the members of Congress and the State Legislatures who would be giving up advantages that they enjoy, and it is not likely to happen. If we are ever to get term limits, we must give all elected office holders on the state and federal level an exemption from being affected by the term limits for their lifetime. This privilege would not apply to positions such as governor that already is term limited. It would be effective for candidates elected for the first time at the next election. It might take ten or more years for this to be effective, but it is probably the only way to get term limits.
At the state level, the term limits for the governor allows for eight years in the office and this would probably be a good level for the State Legislature. This will also prevent a select group from getting control of the Legislature and controlling the activities of each house. The heads of the various departments, such as highways, insurance, Secretary of State and education, should have the same limits.
On the federal level, the Senate serves six year terms and a two term limit is reasonable. In the House of Representatives, the term is two years and the limit should be the same as the state level recommendation of four terms or eight years.
The second step in making elections fair would be to stop political contributions from corporations or businesses that benefit from legislation that affect their industries. Corporations or businesses should not be able to contribute to candidates or to Political Action Committees, either directly or through their lobbyists. There should be a severe penalty for companies that supply money to their officers or employees for contributions to candidates in order to make them personal contributions and avoid the law. Currently many of the legislators and members of Congress are obligated to the contributors to their campaigns. They vote the way they are told regardless of how they personally feel about the subject of the legislation.
All contributions must come from individuals in compliance with present limitations in the current rules. Some corporations invite politicians to give speeches at a meeting and pay an exorbitant rate to reward them for a vote or a favor that the politicians have done. All money or gifts received from businesses or corporations must be reported monthly by the politician and by the companies making the gifts. Lobbyist contacts should be restricted to the office hours of the politician. All contacts between politicians and lobbyists should be reported to the Secretary of State or a responsible officer. Lobbyists should be allowed to give reports and recommendations to members of the Legislature on the same basis as any other citizen.
It always raises questions when politicians run for a state legislature position that pays about $ 35,000 in a term and they are willing to spend $ 100,000 to get elected. It is not their personal funds in most cases, but it is sometimes from their own money. A Congressman will be paid about $ 350,000 during their two year term. Reports showed that my opponent spent about $ 500,000 running against me and I spent about $ 17,000 and received about 27 percent of the vote. If you look only at the salary, this is not a very good return on the investment. It is also a wonder to try to figure out how a Congressman can retire after six years and $ 1,050,00 in salary and have a net worth of $ 2,000,000. Where does the extra money come from? My suggestion is that political races be limited in expenditures to the amount of salary paid in the term of the office. A candidate for the House of Representatives could spend $ 350,000 during the campaign. A candidate for the Senate could spend $ 3,150,000. A representative for the State Legislature could spend $ 35,000 during the campaign. We should require the media to give advertising rates of 10 percent less than the lowest commercial rate they have given during the previous year to commercial customers to politicians for their advertising. That would include radio, internet, TV and print media.
We need to level the playing field if we expect the positions in government to be held by a moving selection of candidates.