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How can we use crowdsourcing/crowdfunding to reinvent our political process and rescue our democracy?

Most people agree the United States is a plutocracy, not a democracy. Our politicians are beholden to the moneyed interests that helped them get elected, not the American people. We are all aware of the problem but have felt powerless to change it. But we are living in a unique time in human history - a very empowering time.

What if a social contract existed that all elected officials had to sign in order to get elected and were held accountable to adhering to while in office (or we voted them out)? Couldn't we empower millions of currently disenfrachised Americans to actually vote if they had a vested interest in defining the solution....if they helped write this social contract? What would you include in this social contract? What would you like to see changed about our political system? Term limits? Campaign finance regulations? We all know that politicians will never limit their own power and that they are all stuck in a broken system. The question is how to we marshall the power of the crowd to solve this problem. How do we use technology and the power of the crowd to rewrite the rules for our political system and save our troubled democracy?

For a more detailed description please read the following - http://contractforcongress.wordpress.com. All ideas welcome.

  • Jun 10 2013: This is simple.

    Public Campaign Finance.

    No outside spending, no PAC's and no 501c4 spending.

    All federal positions require the same rules for qualification.

    This won't solve all of our problems but it will solve 80% of them. Yes, unemployment would go up but I am convinced that the lobbyist would eventually find gainful employment.

    We have a second term president that supports this and an astounding number of representatives but it will take a groundswell of the people to make it happen.
  • Jun 26 2013: I have another idea. First, let me qualify by saying that I don't believe that term limits themselves are a problem as long as our representatives still represent us. Instead, the problem is one of incentives.

    My idea is this: instead of incentivizing politicians to make promises to a select few for the money they need to be creditable candidates, why not incentivize politicians to deliver results for the many. For example, what happens if an organization could deliver on monetary pledges by a large number of citizens to help candidates who deliver on universal background checks, or some other broadly supported issue? If legislators could be guaranteed money for delivering, then they could spend time governing, instead of spending time fund-raising. Candidates could then align their actions either with a much larger, more transparent, group of fundraisers. If enough small-dollar contributions could be collected and distributed to lawmakers, then this could build coalitions on issues that don't require candidates to be beholden to parties or large amount contributors.
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    Jun 25 2013: I ran out of space in my last post and didn't quite get to the heart of your issue.

    It seems to me that crowdsourcing a contract for candidates to sign makes the way to success more complicated than it needs to be. Who selects the final product? There are, as we know, so many points of view and so many ideas that various interests would like to see included in such a contract that it's likely to become unmanageable. I think that two-three ideas are all that are needed, and that most who are interested in reform agree on what they are.

    I would suggest that those who want reform want representatives in Congress who will:
    1. Get private money out of elections. Work for a constitutional amendment to achieve this.
    2. Control lobbying. Special interests should not have special access to members of Congress.
    3. Represent the state or district, not the party or other interests.

    These principles simply adhere to the real meaning of honest, representative democracy. If we can achieve this much, I think we'd be well on our way to reform. There are other needed reforms, but we can't concentrate on them all at once.

    With today's social media, getting such simple core ideas out to voters should be possible, but it would take an organization to arrange the campaign and get publicity. I think that to get these reforms carried out, we need to elect Independents who promise to work for these principles, and who know that they will be judged on their success. The House should be the first target, since it's doable for independents to get on the ballots in House districts. I would love to see a scenario where almost all party candidates for the House lose to reform independents.

    That's all it takes...
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    Jun 24 2013: I agree with you, Tim, and with Lessig etc, that in theory it's simple. But only in theory. The two big problems are the role of money in our elections, and the behavior of the political parties.

    Giving large sums of money to a politician to promote his career, such as in an election, is prima facie corruption. Our elections will not be free and democratic until we're rid of this evil. The notorious Supreme Court decision, "Citizens United" voided Federal Election Commission rules and opened for unlimited private money in our elections. It will require a constitutional amendment to undo the damage. (Though I hated the decision, I can understand the logic: If it's unconstitutional to prohibit a person from speaking to promote his candidate, he must be allowed to buy time to speak, and no limit can be set on how much he can speak or on how much time he can buy. The S.C. extended this reasoning to groups of people, whether incorporated or not, and held that the F.E.C.'s rules limiting spending unconstitutionally limited speech.)

    The corrective constitutional amendment could define elections as a special area where promotion of a candidate must be done within a public process designed to be fair and equal to all, and where only equally distributed public funds are used for the election.The main problem in publicly funded elections is the qualifying process: Who can run?

