Mr. President: Use your pen and phone for election reform

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RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif., February 10, 2014 — Our election process is broken. In truth, we no longer hold elections; we conduct auctions. We have tragically allowed the Parties to craft the best government that money can buy.

President Obama recently proclaimed, “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” Having already demonstrated that he’s not afraid to issue executive orders at a pace that exceeds that of his often maligned predecessor, we should take him at his word.

Rather than debating whether the President is granting himself the same license he once so fervently criticized — “These last few years we’ve seen an unacceptable abuse of power at home. We’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power,” then-Senator Obama said in 2007 — perhaps we can take advantage of it.

While the cash squandered on the 2014 mid-terms will pale in comparison to the profligate spending that awaits us in 2016, this might provide the perfect opportunity to call upon the President to use his “pen and phone” in a manner that would actually benefit the people.


Logic supports the request as well. President Obama argues that he is compelled to take action in the absence of a truly functional Legislative Branch. Why not take steps that could successfully restore Congress to a higher level of performance? That would be consistent with “providing Americans the kind of help they need.”

Prior to President Obama’s 2008 election, the most money ever raised and spent on a presidential election by two candidates was $717.9 million (Bush and Kerry in 2004). Senator Obama topped that total figure by himself in 2008 by spending approximately $745 million, only to dwarf that number in 2012 when he spent approximately $1 billion to get re-elected to a position that pays $400 thousand per year. He clearly should understand the problem.

According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, the Democratic and Republican Parties are estimated to have spent about $6 billion in the collective “auctions” in which their candidates participated in 2012. This trend has created an economic barrier to the entry of third party and independent candidates who might actually bring solutions to the table rather than sound bites.

Instead, it assures that the same non-functional officials will be re-elected to office. Consider that with an approval rating in the low teens, 90 percent of House members and 91 percent of senators running for re-election were returned to office in 2012. Public office shouldn’t be for sale nor should it go to the highest bidder, but in today’s world, that happens more often than not.

A “freshening” of President Reagan’s 1987 speech in Berlin seems appropriate:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and open elections go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Parties can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. President Obama, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the United States, if you seek liberalization, pick up your pen and your phone. Mr. Obama, open our elections. Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!”

Mr. President: What an inspirational act it would be if you were to use your expanded powers not to favor your own agenda but to return integrity to our political system. Try to imagine how positively our society and economy would respond to an Executive Order that eliminated the obstacles that have been placed in the way of our Nation’s elections. Mr. President, tear down that wall!

According to the website of the Federal Election Commission, from 1907 until 1966, efforts were made to limit the influence of wealthy special interests, regulate campaign spending, and deter abuses through public disclosure of campaign finances. In 1971, Congress consolidated its reform efforts by enacting the Federal Election Campaign Act to control Federal candidates, Parties and PACs. Then, in response to alleged abuses during the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress established the Federal Election Commission, which went into effect in 1975.

Somewhere between then and now, we lost our way.

The FEC is supposed to function as an independent regulatory agency — i.e., not tied to the Cabinet. Its six Commissioners are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. The law had the foresight to limit each position to a single six-year term and to preclude any one Party from having more than three Commissioners at any one time.

Unfortunately, rather than exploring the possibility of having independent or third party Commissioners, you and your predecessors have defaulted to having three Democrats and three Republicans serve concurrently. As a result, the rules remain radically skewed toward retaining the status quo.

So, Mr. President: How about picking up that pen and phone of yours? Help bring about “Change We Can Believe In” to the election process, at least in terms of campaign finance reform, because “We Can’t Wait!”

Perhaps you could begin by shuffling the deck of the FEC’s Commissioners. We know how the game ends if the deck remains stacked. Why not allow us to see what would happen if the Parties didn’t control the rules at the Federal level.

We might see a dramatic reduction in the campaign contribution limits as a result. Correspondingly, this could have a variety of constructive impacts.

