- - Monday, October 12, 2015

The House speaker routinely sells to the House Republican rank and file committee assignments, chairmanships and preferred treatment in the course of their legislative responsibilities in exchange for handsome donations to the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee or its political equivalent under the speaker’s control.

This notorious, noxious practice is no less than the speaker’s misappropriation of the sovereign power of the people lodged in the House for partisan and personal political advantage.

It should be made criminal, just as “pay to play” as a condition of obtaining government contracts is a crime. Federal law prohibits federal contractors from making a contribution “to any political party, committee or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose or use.”

Another close analogy is the criminal prohibition of extorting money from legitimate businesses to avoid vandalism, labor disruption, or sister forms of business injury.

No member of Congress should be required to make campaign contributions as directed by the House Speaker or another Member as a condition of performing their legislative duties and responsibilities effectively. The requirement not only diminishes the member, but disenfranchises his constituents. In the eyes of the U.S. Constitution, every House member is equal.

They are all elected by the people.

They all represent equally populous constituencies.

They are all endowed with equal constitutional authorities and immunities.

They are all stewards — not owners — of the sovereign powers they exercise as proxies for “We the People of the United States” who established the Constitution.

No legal, moral or democratic political theory justifies the House speaker’s commercialization of the sovereign powers or influence entrusted to the House for his own gain.

More than a century ago, Ohio Republican Sen. Marc Hanna quipped, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.”

House Speaker John Boehner’s variation is, “There are two things that are important for legislative success and influence in the House. The first is campaign donations as I direct, and the second is the same as the first.”

The Hanna-Boehner theory of government contemplates a counter-constitutional plutocracy, not democracy, and is neither morally nor politically tolerable.

Accordingly, Congress should not tarry in enacting my proposed Clean Government Act of 2015, i.e., CLEAN Act: “A Member of Congress, including the House Speaker, shall be fined or imprisoned not more than fifteen years if he or she –

• “directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises to another Member a committee assignment, chairmanship, floor vote, or other preferential treatment or influence in the exercise of legislative responsibilities or the discharge of legislative duties in exchange for any political campaign contributions; or,

• “directly or indirectly, demands, seeks, receives, or agrees to receive or accept a committee assignment or chairmanship, floor vote, or other preferential treatment or influence in the exercise of legislative responsibilities or the discharge of legislative duties in return for any political campaign contribution to be made by that Member.”

The proposed statute would dramatically diminish the House speaker’s influence over the rank and file, and make the House vastly more democratic and representative of popular will. The speaker would no longer hold a financial Sword of Damocles over each Republican member. Congress as an institution commands but a nine percent approval rating from the public largely because their representatives are regularly ignored by the speaker.

Enthusiasts for a Leviathan state worry that democratizing power in the House will confound the enactment of legislation. A greater number and variety of Members will need convincing.

But that is what our liberty-centered Constitution intends. Liberty is the starting point of any legislative discussion, and a consensus among varied factions is required before the majority is permitted to dictate to the minority.

Liberty will strengthen if and when the CLEAN Act becomes law.

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