    At the same time our political parties have lost sight of what it means to govern, and are strictly concerned with damaging the opposite party so as to win the next election. The best way out of this quagmire is to shun the two parties and elect only independent candidates who commit themselves to the needed reforms. The Reps and Dems will never, never carry out such reforms; we should forget them and consign them to the dustheap of history.

    Some of my writings on this are at:
    http://www.blueridgejournal.com/brj-congressreform.htm , and
    http://www.blueridgejournal.com/brj-politicorruption.ht
  • May 28 2013: The document that exists is the Constitution, and the body of laws that go along with it. The laws are the application of the Constitution, and there are plenty of laws regarding campaign financing and etc. The problem is that the laws about politicians are made by politicians. The word itself, "politician" suggests a career, which I think is wrong. Career politicians vote and campaign to keep themselves in power. Everything else is secondary, or at least that's what it looks like from down here. We're never going to make real changes until the politicians change to people who actually work for the good of the country. For some reason they're getting stifled by a party system and a political culture that requires them to take sides and toe the party line to get anywhere. Independents try, but just don't have the money backing them to create a successful media campaign. I don't really have any solutions here.
    • May 28 2013: Absolutely agree with you Scot. As far as I know the founding fathers never intended politics to be a career. I should have elaborated on my description. Please read the following if you get a chance - http://contractforcongress.wordpress.com.

      We need to circimvent the current system. I don't mean a legal contract - I'm talking about a document that the American People create and everyone running for Congress is pressured to agree to if they want to get elected. It's a social contract. Politicians will never limit themselves, so the only solution I can think of is to have the American public crowdsource new rules and organize everyone to vote around adherence to these new rules. The power that the founding fathers gave us is the vote. That's all we have, but couldn't technology be used to organize and mobilize people around this? I could envision an app that helps me vote - and completely new rules that the American people create to redefine politics. It's such a difficult problem, but at the end of the day WE put these people in office, not big companies. We have the ultimate power, we just haven't used it because the system is so broken. But we could exert massive pressure on Congress to do what we want, or we vote them out. We are collectively more powerful than all the special interest money - if we are organized and inspired to harness that power to affect change. Even Lessig doesn't have much faith that the solutions he presents in his book are possible, but we all agree that something must be done. Thanks for the reply.
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    May 28 2013: Is our system beyond repair? It worked historically well for a couple of centuries during our formative years and our rise to global leadership. Now the wheels are coming off and we are not going to even consider that we may have failed to observe necessary maintenance and need to make some repairs? Should we toss it all and try something new? Or should we dance with them what brung us (no matter how inconsiderate we have misused and mistreated them)? Maybe the problem is voter apathy and ignorance. Maybe the system is worth returning to.
  • Jun 26 2013: I completely agree Paul.....both parties are part of the problem and the solutions have to be simple. I think that's why Larry Lessig has focused on the biggest issue - money in politics. I like your 3 point focus. In my opinion we are heading into a 'post party' world, where the majority of Americans no longer relate to either party. That's why I'm envisioning a document outlining specific beliefs that independent candidates could get behind - a Declaration of Independence from politics as usual. I like your points and believe that more could be added, as the system is so broken and in need of specific solutions - solutions that the majority of our population would get behind.
  • May 28 2013: I completely agree Edward. I'm not advocating throwing the system out, what I actually envision is mobilizing voters to affect real change. Please read the following when you get a chance and let me know what you think - http://contractforcongress.wordpress.com.

    It's not a legal contract, it's a social contract. Using the power of social media and crowdsourcing to design new rules for politicians and holding them accountable for adhering to them - or we vote them out. The ultimate solution was given to us by the founding fathers - the vote. The problem is voter apathy. I think voters would rally by the 10's of millions if they felt empowered to be part of a real solution. At the end of the day we put these people in office - not special interests - and we can remove them. Perhaps the majority of the American People have given up on the political process- on both parties and on voting - but who could blame them. I feel we are living through a post party shift in politics - lots of people don't identify with either party and see them both as selve serving and essentially the useless. But voters could be empowered instead of disenfranchised. Technology has created the ability to educate, organize and truly affect change. The question is how do we empower and inspire the American People to get involved in designing a better future and voting people into office who will adhere to our values and ideals? Certainly social media has been playing an ever increasingly valuable part. I'm wondering how we harness and organize this great power to affect real change. I think it could be a social contract with Congress, and mobilizing the vote around this social contract. Ideas welcome and thanks for your reply.