Our nation’s founders wrote the Federalist Papers to articulate their vision for a new independent nation and justify their proposed design for a new government. They wrote using pseudonyms due to fear for the authors’ liberty and life if the crown discovered their true identities.
Writing as “Publius” in Federalist No. 52, one of the founders (widely thought to be James Madison or Alexander Hamilton) argued for a “government which ought to be dependent on the people alone.”
He outlined principles of representation through elections that would produce such a condition.
A government dependent on the people alone. That was the founders’ design. That was their gift to us.
But that design has been fundamentally corrupted.
Today’s government officials are not dependent on the people alone. They have conflicting dependencies. Competing dependencies.
Elected representatives are supposed to take their cues from the voters alone. But with election campaigning so insanely expensive, those representatives have little choice but to also take cues from their campaign donors. And the donor population is not the same as the voting population.
On average, state legislators get two-thirds of the campaign money from people who live outside their districts and thus can’t vote for them. Gov. Scott Walker gets more than half of his money from such people.
This corruption of the founders’ design has very tangible costs.
A Democracy Campaign report identified close to four dozen actions taken by legislators and the governor since January 2013 that provided at least $760 million worth of benefits to special interests in the form of tax breaks and other policy favors.
Those decisions cost the average family of four $528. If you read the entire list of actions, you will be hard-pressed to find a single one that benefits you. There is a sales tax exemption for companies that print and deliver junk mail. There is another sales tax exemption for aircraft parts.
When you go to the department store to buy a pair of shoes or some clothing, you pay the sales tax. But if you have enough money to own an airplane, you no longer have to pay tax on parts for your plane. If you are in the junk mail business, you don’t have to pay the state sales tax anymore either.
Manufacturers of lead paint have been given protection from future product liability lawsuits. Those who send their children to private schools now get an income tax deduction. The list goes on and on.
Here in Wisconsin we’ve been told repeatedly that the state is broke and government must do less for us. Yet those who bankroll election campaigns have been given more. At least $760 million more.
The few benefit at the expense of the many because we do not have a government dependent on the people alone.
Mike McCabe is the author of “Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics” and director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks the money in state elections and works for reforms making people matter more than money in politics.