It could lead to a more level playing field in which positive ideas would play a more significant role than the number of negative ads a candidate might run. It could also bring an end to those embarrassing $40,000-a-plate dinners that demonstrate a complete insensitivity toward the plight of the poor.

If you need some math to convince you, one $40,000-a-plate dinner represents approximately four-times the annual income of an individual who qualifies as impoverished under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2014 guidelines.

Would a little more math help?

The $2 billion that Mitt Romney and you cumulatively spent on your 2012 campaigns would have fed, clothed, and housed nearly 21,000 indigent families of four for the entire four year term for which you were competing, or nearly 336,000 poverty-stricken Americans if you only wanted to cover all of their expenses for just one year. Just triple those numbers if you want to determine the impact the campaign committees and Super PACs of both Parties could have had if they had the courage to participate in elections rather than auctions.

While you’re at it, please call for an end to “bundling.” This might have the collateral benefit of forcing future Administrations to make senior staff and Ambassadorship appointments on a basis of merit instead of as a repayment for a political debt.

During your two terms, approximately 80 percent of senior White House appointments and 50 percent of Ambassadorships have gone to people who bundled $500,000 or more for your campaign. How much better might Washington function if we tried to attract our best and brightest talent to serve our interests rather than simply rewarding those who solicited massive sums of money for their Party?

If there’s any ink left in your pen, you may want to create a regulation that recognizes that only citizens can vote; therefore, only citizens should be able to contribute to political campaigns. This would eliminate the charade of allowing corporations, unions, and PACs to pretend to accurately represent the interests of their constituents. Besides, each citizen already has a voice in the form of a vote as well as the free will to individually contribute to a campaign should he or she so choose. Additional representation by some other organization is not required.

Of course, unless we begin to make Supreme Court appointments based upon judicial merit rather than partisan tendencies, we can no longer rely on the Court to make intelligent decisions. The Justices may confuse a legal entity with a real person — or deem a penalty to be a tax. However, that is an entirely separate issue.

It might also be interesting to only allow citizens to contribute directly to the campaigns of specific candidates rather than to a Party for distribution at its discretion. Then, candidates would have to stand on their own merits rather than being propped up by funding they receive from their Party.  Citizens could still contribute to the Party of their choice, but the Parties could only use such funds to support their positions on the issues.

This would also eliminate the money laundering that goes on during the campaigns to circumvent contribution limitations — i.e., the splitting of donations between a particular candidate and his or her Party only to have the Party redirect the funds back to the benefit of the candidate. All you have to do is declare that each campaign committee must remain autonomous of every other campaign committee.

Correspondingly, this would preclude one elected official’s campaign committee from making a donation to the campaign committee of another elected official. You wouldn’t believe how often the recipient coincidentally takes a position on a bill that’s favorable to the donor.

If you could make one more phone call, please make it to the Justice Department. Tell the Attorney General that, to preserve the Republic, it is necessary to concurrently protect the right to vote and to hold valid elections. All eligible citizens must retain the privilege to cast a vote. Please note: “Eligible” is the operative word.

As a commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter (D) and former Secretary of State James Baker, III (R) concluded in 2005, we must find a way to fairly require voter identification that does not penalize any class of citizens. Defaulting to the claim of “racism” in today’s technologically-advanced age should be an embarrassment to your Administration, and it merely perpetuates the racial divide. Third-World countries do a better job of attracting voters to their polls and verifying eligibility than ours does. That has to stop.

There are many more things that can be done to restore faith and trust in our political process, but your hand must be cramped from writing and your cell phone may be running out of battery. So, let’s just start with these.

Every President of the United States is either remembered or forgotten historically. Those who are forgotten suffer that fate for having failed to significantly impact our Nation’s history. Those who are remembered earned their reputations in either a positive or negative way.

If you wish to mitigate the negative impression that exercising unilateral action can otherwise leave, then use such authority to do something positive for the Country; something that is not tied to the political agenda of a particular Party but rather is only focused upon the best interests of the People. You may rest assured: Election reform would create a more lasting legacy that health care reform, and the roll-out would be far easier.

