U.S. Constitutional Amendment proposal

The occupation of Wall Street, or actually a park a few blocks away, has shed light on the democratic deficiency in USA. The main reason is the corruption of the politicians. Nobody can serve two masters, says the Bible, but the Congressmen are expected to serve both the tax payers who are paying their salaries, and the donors who are paying their election campaigns. Since the latter is the larger post, no wonder they get the lion part of the politicians’ attention. The focus of reform must therefore lie on ending the institutionalized political corruption in the legislative body of the union. This requires attention to several different details at the same time, which I will address in the form of a proposed text for a constitutional amendment.

Paragraph 1. The first ten Amendments of the Constitution shall be named collectively the “Bill of Human Rights” and the word “person” shall refer to all living human beings from the moment they are born. Comment: Since the 19th Century a Supreme Court precedent has given corporations the same constitutional rights as human beings. This article is designed to undo that precedent and return the power to the people.

Paragraph 2. Congress shall make no law relating to specific cases. All laws shall be of a general and universal nature, and apply equal for all cases where the circumstances are similar. Neither a chamber of Congress, nor an individual member of Congress, shall express an opinion on a specific case, nor on the application of bills decided on by congress once they have become law. The specifics shall be formulated in regulations emitted by the administrative agency charged with implementing the law. Comment: By removing the possibility for congressmen to influence specific cases, a significant reason for bribing them is eliminated.

Paragraph 3. An administrative court system shall be established by Congress. Individuals and legal persons shall be able to turn to this administrative court system to challenge the implementation of regulations based on laws, or the implementation of regulations in actual administrative practice, including in individual cases. Decisions shall be appealable to Appellate Administrative Courts, and the highest level of appeal shall be the President’s cabinet, subject to their approval of attending the case. Comment: This will replace the practice of turning to ones member of Congress in case of trouble with the federal government, a practice that invites corruption.

Paragraph 4. Every member of Congress has a right to an up or down vote on the floor of the chamber, in the same session, on all proposals submitted before noon on the 30th calendar day since the inauguration of a regular session of Congress. Comment: This is designed to force Congress to function better than today, by removing the possibility to indefinitely stall proposals. It removes the possibility for a single member to exert undue influence, and thus it eliminates the possibility for special interests to bribe a single member to do just that.

Paragraph 5. All legislative proposals intended to become law must be reviewed for constitutionality in its final form before an up or down vote is taken on the floor of a chamber of Congress. This review shall be made by a Constitutional Board, consisting of 6 members all holding research doctorate degrees in Law, proposed by the House and approved by the Senate for 12-year staggered terms with one replacement every second year. The board can only make written statements and may only express opinions on legislative proposals as a group. The board may not express opinions on bills that have already become law, that being the exclusive privilege of the judicial branch. Comment: This is designed to both fight corruption, and improve the function of Congress, and improve the judicial situation of the country by eliminating the possibility of unconstitutional bills becoming law. Since the final draft must be reviewed, it excludes the kind of last-minute additions that are the main method by which pork is inserted into bills as payback to campaign contributors.

Paragraph 6. The President of the union shall appoint a cabinet of no less than 5 and no more than 20 members, who shall be approved by the Senate, having the right to an up or down vote within 20 days after the nomination, counting only the weekdays when the Senate is in session. All decisions shall be taken by the cabinet in quorum with at least half of the cabinet members apart from the President required at the meeting to have a quorum. The only exception is in the case of a declared war or a state of emergency, in which case the President can decide on urgent matters alone. As soon as circumstances permit, but not later than 72 hours after the decision, the decision and the justification for it and the nature of its adoption shall be communicated to the members of the cabinet who were not present when it was taken. The Vice President shall be included as a cabinet member without portfolio. In the case of an equal number of votes for and against a proposal, the President has the deciding vote. Comment: This is designed to speed up the taking office of the new administration after a presidential election, as well as to make the executive decision-making more democratic, and less prone to errors of judgment of a single person.

Paragraph 7. Members of Congress represent all the people of the United States, and they all have a right to a reasonable contact with any member of Congress who is involved in a committee that deals with the policy issue that the person wants to discuss. This right extends to interest groups formed by individuals, provided they have only individuals as members, that the group has a democratically elected leadership according to the principle one member – one vote, and that the group does not accept donations from for-profit organizations. Corporations, corporate interest groups, or lobbyists employed by corporations may not discuss policy with members of congress in closed meetings, only in meetings open for the public. Comment: This is another way to make corruption harder.

Paragraph 8. Political parties have a right to a tax-funded campaign contribution that is proportional to their result in the previous election of the same kind, i.e., for the House, for the Senate, and for the President. The result shall be counted as the nationwide percentage of the votes, not as the seats won. The size of the contribution shall be proposed by the President before each election, and given an up or down vote by the Senate within 20 session days. The Parties shall be in charge of distributing this money to their candidates’ campaigns as they see fit, but ultimately it is the Parties themselves through their chairman who is responsible for making sure the public funds are used in accordance with election law. This shall be the only financing for the general election campaign except for new parties since they are not receiving any funds. Comment: This complements the measures against corruption by providing another way to finance a campaign.

Paragraph 9. Public servants in a position to make decisions on individual cases in which a regulation based on a law is implemented, have a personal responsibility to make sure the regulation and the law are being implemented justly and fairly as the lawmaker intended. Comment: This is designed to assure that the implementation of the laws are not arbitrary, as a complement to the administrative court system, to which the civil servants may have to answer if they misbehave. It is thus designed to prevent them from being corrupted instead of the politicians.

Paragraph 10. Cabinet members in charge of [key secretaries, maybe the 5 main ones] will appear individually before the House to answer questions at least once per congressional session, but no more than once per month. Comment: The purpose is to increase the transparency in governing, and to make the elected representatives more able to follow up on how laws are implemented.

Paragraph 11. Every U.S. citizen shall be entitled to have free access to official documents, in order to encourage the free exchange of opinion and the availability of comprehensive information. The right of access to official documents may be restricted only if restriction is necessary with regard to: the security of the Union or its relations with a foreign nation or an international organization; the central fiscal, monetary or currency policy of the Union; the inspection, control or other supervisory activities of a public authority; the interests of preventing or prosecuting crime; the economic interests of the public institutions; the protection of the personal or economic circumstances of individuals; or the preservation of animal or plant species. Comment: This is to further transparency in governing. The wording is taken from the Swedish constitution where this provision has been seen as a central tenet since 1766.

That is my proposal, a draft. Note that there is not one single measure to end corruption, but a plethora of changes designed to circumvent the different practices and cheats that are being used, at the same time making it both difficult and rather meaningless to bribe a politician. I hope to receive comments, although I know it is hard to register (go to bottom, there is a tiny link; sorry for having to do that but the spam was killing the blog and I haven’t had the time to find a better solution). You can also comment on Facebook.