Congress was created as the branch of government to represent the people of the United States. When the Founders created our system of government, they intended for Congress to be the dominant branch. Despite this, many people today are increasingly losing faith in this so-called dominant branch. In fact, according to a recent poll, only 45 percent of Americans have “trust and confidence” in Congress. Like many Americans, I do not believe Congress can serve the public good. I believe this because fundraising is the main concern of members of Congress, the actions of lobbyists have made Congress corrupt, and excessive partisanship among Democrats and Republicans allows little to be accomplished to benefit the common good.
Fundraising by members of Congress has had a major impact on the ability of Congress to serve the public good. As an incentive for members of Congress to raise money, the best fundraisers are rewarded with lucrative committee assignments and leadership positions. This affects Congressional work because rather than doing their actual jobs, members of Congress are busy trying to lock in donations. A senator in a typical state must raise more than $20,000 per week during all six years of his or her term to fund an average winning reelection campaign, which totals more than $6 million. In the House, an average winning race costs just over $1 million.
That means the average House member has to raise about $10,000 a week over the course of a two-year term. This is an immense amount of money to raise in both six-year and two-year terms. According to Lawrence Lessig, “Members grow impatient with anything that doesn’t promise the kick of a campaign contribution.” This indicates Congressional workers are solely looking out for their own financial interests. The major source of contributions for Congress members today comes from political action committees (PACs).
Members of Congress hold fundraisers throughout the year and invite members of the PACS to attend. Here, the Congress members attempt to win over their guests’ money. For the Democratic Party, fifty percent of their PAC contributions come from labor organizations, while the other fifty percent come from business organizations. As for the Republicans, 100 percent of their PAC contributions come from business organizations.
These statistics show that the Republicans are mainly backed by corporations, while the Democrats are more backed by the working class. It is clear that fundraising in Congress has a tremendous effect on Congressional workers’ work ethics and inhibits their ability to serve the public good. Perhaps if Congress members did not spend so much time fundraising to get reelected, they could work to reform today’s political issues.
A second activity that proves Congress cannot serve the public good is the corrupt actions lobbyists take. The problem in Washington is not lobbying itself. It is the role that lobbyists have come to play in corrupting Congress. The first and essential step to directly lobbying is gaining access. As busy people, members of Congress are protected by their receptionists and aides, whose job it is to shield them from those who would take their time.
Former members of Congress are sought as lobbyists because they already have contacts with current officials and knowledge about current policies. Regardless of how they got their job, lobbyists use several different tactics to corrupt Congress. These tactics include contacting officials, providing expertise, and, most notably, giving money. Lobbyists give money to incumbents in the hope that the incumbents will essentially support their personal interests in Congress. Two specific groups to which donors typically give money are policymakers and members of key congressional committees. Giving money to these two groups most directly results in the donor’s interests being represented. Corruption from lobbyists is just another way that activity does not allow Congress to serve the public good.
In a way, lobbying can almost be seen as a legalized form of bribery. A final activity that prevents Congress from serving the public good is the excessive partisanship among Democrats and Republicans. In the House, the Republicans typically win more seats than the Democrats, despite getting fewer votes. This is because the Republicans win the rural areas and the Democrats win the urban areas. Consistently having more seats gives the Republicans an advantage in passing policy with their viewpoint. The Republicans in Congress are known for being very conservative. This is the result of groups with a lot of money pushing the party to the right.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are more liberal and open to change. However, a group called the Blue Dog Democrats, who are more conservative, further divides the Democrats. Some blue-doggers are so conservative they even become Republicans. Since either party is rarely willing to compromise with the other, gridlock occurs. Gridlock is when no progress can be made between opposing parties. It is crazy to think that a branch of the government intended to represent the people neglects to work for the common good. In my opinion, gridlock contributes heavily to the public’s negative opinion of Congress. Partisanship between the Democrats and the Republicans is a huge reason Congress cannot serve the public good.
Over the past couple of decades, it has become clearer that Congress is the core problem with American democracy. The underlying factor for Americans’ lack of trust and confidence in Congress can simply be attributed to a lack of integrity. Three huge issues stand in the way of Congress serving the public good, and all three can be attributed to a lack of integrity.
Fundraising by members of Congress to run for another election rather than doing their job, the corrupt actions of lobbyists, and the excessive partisanship between Democrats and Republicans all can be traced back to a lack of integrity. There is no doubt a reform needs to be made to Congress to restore its institutional integrity. This reform must come soon, and it must rekindle a reason for America to believe in the central institution of its democracy.
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