Thank you for listening, Mr. President.

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A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for YOU. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position with other commenters who may agree or disagree with your position. Just because many of our elected officials seem to be incapable of participating in this type of dialogue doesn’t mean that you should be precluded from doing so. CAVEAT: Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.

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T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors, and in 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States.

T.J. will be providing nonpartisan political commentary every other Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 and 11:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 and 8:00 PM Pacific).

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TJ OHara
T.J. O'Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States. Along the way, he earned the first Presidential endorsement of the Whig Party since the 1850s, his website was archived by the Library of Congress for its historic significance, and he won the first on-line “virtual” Presidential election (conducted by We Want You) by a commanding 72.1% and 72.7% over Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively. His column explores our Nation’s most pressing issues, challenges conventional thinking, and provides an open forum for civil discussion. Learn more about TJ at his website and connect with him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter (@tjohara2012). To order his books, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords or Sony Reader.
  • Jason Decker

    Great article T.J.! There are some things he could do unilaterally to help this cause as you stated above. Overall full campaign finance reform would most likely take congress’s approval. All presidents only go so far with their unilateral changes in order to stay in the gray area. There are also a lot of things he could attempt to push through congress by asking for a vote or asking some members of congress to craft a specific legislation. Even if he doesn’t make specific moves unilaterally he needs to put the ball in congress’s court on a lot of issues. Both the Senate and the House have notoriously decided not to vote on many legislative efforts from the opposite party, which isn’t right because most of those occasions they do it because it doesn’t fit their ideological agenda. The NY Times article you had posted on Facebook not too long ago about what he can do (The way of the Whig) painted a really good picture. Unfortunately the current election process isn’t conducive to that unless your ready to lead and he has shown that he plays the game as it is. For example, he held a 2014 strategy session with Harry Reid not to long ago. Right now President Obama could focus more on working together and mending the broken bridges that have divided this country to one side or the other. If people do not think this country is divided on the issues should probably head over to most comment sections on different political articles and see the hatred that is spewed for people who identify from either side. As someone who often is on different sides of an issue and lives in the middle I will get attacked from both sides. They see their political leaders acting with hate and disrespect, so they reflect this in thought. As you said money has bought much of the electorate to think a specific way. Another article you had written talked about how the parties are united in one thing and that is keeping the current landscape of politics the same. As long as it is the same, then they will all keep their power over the people. Well I think it is time to actually start working for the people!

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Decker. I couldn’t agree with you more.

      I wrote this offer to stimulate a little thought about how political strategies might change if they were to focus on the best interest of the People rather than those of a Party.

      For example: The Republican default in recent years has been “to oppose all things Obama.” That strategy has failed, and the Democrats have turned it to their advantage in certain situations (emphasizing the “unreasonableness” of the Republicans). Of course, that has usually been a tactic to to divert attention away from their own Party’s culpability in many instances.

      What if a Party were to accept the stated position of the President and then make sure that he adheres to it in a way that benefits the People? This article is an example of such approach.

      The President has stated that his intention to use Executive Orders is driven by having to work with a dysfunctional Congress. He can either treat the cancer with a band-aid (i.e., trying to circumvent Congress but allowing its dysfunctional nature to remain), or he can do something to cure the cancer (i.e., pushing election reform to the degree that he has the power to do so in an effort to provide the People with an opportunity to elect better representation).

      Will he do it? Probably not because it would threaten his Party as well. What does that suggest? He is as partisan as those of whom he so often complains.

      However, if the People brought enough pressure to bear on the President, he might be forced to take action. After all, he has a legacy to protect and is insulated by the fact that he is in his final term.

      Will that be enough to make the President take positive action? Again, probably not … but he almost certainly will only pursue his own agenda and that of his Party unless the People at least TRY to demand that he use his authority on their behalf.

      Thanks again for your comment.