The Problem of Self-Interest in Congress by Harold Moskowitz
There is a long standing but growing problem facing our legislative process; self-interest of the legislators. When the Founders set up a government based upon virtue, it was expected that legislators would represent the interests of the district which elected them. The assumption was that after one or two terms these representatives would return to private life where they could pursue self-interest.
Today, it would be hard to find virtue in the Washington “Swamp.” Many in Congress have become “career politicians.” Personal interests are often represented, not those of the People. Many legislators - of both political parties - often enter Congress as “middle class” but after decades in office they and close family members often become multi-millionaires. During their time in office, their allegiance is often to the industries which funded their campaigns or contributed to their personal wealth. Financial connections to foreign-owned corporations also can affect their legislative functioning while in office. In addition, promises made before an election are often broken after the election.
After attaining retirement, with a large taxpayer funded pension, many become highly paid “lobbyists” representing the interests of the same industries which helped to fund their campaigns. The problem of allegiance to corporate interests is widespread and needs to be addressed through meaningful reforms.
There needs to be term limits added to the Constitution. In addition, there needs to be a stronger post-retirement “lobbying” law which would place restrictions on post-retirement “lobbying.” For instance, the law could prevent “lobbying” for ten years after the retirement date.
Those who claim that elections already serve the term-limiting function fail to realize the power of “name/face recognition” and, especially, the greater access to campaign funding for incumbents to aid in their reelection. There is already a two-term limit for Presidents. Why not for legislators?
Members of Congress will neither propose a term-limiting amendment nor pass one on to the states for ratification. When a new amendment is needed, the Framers gave us an alternative method for overcoming this type of resistance from Congress. Article V of the Constitution allows for the states, in lieu of Congress, to propose necessary amendments.
If important reforms are not made in our legislative process to deal with the growing threat of using public office for personal gain, then fewer citizens will think it necessary or worthwhile to be involved in the election process. Yet, now more than ever, the survival of our constitutional republic requires their involvement and participation.