Incumbency Of The Executive And Checks And Balances

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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Issue

The 2008 election costed a total of about $1 billion and is the first billion dollar election in the country’s history. Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has been recently reported as saying that the incumbent president, Barack Obama, has the capacity to amass a large campaign chest, besides having the incumbent advantage, and therefore, would be difficult to defeat in November 2012.

In recent times, the issue of campaign finance reform has a long history since the 1990s debates between the then president Bill Clinton and the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, though neither could curtail its role. Nor could President Obama, albeit the best of bi-partisan intentions.

The capacity to raise money in politics, especially in electoral contests for the executive branches of the 50 states as well as at the federal level, largely determines the ability of politicians to win in elections. Large sums of money is usually raised through corporate donations and individual contributions subject to the some restrictions (the discussion of which need not be within the scope of this issue for reasons that would be evident below) such as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law, portions of which the Supreme Court of the United States had recently overturned in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) case citing violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution because, the Court argued, money in politics constitutes free speech.

Relevance to the People

The relative role of the various political interest groups through which those interested in seeking elective office raise money to pay for the expenditures of political campaigning is highly skewed. Few groups with the capacity to donate large sums of money influence the legislative process in Washington disproportionately. Even though many individual taxpaying households also donate to candidates of their preference, typically, except at the polling booth, the voice of most Americans is fragmented to be able to shape legislation in Congress or to be able influence U.S policies, both domestic and foreign.

State Legislators and Members of Congress act independently and individually, in the interest of their local constituents, and hence shaping concerted opinion in legislative bodies is often a protracted and, at times, a disorganized process despite leadership and tradition through committee mechanisms, but this is how representative democracy works. Legislating is, by definition, an exercise in political compromise and moves slowly toward becoming tidy and to the satisfaction of the many. Leadership more often belongs with the Executive. The role of money, therefore, looms larger in the Executive Branch of the federal government and in state capitals for gubernatorial elections than in the elections for state legislatures or the United States Congress because of the capacity of the executives to shape both policies and legislation in a focused manner in comparison to the legislators or members of Congress.

If money can be spent freely in politics by whoever can afford it for their causes, and typically to any extent, and if legislative bodies cannot be as concerted as the executive branches in the states and at the federal level, then how can checks and balances be restored to ensure that few groups do not disproportionately represent themselves in a system of one person, one vote?

Most state governors are permitted to be elected by their state constitutions for 2 terms and so is the president of the United States. Incumbents typically indeed have an advantage over challengers and the people do not remove them from office unless their performance is abysmal for their pocketbooks or there is a controversy. Still, the voting citizens are often unhappy and critical of the work of their government and find themselves lacking in choices when they go to the polling booths on election day. Mid-term elections are generally seen as the barometer of executive performance for the coming general elections. However, they do not always result in either better policies, legislation or the replacement of the incumbents. The voters are usually convinced by the incumbents or convince themselves to not make changes without caution or benefit of doubt. Political apathy also plays a role in incumbent reelections, given the usually low voter turnouts. Voter satisfaction or dissatisfaction is largely manipulated and maneuvered by public relations campaigns and pollsters. The executives are not put to a referendum of the people’s representatives in the legislative bodies before they decide to wield their money clout and the clout of incumbency to seek office again.

What must the states and the federal government do?

The states and the federal government must amend their respective constitutions to require the state governors and the President of the United States to be subject to a vote of confidence in the January of the 4th year of their first terms, around the time of the State of the State and the State of the Union speeches, and pass that vote by a 2/3rds majority to be permitted to file their papers with the election commissions for reelection to a second term, because elections are very intensive periods in American politics and distract as much as they can focus (if there is leadership) attention on the issues at hand.

Whatever the amount of money involved, one person, one vote will then become weightier than it is today to ensure checks and balances between the legislatures and the executives.

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