Fixing our corrupt political system

kenplum2By Ken Plum

I am an elected public official by career choice. I can continue to serve in my professional occupation only with the concurrence of the voters every two years. Most people refer to me as a “politician” for short. The word politician brings with it negative connotations, and I understand why. I would never defend the actions of some in my chosen profession. I just hope that we will not throw out the whole bushel because of some rotten apples. Some of the most honest and decent people I have known have been dedicated public servants in elective office.

Recently the public perception by some of our political system was brought clearly to my attention. I was invited to George Mason University by a group of students concerned about corruption in government who had organized themselves as part of a national group, Represent.Us (https://represent.us/). I was impressed by the sincerity of the group and their desire to make a positive difference. Initially I was taken back by the headline on their handout: “Uniting to Fix Our Corrupt Political System.” It sounded as if they thought everyone involved was corrupt, but then I realized they were talking about the system as a whole. As explained in their literature, “The system has been corrupted by money. Instead of solving our nation’s problems, our politicians raise money for reelection; instead of listening to the American people, they listen to lobbyists and big donors. Citizens who can’t afford to buy access are cut out of the democratic process.”

The strategy of these GMU students and Represent.Us is to pass a new anti-corruption law that would impose strict lobbying and conflict of interest laws and end secret political money by mandating full transparency and disclosure of all political money and “bundlers” who gather contributions for politicians. A copy of the model bill is available for review or download at AntiCorruptionAct.org. While the ultimate goal is to pass a federal law, the immediate strategy is to pass anti-corruption laws at the city/county and state levels first to build momentum for federal action.

Too many activities the bill would outlaw have unfortunately become the way of doing business in legislative halls. Overturning the decision in Citizens United would be an important first step. In Virginia filling in the cracks in the recently passed ethics law is important. The obvious loophole of gifts simply becoming campaign contributions must be closed. Auditing of legislative and campaign accounts is critical.

I have met with a couple of the students a second time. It is refreshing to be around young people who have a strong sense of right and wrong and who want to make a difference. To call them idealistic would be to miss the importance of what they are doing. I have agreed to work with them to help fix the system that allows corruption to flourish in my chosen profession.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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